The Technology and Innovation Report 2021 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) states that recent developments in frontier technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology, have shown tremendous potential for sustainable development. Yet, they also risk increasing inequalities by exacerbating and creating new digital divides between the technology haves and have-nots. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed this dichotomy. Technology has been a critical tool for addressing the spread of the disease, but not everyone has equal access to the benefits.
The Technology and Innovation Report 2021 urges all developing nations to prepare for a period of deep and rapid technological change that will profoundly affect markets and societies. All countries will need to pursue science, technology and innovation policies appropriate to their development stage and economic, social and environmental conditions. This requires strengthening and aligning Science, Technology and Innovation systems and industrial policies, building digital skills among students and the workforce, and closing digital divides. Governments should also enhance social protection and ease workforce transitions to deal with the potential negative consequences of frontier technologies on the job market.
The report also calls for strengthened international cooperation to build innovation capacities in developing countries, facilitate technology transfer, increase women’s participation in digital sectors, conduct technological assessments and promote an inclusive debate on the impact of frontier technologies on sustainable development.
“Very few countries create the technologies that drive this revolution – most of them are created in China and the US – but all countries will be affected by it”, said UNCTAD’s Shamika Sirimanne, head of Division on Technology and Logistics. “Almost none of the developing countries we studied is prepared for the consequences.”
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