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Updated On: Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Development Issues

ECOSOC Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation

Content by: UN General Assembly

Note: A complete summary of today's meetings will be available after their conclusion.

Opening Remarks

MARIE CHATARDOVA (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the third annual multi‑stakeholder forum, stressing:  “No one can ignore the vital role on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

”  Those disciplines were shaping the trajectory of development, with information and communications technology transforming economic and social life, low- and high‑tech innovations working to combat disease, and modern energy services tackling greenhouse gas emissions.  Finding ways to systematically encourage such efforts for the benefit of vulnerable populations was at the heart of the forum’s mandate.

This year, she said, the forum would help identify solutions to foster science, technology and innovation from all countries.  It would strengthen the dialogue among stakeholders, promote the sharing of ideas and suggest initiatives and partnerships, all the while strengthening its role in facilitating knowledge transfer and offering space for networking.  Describing the forum as “an incubator of ideas initiatives and actions”, she said discussions over the next two days would feed into the Council’s high‑level political forum on sustainable development, to be held in New York from 9 to 18 July.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI, Chef de Cabinet, delivered a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, saying science, technology and innovation were critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Established as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism was designed to enable a wide range of stakeholders to engage with each other to harness the power of science.  To make progress on the 2030 Agenda, solutions must be developed, scaled up and disseminated, using the enormous untapped potential of new and rapidly developing technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

While new technologies also brought risks of exacerbating inequalities, she said equity and fairness must guide forward action, with the Secretary‑General’s strategy on modern technologies for the United Nations system recognizing that engagement must be led by the need to promote shared global values while fostering inclusion, transparency and partnerships.  “Let us commit to use all the tools at our disposal to reach the furthest behind first so they may benefit from today’s rapidly changing world of technology,” she said.

LIU ZHENMIN, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the forum would encourage practical ideas and applications.  It was a collaborative space for networking, discussion and partnership — with an objective of harnessing science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.  Through the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, launched to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda, Member States had recognized the seminal importance of science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.  Today’s meeting was part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, with experts, practitioners and participants demonstrating that the spirit of innovation and cooperation was alive and well.

Underscoring that his priority was around coordination, cooperation and coherence within the United Nations system for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, he drew attention to the inter‑agency task team on science, technology and innovation in that context.  Another part of the Mechanism was the online platform — a gateway for science, technology and innovation initiatives and programmes.  Its development would help connect providers of technology solutions to those seeking them, he said, stressing:  “We are making steady progress on that front.”  For the platform to reach its potential, it required sustainable funding and more partners, he said, appealing for support.

Keynote Speakers

ANDREW KEEN, author, The Internet is Not the Answer and How to Fix the Future, said the digital revolution was supposed to reflect shared global values, which he defined as four commitments:  to equality, jobs, civic engagement and privacy or “the sanctity of the self”.  However, the digital revolution was not doing what its founders and utopian thinkers hoped it would do.  Equality, jobs, civility and the sanctity of the self were not being realized.  Stressing that the immense wealth flowing to Silicon Valley represented the gap between the technological “haves and have nots”, he said the digital revolution was supposed to be about spreading wealth and giving everyone a chance.  In the long term, the impact of AI was troubling, with some stressing that 50 per cent of jobs would disappear because of it.

He said that from the massive increase in “fake news” and bullying, the world could see that the digital revolution had not triggered civility.  “It is bringing out the worst in us,” he said.  The dominant business model of Silicon Valley was the opposite of “the sanctity of the self” — or what defined us as individuals.  Companies mined our identities and destroyed privacy, he said, citing the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  Silicon Valley had had driven that agenda for 25 years and it was unregulated.  Government, consumers and educators had not participated in what economist Karl Polanyi called “the utopianism of the market”.  External forces — consumers, citizens and entrepreneurs — were needed from around the world, not only a pocket of wealthy California entrepreneurs.  To fix the future, we need diverse discussions, and the United Nations was the right place to begin.  He also advocated for regulation, as well as new data privacy and corporate accountability laws.

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