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As Economic and Social Council Concludes Forum, Speakers Stress Data, Artificial Intelligence Planning Must Be Inclusive to Ensure Sustainable Development

Speakers from around the globe underscored the vital role of inclusive planning and collective learning in harnessing data and artificial intelligence for sustainable development, as the Economic and Social Council concluded its two-day forum on science, technology and innovation. 

In her closing remarks, Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Council, said there is an urgent need for policymakers to adapt new policies and incentive systems to keep up with the pace of rapidly advancing technologies. Calling for the development of transformative high-impact technology applications for sustainable development and pointing to the incredible potential of areas such as artificial intelligence, she underscored the need for a bottom-up approach to ensure inclusive planning. 

Following a presentation of the Global Sustainable Development Report 2023, the Forum held multiple thematic sessions on a number of interlinked aspects of using science, technology and innovation for an equitable future.  Across these sessions, experts stressed the importance of ensuring that the benefits of science and technology are distributed widely.

Topics included:  “Breaking down barriers - closing the gender gap in science and technology”; “Global research cooperation and funding - sharing knowledge through new partnerships”; and “Forging an equitable, digital future for all”.  The final session on “Messages for the SDG Summit and the Summit of the Future — taking stock of STI for the SDGs” brought together several key lessons on this topic.

Navid Hanif, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), highlighted the work of the Integrated Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation, which responds to Member States’ capacity-building needs through pilot projects on science, technology and innovation.  Noting that only 12 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track, he said:  “This truly is a pivotal year for SDG implementation.” 

Paulo Gadelha, Coordinator of the Fiocruz Strategy for the 2030 Agenda, called for the localization of the Sustainable Development Goals and highlighted the need for social technology.  That means putting social needs above economic interests, strengthening community organizations, and consolidating democratic and public governance, he pointed out.

The level of inequality is at a pre-World War One level, Navroop Sahdev, Chief Executive Officer of the Digital Economist pointed out, noting that in today’s world, a handful of billionaires make the decisions affecting everyone.  Stressing the need to build a human-centred global economy, she underscored the importance of a gender lens.  Women are better stewards of companies and the planet, she said, highlighting the many benefits of their emotional intelligence. 

Echoing that, Janet Abbate, Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Virginia Tech, United States, also said women are more likely to be interested in using technology to address social problems.  She called for an overhaul of how science, technology, engineering and mathematics are taught.  The flaw in the metaphor of the school to workplace “pipeline” positions the responsibility of acquiring science and technology education on women rather than on educational and workplace cultures which are structured to meet men’s needs, she pointed out. 

Speakers also highlighted the need for meaningful cooperation between the Global South and North, with Kazuhito Hashimoto, President, Japan Science and Technology Agency, stressing the need for collaborative agenda-setting.  Illustrating that, he described a programme that uses official development assistance (ODA) funds to directly fund researchers in participating countries. 

Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, Chief Executive Officer, National Research Foundation of South Africa, pointed out that though Africa is a huge consumer of knowledge products, it does not produce a proportionate amount of research.  He called for capacity development, especially of youth.

Along similar lines, Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research, ICT Africa, underscored the need to move away from expensive business models, technologies, and licensing regimes towards community players and microcell operators.  The main barrier to digital access is the cost of the device, she said, adding:  “The cost of the device is dependent on the income and the income is dependent on the education.”

Data is the heart of the digital economy, said Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, as she stressed the need for including all developing countries in the governance of digital platforms and the development of ethics around artificial intelligence. 

Henrik Cox, Head of Product, Conservation X Labs, illustrating one of the many ways in which technology can aid sustainable development, drew attention to “Sentinel”, an end-to-end solution that uses artificial intelligence on smart cameras to process photos and videos as that data is captured in the wild and sends the filtered information to anyone who needs it over Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite networks.  He highlighted the multiple uses of this technology in conservation around the world.

Amir Dossal, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnerships Forum, however, spotlighted the 2.9 billion people who remain unconnected to the Internet.  Echoing other speakers, he emphasized that it is an issue of human rights.  Suggesting rebranding them as “least discovered countries, because we tend to ignore them”, he stressed:  “We need to figure out how to bring those people into the fold.”

Global Sustainable Development Report 2023

The Forum began with the presentation of the Global Sustainable Development Report 2023, moderated by Anita Gurumurthy, Founding Member and Executive Director, IT for Change, Bangalore, India.  Presenters included Jaime C. Montoya, Professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, Chair of the Health Sciences Division and Secretary, National Academy of Science and Technology; Nancy Shackell, Senior Research Scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia; and Ibrahima Hathie, Research Director for the Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale, Senegal.  Lead discussants were Denise Morais Da Fonseca, Adjunct Professor of Immunology at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Sabrina Sholts, Curator of Biological Anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Ms. SHACKELL, noting the diversity of scientists in the Independent Group of Scientists preparing the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report, said that it consisted of scientists from many different parts of the world.  Highlighting the presence of experts from the Russian Federation, China, Japan and the Philippines, she said all those different experiences brought together very different viewpoints.  The diversity was not just national but also with different areas of expertise.  Pointing to the multiple disciplines that were represented in the Group, she said that while she is an oceanographer, Mr. Hathie works in agriculture.  She also highlighted the huge network of support through the United Nations system and said that the process of preparing the Report included global online consultations as well as a peer review.

Mr. HATHIE said that, despite positive trends — such as access to electricity or to information and communications technology — there is a worsening trend across many of the Sustainable Development Goals.   For instance, the target of ending extreme poverty has been disrupted by the multiple crises facing the world, including the COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts.  Many targets are moving backwards, included on ending hunger. While some of the shocks are temporary, they have life-long impact on children.  Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has to focus on both resilience and acceleration, he emphasized, adding that the Report is proposing key actions for transformative change, such as national plans of action countering those negative trends.

Mr. MONTOYA noted that if the process is to be business as usual, it will require being aggressive and innovative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Such efforts should be interlinked and policymakers should leverage synergies and minimize trade-offs, with closer collaboration between science and policy. He called for institutionalizing the Goals in policy assessment procedures to ensure this becomes the new normal.  Citing six entry points, as mentioned in the Global Sustainable Development Report, he pointed to key interventions to accelerate progress towards the Goals, with a systemic review of what actually works.  Good efforts may spill over into other countries, illustrating the transboundary impact of working towards the Goals.  He noted the paper cited will be presented during the 2023 General Assembly in September.  His key message on the Report is to impart a sense of urgency and innovation in the approach to programmes aiming towards the Goals, including behavioural paradigm changes, he said.

Ms. FONSECA said:  “We lost a lot during the pandemic, but we also learned a lot.”  Highlighting the importance of taking stock of those lessons, she said there is still a long way to go.  In that regard, science can play a key role in accelerating transformation and improving quality of life.  Noting that malnutrition and lack of sanitation increase the impact of poverty, she said that it is crucial to close the gap between communities.  States must empower communities, enhance trust in science and help accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Ms. SHOLTS, noting that “nothing in nature exists alone” and humans are part of nature, called for nature-based solutions to pollution and to the quality of city life.  Humans have been shaping diverse habitats all over the planet for more than 12,000 years, she observed, citing the unsustainable use of animals and the environment through extractive industrialized activities as “very recent”. In order to restore ecosystems, there is the need to embrace social and cultural connections to nature and biodiversity that Indigenous Peoples have always held.  Not everyone has benefited from scientific advances and some communities have been harmed by unethical research, she cautioned, stressing the importance of transparency, inclusivity, respect and dialogue.

Session 4

The Forum then held a session on “Breaking down barriers: closing the gender gap in science and technology”.  Moderated by Maki Kawai, President of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences, it featured panellists Tara Chklovski, Chief Executive Officer of Technovation; Najat Aoun Saliba, Professor of Analytic Chemistry at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon; Janet Abbate, Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Virginia Tech, United States; and Navroop Sahdev, Chief Executive Officer of the Digital Economist.  It also included lead discussants Diene Keita, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director for Programme of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Eleonore Fournier-Tombs, Head of Anticipatory Action and Innovation at the United Nations University; Natalia Bayona, Director of Innovation, Education and Investments at the World Tourism Organization (joining virtually); and Elizabeth Basauri Bryan, Senior Scientist in the Environment and Production Technology Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute. 

Ms. CHKLOVSKI said of the 2.3 billion people worldwide in the workforce, 44 per cent are women, with most of that workforce in the services industry.  Only 15 per cent of people work in high-scale jobs, such as scientists and technologists, with women over-represented in the personal care industry, and representing roughly 20 to 25 per cent of the science, technology, engineering and math sectors — meaning that of 500 million people in high-scale jobs, only 100 million are women.  Given the level of technical knowledge needed to tackle global problems, she cited increasing the participation of women as the obvious source. Most content on the Internet is not written by women, and is in English, while most people in the world are not represented.  Increasing participation will require increasing choice, working in teams, building a sense of purpose and identity, and receiving support by mentors.  With 600 million adolescent girls worldwide, she asked what it would take to have them build the next technology or next better artificial intelligence.

Ms. SALIBA, noting the challenge of environmental degradation in emerging countries such as Lebanon, said that girls and women are taking the lead in transformative action to counter that. Highlighting the many ways in which Lebanon is lagging behind in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, she pointed to pollution, breakdown of energy infrastructure, high unemployment and economic collapse.  “Breaking the walls of university” is crucial she said, underlining the importance of citizen-science.  Women are leading the way in many such citizen science projects out of concern for their families, she pointed out, spotlighting the creation of mini-power plants using renewable energy.  Turning to employment, she drew attention to the need for digital education in public school and described a project wherein university students mentor school students.  Tackling the generation gap is crucial, she added, calling for efforts to bridge the knowledge gap between North and South through a network of scholar-activists.

Ms. ABBATE said that the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is often blamed on the so-called “pipeline” that runs from secondary education to higher education, and then into the workforce.  However, this metaphor focuses solely on how women gain skills, implying that the deficit is in women themselves, rather than in the culture of science and technology.  Such careers and workplaces are structured to meet the expectations and preferences of men, she said, pointing to the long hours of work, lack of childcare and a culture of hyper-competitiveness.  Further, women are more likely than men to report that they are interested in using technology to address societal problems, but the way science, technology, engineering and mathematics are taught is often disconnected from that idea.  Women’s interest in these fields can be increased through programmes focusing on social applications that work directly with the users who will be helped.  Moreover, universities can help women not in these majors move into those sectors.  Another option is to offer interdisciplinary degrees that combine technical training with humanities or social science areas that women are already studying.  The private sector can do its part by practicing more equitable recruiting, she said, adding that employers should create hiring paths from the liberal arts colleges where women are more likely to study. 

Ms. SAHDEV said all people come from women, and disrespect for life has brought the world to the point of planetary collapse, with the fourth major mass extinction and 25 per cent biodiversity loss.  It is important to pay attention to those who create and are stewards of life.  As an economist, she asked:  “What are we measuring” and does that include women’s informal work and unpaid labour. Many economic indicators do not account for this.  Her organization looks to build a human-centred global economy, while the panel presented a rosy picture in its attempt to remain objective.  There are a handful of billionaires who make the decisions affecting everyone and the level of inequality is at pre-World War One level. While acknowledging women’s success stories, she called for seriously looking at the issue.  Women have naturally higher empathy, making then naturally better managers, with more profitable companies.  She called for increasing group IQ by having 50 per cent female inclusion.  Addressing the direction of resources, she noted that when funds are transferred to women, they spend it on family, while men spend it on alcohol and random stuff; women are better stewards of companies or the planet.  There should be a gender lens at every economic indicator, she stressed, expressing hope that more women will be included in emerging new infrastructures and technologies.

Ms. KEITA, stressing that it is important to not leave women and girls behind, said the United Nations Population Fund aims to equalize opportunities for women and girls.  Spotlighting the issue of lack of funding, she said that only 1 per cent of global research funds go to women’s needs.  The Fund has several programmes for giving women access to financing and supporting women’s entrepreneurship.  Further, it rallies the private sector in these efforts, she said, calling attention to the Equity 2030 Alliance, which aims to mainstream gender into science and innovation.  Access means choice and empowerment, she said, adding that science and innovation must be gender equitable at all stages, starting with the development stage.  Also commending the work of the Inter-Agency Task Force on science, technology and innovation, she called for a “positive disruption”. 

Ms. FOURNIER-TOMBS said that closing the gap in science and technology has many dimensions.  It is not only about increasing women’s participation in the development of science and technology but also about ensuring that these technologies are safe for women.  In this context, regulation ensuring the pre-deployment safety of these technologies is critical.  With regard to the acceleration of unregulated artificial intelligence, she categorized the risk it poses to women, particularly in regard to discrimination, stereotyping, exclusion and security.  Further, artificial intelligence may threaten women’s physical and online safety, she cautioned, pointing to deep fake videos of women engaging in sexually explicit acts which destroy their reputation and risk their physical safety.  Increasing women’s leadership in this domain is an important part of the solution, she asserted.

Ms. BAYONA, noting that tourism is a top employer of women and youth, reported that, over the past five years, her organization has been launching competitions to foster the tourism ecosystem.  She cited incredible progress, with 27 per cent of tourism start-ups worldwide being led or founded by a woman.  Promoting technology and entrepreneurship is the quickest way to achieve gender equality and the Goals.  This year, in the Middle East, the organization launched a regional competition for women in technology start-ups, receiving 100 applications in the first month.  The goal is to create different high-level partnerships with technology and tourism companies, academia, institutions and Governments to promote the competitions and give the floor to women in technology.  She noted that the innovation challenges and practical experiences aim to identify women in tourism and technology, with such efforts on the ground with different countries and private partnerships helping to bridge the gender gap.

Ms. BRYAN said it is crucial to ensure that food systems are transformed to ensure gender equality, while noting that global efforts towards this have seen some setbacks in recent years due to climate change, the pandemic and the global food crisis.  Citing a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, she said the gender gap in food insecurity is worsening and job losses in agri-food systems have been more pronounced for women.  Women and girls face constraints in access and control of resources such as land, less access to credit and information and restrictive social norms.  Stressing the importance of designing technologies to meet the needs of women farmers and livestock vendors, she said that gender preferences must be considered when designing crop varieties.  Beyond design, food system innovations must be distributed in such ways that they reach women, she added, highlighting the role of various grassroots organizations in Kenya and India who provide a platform for women’s collective leadership and facilitate When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, speakers highlighted examples and lessons learned from gender and science, technology and innovation initiatives that are helping to explore what is needed to scale up and accelerate further progress. 

Ms. SAHDEV underlined the importance of capital for innovation.  The missing piece — even in the Paris Agreements on climate change — is financing for climate, she said, adding that “this applies across the board.”

The representative of Mexico underscored that creating more inclusive innovation ecosystems must be a priority for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.  To this end, closing the gender digital divide is an imperative, she said, recognizing the importance of science and technology for the economic and social development of her country.

In the same vein, Latvia’s delegate decried the slow progress in closing the gender gap in science and technology, stressing that safe technology cannot be developed without involving women in the process. 

The representative of Chile said that the presence of women is particularly important as only 34 per cent of those involved in science and research are women.  She highlighted her Government’s recent initiative to promote the involvement of women in the transfer and exchange of knowledge which aims to close the gender gap in this area.

Meanwhile, Iran’s delegate emphasized that women are more vulnerable to the negative effects of unilateral coercive measures which have made all of the existing environmental issues worse, particularly by demonstrating the vulnerability of developing countries.

The representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth echoed the findings of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which has reported that 90 per cent of women and girls in lower-income countries are offline.  This digital divide represents a barrier that needs to be overcome for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, she asserted.

Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Colombia, Slovenia and Armenia, as well as from Soroptimist International and the Fyera Foundation.

Responding, Ms. CHKLOVSKI called on participants to run a girls’ hackathon in each of their communities, offering use of her organization’s toolkit, to get them excited about problem-solving in teams.  Such practical initiatives can help people to understand the barriers to advancement.

Ms. SALIBA recommended empowering women to take the lead in their communities, creating collaboration networks to share lessons learned and strengthen each other to move forward.

Ms. ABBATE questioned the assumption that only women who take traditional paths are qualified to be hired or lead in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  She called for recognizing and mobilizing the capacities women already have to channel them into successful careers.  Peer mentoring by older girls is one effective and scalable pathway.

Ms. SAHDEV invited participants to shift their mindset, as gender equity is not just a women problem; putting the onus on women is perhaps the bigger barrier to progress.

Session 5

The second thematic session, on “Global research cooperation and funding -sharing knowledge through new partnerships,” was moderated by Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, Biosphere 2, the University of Arizona, United States.  Panellists included Katja Becker, Chair, Global Research Council; Ana Cristina Amoroso das Neves, Head, Internet Governance Office, Unidade de Computação Científica da Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal; Kazuhito Hashimoto, President, Japan Science and Technology Agency; and Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, Chief Executive Officer, National Research Foundation of South Africa.  Lead discussants included:  Charlotte Watts, Professor, Chief Scientific Adviser and Director for Research and Evidence in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Offices, United Kingdom; Marco Antonio Zago, President, FAPESP – São Paulo Research Foundation, Brazil; and Wenda Bauchspies, Programme Director in the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, the United States.

Ms. BECKER, stressing that policymakers, civil society and researchers need to team up to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, said that many scientific questions concerning the Goals have not yet been addressed.  Citing Bertolt Brecht, she said that science must ease the hardships of human existence.  Noting that fundamental scientific research was useful for containing the pandemic, she said that science can also empower the international community with expertise, tools and insights to fight climate change, eradicate poverty and reduce inequality.  Underlining the need to establish an additional Sustainable Development Goal that centres global research cooperation, she said that searching for knowledge and truth is fundamental to human nature.  As long as there is no such Goal, the international community must come together to integrate science into all the other Goals.  The Global Research Council is a worldwide association of more than 100 research funding organizations, she said, proposing a partnership between the United Nations and the Research Council. 

Ms. NEVES said sustainable development challenges such as climate change require collaboration among different scientists, policymakers and practitioners worldwide.  Collaborative research provides better solutions to such complex challenges. Additionally, sufficient resources must be available in terms of quantity and continuous availability. Regarding maximizing resources through international cooperation, she emphasized that collaboration and knowledge sharing promote innovation by enabling researchers to develop new approaches, technologies and products to address the sustainable development challenges.

Mr. HASHIMOTO underlined the responsibility to promote science, technology and innovation that benefits all individuals and helps achieve the Goals. Addressing global inequalities is crucial and the challenge of achieving the Goals by 2030 is enormous.  His agency places great emphasis on a collaborative agenda-setting to ensure meaningful cooperation with the Global South while also cultivating local research talent.  He cited the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development programme that provides inclusive solutions that can be rapidly implemented in the Global South, using official development assistance (ODA) funds to directly fund researchers in participating countries. The Africa-Japan collaborative programme uses the same principle, encouraging an “Africa for Africa” approach, while in South-east Asia, a joint partnership aims to solve regional problems. Researchers should be doing more to synergize and tackle common challenges, he stressed.

Mr. NELWAMONDO, noting that a number of countries in the developing world are dealing with poverty and unemployment, said that they have not taken full advantage of science and technology in tackling these challenges.  Citing an example, he said that though Africa is a huge consumer of knowledge products, it does not produce a proportionate amount of research.  Stressing the importance of ensuring a flow of research funding from the Global North to the South, he called for capacity development, especially of youth.  Africa is a youthful continent, he pointed out, calling for strategic partnerships to engage with multiple stakeholders and directly fund sustainable-development-related research.  For the Global South to succeed, a coordinated approach to funding and research is needed, he said, calling for a movement of resources and researchers.

Ms. WATTS highlighted the power of research and joint investments to tackling the major challenges that the world faces.  She reiterated her support for major global initiatives, including those on food systems and on generating new vaccines to address a range of epidemic threats.  Also expressing support for a range of outcome-focused collaborations, she drew attention to the collaboration with science granting councils and 16 public science funding agencies across Africa to strengthen grant-making capabilities. She stressed the need to develop evidence to respond to the impacts of climate change and ensure that research funding is targeted towards the most pressing challenges.

Mr. ZAGO said his agency has mapped more than 40,000 projects and fellowships awarded in recent years dedicated to one or more of the Goals. Science is a tool for all 17 Goals, but as the President of the Global Research Council has said, it should be treated as a Goal itself — as it is unequally distributed worldwide and yet is one of the determinants of human and animal well-being, and preservation of the environment and planet.  International cooperation is essential, given the many interlocking crises, he said, adding that no country or regional science system can define its own future in a solitary way.

Ms. BAUCHSPIES, stressing the need to engage local communities and integrate diverse knowledge systems into the design and methodologies of scientific research, said that the National Science Foundation funds research driven by curiosity and discovery for social benefit.  Since 2019, the Foundation has been funding projects designed to accelerate research through international network-to-network collaborations.  Highlighting one such project, she pointed to Natura, which aims to provide nature-based solutions to ensure urban resilience for the changing planet.  Natura is an international network of scientists, practitioners and community members working together to address climate change in urban settings, she said, adding that it includes academics, practitioners, students, decision-makers and community groups from all over the globe.  As a result, it is uniquely situated to study and address the poly-crisis that is occurring in urban communities. 

When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, speakers explored the status of global research cooperation and funding — especially in the Global South — for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The representative of the Russian Federation attached particular attention to collaboration and dialogue which allow exchange of best practices.  Science serves as the most powerful engine of progress, he said, adding that the research infrastructure which exists in his country is at the forefront of global science. On the issue of financing, the private sector is interested in carrying out breakthrough fundamental research, he noted. 

China’s delegate emphasized that interlocking challenges of today’s world pose a serious challenge to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  His Government is active in sharing experience in the field of science, technology and innovation with developing countries to support their industrialization and modernization, bridging the technological divide between the Global North and South. 

The representative of Guatemala underlined the need to reduce digital illiteracy to generate access to technology and connectivity in order to promote a greater participation of women in science. 

Also speaking were representatives of the United States Council for International Business, International Council of Scientific Unions and Ready to Lead Africa Group.

Session 6

In the afternoon, the Forum opened with a session on the theme “Forging an equitable, digital future for all”.  Moderated by Anita Gurumurthy, Founding member and Executive Director, IT for Change, Bangalore, India, it featured panellists:  Hermina Johnny, Founder of the Artemis Foundation; Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa; Chris Sharrock, Vice President of United Nations and International at Microsoft in Paris; and Henrik Cox, Head of Product, Conservation X Labs.  Lead discussants included Mi Ock Mun, President of the Science and Technology Policy Institute, and Robert Bertram, Chief Scientist, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, USAID.  The interactive dialogue was facilitated by:  Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and Amir Dossal, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnerships Forum.

Ms. JOHNNY noted that globally, women and girls have lower levels of overall literacy and lower levels of digital skills and access to technological tools for developmental advancement.  Her foundation is working to reduce the number of vulnerable and disadvantaged people who do not have access to technological tools for digital literacy, upskilling and providing digital learning opportunities for accessing jobs and advancing educational pursuits.  Older adults also lack the technological skills for administrative processes carried out online, she noted, adding that since the start of the pandemic, fewer girls are embracing technology as a pathway to a successful career, with millions of people around the world cut off from the informational age and reliable Internet access.  Aspire Artemis has successfully piloted two in-country global innovation and digital symposia through a collective action approach including a multitude of partners, including private sector companies like Microsoft, in the Caribbean region.  It is set to hold these symposia in the Central African Republic in October and in Zimbabwe later this year.  She further cited collective action partnerships with organizations like the International Telecommunication Union, UNESCO Global Education Coalition and several programmes with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Ms. GILLWALD said that digitalization is one of the seismic shifts that can widen inequality.  As more people get connected, digital inequality increases, she observed, noting that the issue lays in the divide between those who have technical and financial resources to use the Internet productively and those who are barely online.  Recognizing the evidence of inequality and the inability of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets, she outlined the problem of patchy administrative data that is unable to disaggregate along gender lines or allow data modeling.  She spotlighted the broad claims about gender inequality stemming from this, while underscoring the importance of good public data to govern the problem.  Turning to the data on “enormous” digitalization during the COVID-19 pandemic — provided by the mature economies — she said the pandemic has, in fact, widened inequalities between those who had digital access prior to its outbreak and those who did not. The foundations of digital inequalities are manifesting themselves in the visibility, underrepresentation and biases in data-driven advanced technologies, she added. 

Mr. SHARROCK, underlining the need to ensure that digital technology is trustworthy, safe, responsible and inclusive, stressed that access to meaningful connectivity should be considered a fundamental human right. Broadband is the electricity of the twenty-first century in that it provides economic and social opportunities to many around the world.  However, 2.7 billion people unfortunately remain unconnected to the Internet because it is either unavailable or unaffordable.  To close this global digital divide, Governments, international organizations, companies, civil society organizations and others must all be involved.  For its part, Microsoft has committed to extending Internet coverage to 250 million people globally and will train and certify 10 million people with in-demand digital skills by 2025.  Governments, companies and stakeholders should also be guided by international laws, principles and norms to advance human rights, he added, spotlighting Microsoft’s efforts in that regard, which have included due diligence to assess its technologies’ impact on human rights.  Microsoft has also committed to working with others to ensure that artificial intelligence is built and used responsibility and ethically in a manner which advances international competitiveness and national security while serving society broadly, he said.

Mr. COX, focusing on the artificial intelligence solution called “Sentinel”, said that conservationists have to manually go through hundreds of thousands of photos every month to understand what is happening, which means they are missing out on time-sensitive situations like poaching, identifying the presence of invasive species or disease spread.  Sentinel is a full end-to-end solution that uses artificial intelligence on smart cameras to process photos and videos as that data is captured in the wild.  It then sends back the filtered useful information to anyone who needs it over Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite networks, he said, adding that satellites have opened the doorway to deploying these devices in some of the most remote locations around the world.  He detailed some of its applications, including spotting endangered jaguars and poachers in Costa Rica and invasive rodents in Hawaii, individual reidentification of gorillas in the Congo, and identifying symptoms of a neurological disease in big cats across the United States.

Ms. GURUMURTHY asked Mr. Cox about meta-lessons learned regarding contextualizing artificial intelligence and the deployment of Sentinel, in the era of ChatGPT, when people think “you can take something and put it out there, and magic will happen”.

Mr. COX responded that there are different types of AI, and the one in headlines is ChatGPT.  When organizations, individuals and non-profits work with new emerging artificial technologies, more than 65 or 70 per cent of it is gathering and cleaning data to find where it is most useful.  Sentinel can only be deployed when working with individuals and groups who have already done that labelling and collecting.  An example concerns the identifying of neurological diseases in big cats, which started with the Florida Wildlife Commission, because they had already collected videos of those cats suffering from such diseases.  There are conservationists his group would like to work with, but the necessary data is lacking, representing a challenge.

Ms. GURUMURTHY asked Mr. Sharrock if the responsibility and accountability of businesses should be left to voluntary measures or be part of the regulatory apparatus.

Mr. SHARROCK responded that multi-stakeholderism can enrich the conversation that must happen to answer that question.  Governments framing regulations around economic activity is central to their role, along with conversations between Governments.  Microsoft’s stance is that those conversations take into account the perspective of business, civil society and academia to ensure the framing of regulation or voluntary codes of conduct is durable and benefits society.

Ms. GILLWALD said that the world needs to move away from the expensive business models, technologies, spectrum and licensing regimes and open up the markets to enable community players and microcell operators by creating incentives within regulatory structures.  Noting that the main barrier to the digital access is the cost of the device, she said:  “The cost of the device is dependent on the income and the income is dependent on the education.”  Underscoring the importance of addressing this issue, she underlined the State’s responsibility in enabling access to these public goods. 

Ms. JOHNNY, turning to global policy, pointed out that every community is different, while underlining the need for taking local structural problems into consideration.  “Globalism is great, but we also have to look into local economies,” she said, pointing to the importance of programmes that provide solutions to the people.

Ms. MUN pointed out that “digital” is more likely to emerge as the new face of inequality and poverty.  Even in South Korea, a country with a high-level of information and communications technology, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the digital divide between regions, businesses and individuals domestically.  At the same time, there is also a growing recognition that the digital picture holds more opportunities than risks.  In that vein, overcoming the digital divide will depend on the participation and positive experiences of the public.  To create the opportunities that the public expects, policies must be designed with an understanding of the nature of new technologies, she stressed, further spotlighting South Korea’s experience in that regard.  “We need to be more specific, more practical and more sophisticated,” she emphasized.

Mr. BERTRAM highlighted the need for the world to be more active in ensuring that digital technology can be a positive force.  This is a public good and not a zero-sum game, he stressed, echoing the points on localization.  The international community must figure out already existing inequalities and understand how digital technologies overlays with them as it engages in such contexts.  Turning to artificial intelligence, he voiced his excitement in hearing such compelling examples and stressed that the limitation of data access, the consultative approach on regulation and competition in terms of regulation are all important issues to be addressed.  The world must tailor its approach to lower- and middle-income countries in particular so that it can respond to heterogenous access issues, he underscored.

Ms. SIRIMANNE described data as “the heart of the digital economy”. Most developing countries are concerned that they will become mere providers of raw data to global platforms while having to buy the digital intelligence obtained from their own data. The connectivity and data divide are of grave concern, she said, highlighting the urgent need to develop a more balanced approach to global data governance as well as to agree on the definition and taxonomy of data.  Moreover, she underlined the importance of developing ethics around artificial intelligence and increasing international cooperation on governing digital platforms. To ensure an inclusive process with representation of all developing countries, the United Nations needs to play a key role.

Mr. DOSSAL noted that 2.9 billion people remain unconnected to the Internet, with 700 million of them lacking access to electricity; 2.6 billion do not even have access to clean cooking facilities.  “We need to figure out how to bring those people into the fold,” he stressed, pointing out these numbers reflect more than one third of the world’s population.  They must have access and digital skills, but they do not even have the finances to have Internet service provided.  Echoing Mr. Sharrock, he stressed this is an issue of human rights, perhaps requiring the Technology Envoy and the United Nations Energy Team to engage multistakeholder partners, particularly the private sector.  The value of investing in these people — most of them in the least developed countries — could then be demonstrated.  He also suggested rebranding them as “least discovered countries, because we tend to ignore them” and called for a fund, with multilateral financial institutions contributing, as well as allocating 10 per cent of technology investment towards the unconnected.

The representative of Peru, speaking for a group of countries, called for increasing cooperation with developing countries to ensure their access to emerging technologies.  Equitable access to information and telecommunications technologies could improve Government services in rural areas, he added, noting that digitalization in the private sector helps generate new employment. 

The representative of Nepal outlined the importance of a comprehensive needs assessment; enhanced international support for improving information and telecommunications technologies; scaled-up investment and technology transfer; and innovative strategies to bridge the digital gap.  The Global Digital Compact must address the needs and priorities of developing countries, he stressed.

The representative of El Salvador said the Government has created a framework towards digital transformation.  It has also created a digital technology infrastructure and has invested in using new and emerging technologies in Government services. More so, the country has created a normative legal framework that provides safe digital environments and adopted a legislation to promote technological innovation in manufacture. 

The representative of Egypt called for scaling up investment in digital infrastructure and addressing differences in connectivity between rural and urban areas.  Egypt has been actively working on supporting research, development and innovation ecosystems, while building legal and regulatory frameworks to increase investment and public-private partnerships, she reported.

The representative of Kenya said that the international community — along with stakeholders such as big technology companies — must work collaboratively to ensure that digital technologies are developed responsibly and inclusively.  An equitable digital future must recognize challenges and risks and ensure that digitalization’s benefits are not offset by negative social or environmental impacts.

Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Mexico, Indonesia, China, Uruguay, AI Impact Alliance and Peace Institute.

Session 7

The Forum then held its concluding session on the theme “Messages for the SDG Summit and the Futures Summit — taking stock of STI for the SDGs” and was chaired by Mathu Joyini (South Africa).  Thomas Woodroffe (United Kingdom), co-Chair of the Forum, also spoke.

Presentations on progress of the interagency task team on “STI for the SDGs” were given by:  Navid Hanif, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); and Shamika Sirimanne, Director, Division on Technology and Logistics of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Presentations were given by the two co-Chairs of the 10-member Group of High-Level Representatives of Civil Society, the Private Sector and Scientific Community:  Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director, CAPRISA, South Africa, Professor, Columbia University, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV; and Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director for Research, Biosphere2, University of Arizona, United States.

The Forum heard remarks on the ongoing process of the United Nations Global Digital Compact on behalf of the co-facilitators, Anna Karin Eneström (Sweden) and Claver Gatete (Rwanda), delivered by Mr. Gatete.

Lead discussants also spoke, including:  Dirk Fransaer, Chair of the Global Sustainable Technology and Innovation Community (G-STIC); Xiaolan Fu, Founding Director of the Technology and Management Centre for Development, Professor of Technology and International Development, former member of the 10 Member Group to Support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism; and Paulo Gadelha, Coordinator, Fiocruz Strategy for the 2030 Agenda, and former President of Fundação Oswaldo Cruz of Brazil.

Mr. HANIF, recalling the recent Sustainable Development Goals progress report, said that only 12 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track and progress on 50 per cent of them is weak and insufficient.  “We have stalled or gone in reverse on more than 30 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he stated, voicing hope that this year’s Science, Technology and Innovation Forum will contribute ideas on where additional cooperation and support could be extended.  In recent years, the United Nations system has been enhancing joint work through the technology facilitation mechanism.  More than 125 staff from 47 United Nations entities are now active in the Integrated Task Team on Science, Technology and Innovation convened by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  The Team has been able to respond to Member States’ capacity-building needs through a pilot project on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, also detailing its other activities. “This truly is a pivotal year for SDG implementation and we must get progress back on track,” he emphasized, calling on the international community’s ambition and unwavering support to leaving no one behind.

Ms. SIRIMANNE said the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development together with UNESCO has trained 1,300 information and communications technology policymakers in all developing regions.  Strong demand for such capacity-building shows that Governments are increasingly paying attention to the crucial role of public policy in nurturing innovation systems.  She expressed concern that in digital technologies the emerging data divide comes on top of the existing connectivity divide.  Benefits from the data-driven digital economy have been captured by a few global platforms, she added, reiterating concern that developing countries will become mere providers of data to global platforms for free, while having to buy digital intelligence created from their own data.  To this end, she underscored the need for a balanced global data governance, noting that the United Nations offers the only inclusive platform.  Further, she outlined the importance of consistency between the multilateral framework applied to trade and intellectual property and the commitments adopted to address climate change.

Ms. KARIM said the COVID-19 pandemic was a preview of what a global threat looks like, providing lessons on how to tackle similar challenges. Such existential crises highlight the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, noting that investment in science, technology and innovation enables the acceleration of achieving those Goals.  Faced with the diversity of challenges, the international community needs the diversity of solutions, she said, calling for the creation of a bank of ideas that have global access to investments in terms of regulations.  She also stressed the importance of early warning systems to enable fast identification of threats.  To realize this potential, important gaps need to be filled with regard to connectivity and skills.  On accountability and guidance, she said that the role of the United Nations becomes even more critical.  Further, she reiterated the commitment to share technologies, skills and infrastructure to close digital gaps and divides.

Ms. MURRAY noted the world is at “halftime” of the 2030 Agenda, with only 12 per cent of the Goals on track and 30 per cent of targets having stalled or regressed.  With crises and technological innovation, including the unprecedented development of generative artificial intelligence, and geopolitical conflict, it is time to revise the approach and look at innovative financing and human capacity building.  She cited six key points and recommendations, including open science and data as global public goods.  With public research funders working on multilateral funding, she also recommended that each public funder increase its commitment by 4 per cent annually over the next five years.  She further called for work on the brain circulation model, as well as equitable access to technologies and data for least developed countries, women and indigenous groups.  Proposing an institute for digital training Web 3.0 and artificial intelligence, she called for a United Nations digitalization campaign, with Governments establishing ethical standards and certification.  Noting that developing countries can use their diaspora populations as scouts and ambassadors, working towards a socially focused artificial intelligence, she urged the international community to think globally and act locally.

Mr. WOODROFFE underscored the need to use tools, such as scientifical advisory committees, to build trust in technology.  Policymakers must anticipate changes while being explicit about addressing the inequalities and exclusion that may result from technology’s use.  Scientific solutions, moreover, must not only be sustainable but also integrate local and indigenous knowledge, especially since community-led initiatives can help reduce disparities by reaching those farthest behind.  With more than half of the world’s populations living in cities, local Governments must be empowered to benefit from emerging technologies.  The world already has several technological tools and knowledge bases for resolving many challenges related to the Sustainable Development Goals, he pointed out, adding that it just needs to strengthen its efforts in areas such as the coordination of public research funders with the United Nations system and the empowerment of women and girls in science.  He then highlighted several initiatives such as the “STI in Africa Day” and noted that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism has made significant strides in promoting science-based solutions.  Despite this, more must be done to urgently accelerate action towards the Global Goals.

Mr. GATETE underscored that rapid shifts in digital technologies are changing the context for pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Science and technology have always been the basis for prosperity and development, he emphasized, stressing the need to work together as a global community to ensure that the advantages of technology and digital transformation benefit everyone everywhere.  The platform and tools available, if used in the right way, can help unlock many opportunities and help address shared challenges. Collaboration is the only way to navigate successfully through the complex global dynamics, he added, stressing:  “It is our joint responsibility to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.”   Making use of those opportunities that digitalization can bring is one way towards meeting the goals.

Mr. FRANSAER underlined the importance of supporting initiatives that increase resilience, sustainable development and inclusiveness to enhance preparedness to crises, including climate emergencies.  He encouraged Governments to support stakeholders to accelerate transition towards sustainable solutions and implement national policies and plans to promote healthier environments for all.  While expressing support for local production and science, technology and innovation collaboration to ensure an equitable early response and recovery, he called for enhancing international cooperation in research and technology.  Further, he urged Governments and other relevant stakeholders to provide funding to empower countries to create local innovation systems and upgrade their scientific communities and human capacities, while strengthening global and regional infrastructure to guarantee access to public goods.  He also encouraged solutions that integrate scientific and community knowledge, including traditional communities and Indigenous Peoples.  Calling for innovative business models and financing, he underscored that setting prices to recover infrastructure investment will never be viable for the poorest in society.

Ms. FU stressed the need to focus on strengthening the role of science and technology to accelerate the recovery and full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Many of the technologies needed already exist, she said, highlighting the importance of unblocking bottlenecks for technology diffusion.  She also called for new localized actions, a global industrial policy and global solidarity to build this global infrastructure. Moreover, financial assistance must be provided to least developed countries, she said.

Mr. GADELHA, recalling the numerous lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, spotlighted a relevant initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO) in shaping a new governance model to deal with pandemics and other crises. Although that framework was hindered by fierce opposition from investors and national and corporate interests, it proved to be a rich framework that inspired other areas of activity.  He emphasized the importance of science, technology and innovation for localization of the Sustainable Development Goals — the building block for their successful implementation, a process that cannot be top-down.  Citing the Secretary-General, he stressed that the Goals can only be achieved if each community, city or country builds its own vision and strategy for territorialized action.  The goal of localization is favoured by the use of social technology, which is now receiving increased attention.  A new definition of that term calls for putting social needs above economic interests, strengthening community organizations, and consolidating democratic and public governance.

The floor then opened up for an interactive dialogue.

The representative of the United Nations Major Group on Science and Technology said the message from the scientific, technological and engineering community is clear:  “We need a committed and more aggressive action plan to rescue the SDGs.” To that end, the international community should communicate effectively; partner to build trust in science, technology and engineering; and identify integrated solutions and approaches.  It must also leverage local science, technology, innovation and education resources and successes; build gender equity; close the gap between research, action and practice; and bridge critical capacity gaps, he added.

The representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth, calling for more platforms for youth, pointed out:  “Youth will inherit the repercussions of failure to achieve the Global Goals, but we need to move forward together as equal partners in dialogue and action.”  To that end, there must be greater youth involvement through increased global initiatives to support education, entrepreneurship and employment in science, technology and innovation; increased intergenerational collaboration between youth, organizations, constituencies, Member States and the United Nations; non-formal education pathways to bolster foundational innovation skills; and, among others, funding to bridge the digital divide.  “Youth are ready to build capacity, design and develop solutions, mobilize and take action,” she stressed.

Closing Remarks

LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, thanked all participants for their active engagement and lively contributions.  Noting the many opportunities, challenges, case studies, and promising practices that were discussed, she highlighted the value of cooperation in the form of data sharing, collective learning, and cross-disciplinary approaches.  Pointing to the incredible opportunities in areas such as artificial intelligence, she called for the development of transformative high-impact technology applications for sustainable development. She also underscored the value of bottom-up movements and inclusive planning to integrate local and indigenous knowledge into new technologies.  There is an urgent need for policymakers to adopt new policies and incentive systems to keep up with the pace of rapidly advancing technologies, she stated.

For information media. Not an official record.