World Economic and Social Survey 2018

Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development

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This publication reviews the advances in frontier technologies — including automation, robotics, renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, biotechnologies and artificial intelligence — and analyzes their economic, social and environmental impact. These technologies present immense potentials for the 2030 Agenda, fostering growth, prosperity and environmental sustainability. They also pose significant risks of unemployment, underemployment and rising income and wealth inequality and raise new ethical and moral concerns. The Survey identifies policy measures at national levels with the capacity to both maximize the potential of these technologies and mitigate their risks, thereby striking a balance among economic efficiency, equity and ethical considerations.



Bridging the development divide

Major technological innovation has been led largely by several developed countries that are at the forefront of the technological frontier. Recently, however, developing countries, such as China and the Republic of Korea, have–in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, renewable energy technologies (RETs) and 3D printing–managed to push their way to the technological frontier. In the post-Second World War era, a dozen developing countries were able to advance into the category of high-income countries, several of which developed and strengthened national technological and innovation capacities to become key players in the development of new technologies. Bridging the technological divide has been a key development strategy for many of these countries. In fact, technological advances instil in many developing countries the great hope of bridging the development divide and catching up with developed countries.


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