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.



Executive summary

Frontier technologies herald great hopes for humanity. They can help eradicate hunger and epidemics, increase life expectancy, reduce carbon emissions, automate manual and repetitive tasks, create decent jobs, improve quality of life and facilitate increasingly complex decision-making processes. Frontier technologies can indeed make sustainable development a reality, improving people’s lives, promoting prosperity and protecting the planet. However, the rapid pace of technological change also introduces significant policy challenges, creating winners and losers in societies and presenting new ethical and moral dilemmas. Notwithstanding these challenges, societies–with the appropriate policies, institutions and international cooperation–can harness frontier technologies to achieve sustainable development, while mitigating their adverse economic and social consequences.


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