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Frontier Technologies For the Greater Good

New York, USA - The United Nations recently hosted a groundbreaking conference on frontier technologies and how they might be harnessed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's). Called "Frontier Technologies 4 SDG's: Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain - Opportunity or Barrier to Development", the event was held on March 5 and attended by over 200, a cross-section of private sector leaders, academics, and government leaders.

The event was important because it was one of the first UN gatherings to squarely examine the opportunities and potential social disruptions that may be caused by frontier technologies.As such, the conference was in line with the Secretary General's Strategy on New Technologies which aims to position the United Nations to better address both the enormous potential of new technologies and the associated disruption.       

In delivering welcoming remarks, Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Operational Support stressed how critically important Frontier Technology is to the 2030 Agenda. “Used effectively,” Mr. Khare said, “innovation and technology can be mobilized to provide solutions to sustainable development challenges from the local level to the global level.”

The event was co-hosted by the Office of Information and Communications Technology (UN OICT), the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN, and UNICEF.

H.E Ambassador Jarmo Sareva, Innovation Ambassador, Finland Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave the opening keynote address delivered welcoming remarks, along with Mr. Khare and Mrs. Shanelle Hall, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.

Member States’ representatives, UN staff, top researchers, experts, practitioners, the private sector, civil society and other key actors, gathered to discuss best practices and experiences, to create new formal and informal networks for innovative forms of collaboration, and to generate concrete recommendations, including public policies. Panel discussions were entitled:

“Artificial Intelligence: Robots for development?”

“Blockchain – Buzzword or savior from development obstacles?

“New technologies = opportunities – What about the risks and threats?”

Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, stressed that the threats posed by new technologies should not inhibit the pursuit in technological developments or inhibit innovation: "We at the United Nations are interested in promoting and facilitating the beneficial applications of science and technology for achieving our aim to create a safer and more secure world.” 

In her closing remarks Atefeh Riazi, Assistant Secretary-General and Chief Information Communication Officer, called for public-private collaboration to harness the power of new technologies and mitigate their risks.

"Frontier technology has completly changed our role; it's changed the role of government. We need that partnership with the private sector to think through this. This is something we need to do as humanity.". 

Secretary General

"The advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including those brought on by a combination of computing power, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence, are generating revolutions in health care, transport and manufacturing.  
I am convinced that these new capacities can help us to lift millions of people out of poverty, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and enable developing countries to leap‑frog into a better future."

23 March 2018, New York