Harnessing Rapid Technological Change for Inclusive and Sustainable Development

By April 27, 2021 Publications

Although technological change is ultimately essential for economic growth and sustainable development, it can initially widen inequalities. Recent technological advances could bring significant benefits that touch on all the Sustainable Development Goals, but not everyone has immediate access to such progress, such as life-saving treatment, clean water, specific knowledge, or a piece of technology.

For example, those with higher incomes tend to be the first to adopt new technologies. Such differential access creates new opportunities in education, health, and employment for those who are already better off and benefit from economic and social advantages.

As people are both consumers and producers, their living standards and levels of access to new technologies depend on how they generate income. Some frontier technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digital platforms, and robotics, can significantly disrupt labour markets. Since most people earn their income through the supply of their labour, they will not be able to benefit as consumers from most of these technologies if they lose their jobs or are pushed or kept out of labour markets.

Therefore, to harness rapid technological change for inclusive and sustainable development, governments and other stakeholders need to ensure that the benefits of frontier technologies reach the greatest number of people and, in particular, the most vulnerable and those further behind. They also need to ensure that rapid technological change results in more and better jobs in developed and developing countries.

This study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) advances the discussion and critically examines how to make frontier technologies work for all. It highlights some of the concerns regarding inequalities that technological change might exacerbate, which science, technology and innovation (STI) policies need to address in the future. The analysis focuses on ways to assist the development of appropriate business models that allow inclusive innovation using frontier technologies to be scaled up for inclusive and sustainable development.