Informal Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session

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18-Oct-2018 00:44:16
Greater cooperation key to harness technological advances for mankind’s well-being, sustainable development, speakers tell General Assembly at informal and 22nd plenary meetings.

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Millions of people risk being left behind due to the impact of rapid technological change, the General Assembly heard today as speakers called for increased cooperation to harness the positive and transformative power of technology to improve the livelihood of people around the world.

Opening the meeting, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés said the world is witnessing a period of “substantive transformation” resulting from technological advances and that the United Nations must play an active role in assessing their impact. The Organization must identify which technological advances will help implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she stressed.

She said new technologies present challenges and opportunities that will affect the lives of people worldwide, namely through changing labour and environmental trends. “Technological development can lead to clean and affordable energy for millions of individuals,” she said, adding that “the United Nations must address the question of rapid technological change while keeping the well‑being of individuals at the core of its work”.

Several speakers pointed to a looming fourth industrial revolution and said States cannot lose sight of the impact of rapid technological change on the lives of individuals.

“There are concerns about the impact of new technology on employment, privacy or security,” said the representative of the European Union, calling on all relevant stakeholders to ensure that all people can benefit from the opportunities presented by new technologies. For its part, the European Union set up a digital single market that is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and established a clear set of data protection rules for all companies operating within its borders.

Digitalization has wide‑ranging benefits, said Sven Mikser, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noting that the process improves governmental effectiveness and overall efficiencies, transparency and trust in public processes and it enhances citizen engagement to build more inclusive societies. Information and communications technology can revolutionize entrepreneurship, education, employment and health care, he said, adding that digital online services provide economic growth and bring down the unnecessary barriers between citizen and State.

Speakers identified increased cooperation as essential to harnessing technological advances for the betterment of humanity and for understanding their impact on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Luis Videgaray Caso, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said Member States should aim to harness technological advances without limiting or halting innovation and called on all countries and societies to get involved. Mexico has taken steps at the national and regional levels, promoting an exchange of views, data and policies with multi‑stakeholders. It has also set out to identify the impact of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, on achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The representative of Belarus said technological foresight is a powerful tool that can identify optimal areas for research and development, but it is not given due consideration at the international level. He recommended the creation of relevant cooperation mechanisms and urged Member States to pool their efforts and share technological analysis and research. Cooperation in this field will help develop clear priority areas for national science and innovation efforts, he stressed.

However, rapid technological change presents myriad security and development challenges, several speakers warned.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that while these technologies can provide powerful ways to end poverty, epidemics and violence, they are also giving rise to increased uneasiness and anxieties related to privacy, equality, ethics, jobs and cybersecurity.

“We should remember that technology is only a tool, and in the hands of criminals or terrorists it could equally be maliciously used to enable new digital, physical or even political threats,” said the representative of Georgia. She added that artificial intelligence and robotics‑driven automation may result in the widespread displacement of workers. Developing countries and economies in transition are likely to bear the brunt of this disruption.

Guatemala’s representative noted that 80 per cent of job losses are due to the use of new technology and said knowledge about technologies and their impact on daily lives must be made public. He expressed appreciation for the work of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and stressed that reliable information makes it possible to identify undesirable effects and to adjust policies accordingly.

The representative from the Russian Federation warned that new technologies can contribute to an increasing technological divide, noting that the United Nations has the tools to address this issue. He called for a holistic approach to identify the challenges and opportunities brought forth by scientific progress.

Cuba’s representative said meeting these challenges calls for the increased involvement of developed States. Equal access to new technologies on a global scale requires financial and investment commitments by developed countries, she asserted, adding that the achievements of science, technology and innovation must be used to promote human well‑being.

Also speaking were the representatives of Italy, Turkey, Chile, Montenegro, India, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Brunei Darussalam, Israel, Armenia, Norway and Canada, as well as the permanent observer from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 19 October, to take up the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria in Developing Countries, Particularly in Africa.

Opening Remarks

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the world is witnessing a period of substantive transformation caused by rapid technological changes and the United Nations must play an active role in the assessment of the impact of those changes. If the Organization is to be efficient in the face of those changes it must identify which technological advances will assist in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Technological advances, namely automation, will have a lasting impact on the global labour market. The potential of rapid technological change in the context of climate action is another priority area, she said, calling for the integration of technological advances in efforts to meet climate‑related goals.

“Technological development can lead to clean and affordable energy for millions of individuals,” she said, stressing that “the United Nations must address the question of rapid technological change while keeping the well‑being of individuals at the core of its work”. Rapid technological change will increase inequality if individual well‑being is ignored. She noted that a digital divide exists between and within countries and remains an obstacle to sustainable development. On privacy, she said certain technologies require regulatory frameworks to address future risks. She concluded by noting that technological change presents a changing paradigm for multilateral commitments.
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