Robot Sophia addresses ECOSOC, seen here conversing with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. UN Photo/Manuel Elias
Robot Sophia addresses ECOSOC, seen here conversing with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The importance of scientific and technological innovation for meeting many sustainable development challenges and for accelerating human progress is widely noted throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The General Assembly, in its resolution 72/242, also recognizes that the pace and scope of rapid technological change can have far-reaching implications – both positive and negative – for the achievement of sustainable development, requiring international and multi-stakeholder cooperation in order to benefit from opportunities and address challenges.

Under the chairmanship of Secretary-General António Guterres, the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) and its subsidiary machinery are monitoring a selection of “frontier issues” to ensure the that United Nations system is positioned to provide timely and informed support and advice to Member States in today's quickly evolving technological context.

 In November 2017, CEB examined the risks and opportunities for sustainable development associated with technological advances, with the intention of identifying appropriate areas for engagement by the UN system on frontier technologies in support of Member States. The discussions, which were informed by analyses produced by the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), specifically addressed artificial intelligence, cyberspace, biotechnology, and the peace and security implications of emerging technologies.

HLCP continues to pursue analytical work on promoting the use of frontier technologies to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs to feed into the Board’s forthcoming deliberations on the socio-economic impacts of the fourth industrial revolution. The Committee is currently focusing on the implications of technology for labour markets, education and learning, and food security and agriculture, and will, in coming sessions, take up other future-oriented thematic issues critical to realizing the 2030 Agenda.

 CEB Survey on Frontier Technologies

In June 2017, the CEB Secretariat invited CEB member entities to supply information on their most substantial recent and forthcoming work within a number of technological domains. The intent was to provide insight into the nature and scale of some of the more progressive activities UN organizations are pursuing to both help manage the opportunities and risks of emerging technologies and direct them towards mandate delivery and more broadly to the achievement of the SDGs.

The request yielded nearly 300 submissions from 48 UN system entities that reveal interesting and innovative work – both normative and operational – across a broad range of themes, utilizing a wide array of technologies. Broadly, the survey confirmed that the UN system has an important role to play to support Member States in their efforts to harness new technologies for sustainable development as well as to address normative and regulatory challenges arising from technological advances.  In some domains, the UN role is already clearly defined; in others that role has yet to be determined or could be strengthened.

A summary of responses provides a glimpse into the nature, scale and impact of the UN system initiatives reported through the survey. The complete compendium of responses provides detailed information on each of the activities.

This rich collection is shared with the intention of enhancing the awareness of Member States and other stakeholders of existing UN system-supported intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder processes, forums, platforms, partnerships, etc., related to science, technology and innovation; of opportunities to access UN system technical assistance and capacity building on frontier issues; and of UN system efforts to harness emerging technologies for sustainable development.