UN Meeting Opens On Impact Of Science And Technology On Humanity 15/05/2018 by Damilola Adepeju for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)A United Nations meeting gathering ministers, high-level representatives, scientists and technology experts opened yesterday with a discussion of the impacts that rapid innovative trends in science and technology have on development, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and humanity itself. The opening of the 21st session of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) brought together great minds to discuss how advances in technology affect the world, especially its impacts on developing countries and the SDGs. The event is taking place in Geneva from 14 -18 May. Key issues for the commission this week are the role of science, technology and innovation in increasing the share of renewable energy by 2030; and building digital competencies to benefit from technologies, with a special focus on gender and youth. The opening session focused on how science and technology can be more inclusive and how technology can be used for the best of mankind. The opening discussion was moderated by Didi Akinyelure, broadcast journalist, BBC and CNBC Europe, and saw two retired authorities, Prof. Jacques Dubochet from Lausanne University, a Nobel Prize-winning Swiss biophysicist, and Sir Roger Penrose, the widely published mathematical physicist from the University of Oxford, talked about the implications of science and technology for the future of the world. Themes included the link between science and society, the role of the UN in raising awareness about research and technology, the impact of science and technology on sustainable development, and preparedness for the impact of emerging innovative technologies, among others. UNCTAD issued a press release on the session. The discussion also covered the way science and technology affect developing countries in particular and the concerns about the affordability of newly emerging technologies for people in the developing world. Speaking on the connection between the world of technology and the real world and how to make sense between the two especially in relation to inclusiveness of technologies, Penrose argued that technologies do not have understandings of their own and therefore still have to rely on human control and understanding. “We have to be not overhauled by the success of these technologies because these technologies are a partial story, they are not the whole story and we need human beings to understand these things and we need human beings to explain these things to other human beings so they can understand these things,” he said. People have to maintain control over technologies, point out the limitations and dangers, he said, adding that the fears that computers may take over human beings is not a danger he sees. On the link between science, society, and social issues, Dubochet highlighted that scientists are good at producing a lot of knowledge that is transformative for the world, for instance, artificial intelligence, but he also said that this knowledge is not used for the best of mankind and therefore emphasises the role of the United Nations in making sure knowledge in science and technology is used for the best of all. Ministers from different countries raised concerns regarding how science and technology can better reflect in the society. A minister from Sri Lanka mentioned from the audience that issues that come with innovative technology need not be left to scientists alone but that the bigger community of policymakers also needs to be sensitised to be aware of these issues. The minister of science and technology of South Africa mentioned the need for a science-conscious society where young scientists can be part of the decision-making process thereby assisting countries to find solutions. The session continued with a high-level roundtable which brought together experts on internet governance, space research, biomedical research, and education and culture to discuss the impact of rapid technological advancements in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, highlighted the benefits of data and information technology for making better decisions in people’s everyday lives. “We can use big data analytics today to improve the educational system, we can use it to improve the analysis of entrepreneurial activity in very large cities around the world, in Africa, in Asia, down to a street level that we never could before,” he said. He also mentioned that data and data analytics can be used to improve health and transportation of people, particularly in megacities. Danielle Wood, assistant professor, Space Enabled Research Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, pointed out how space technology contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Satellite Earth Observation, Satellite Earth Positioning, Human Space Flight and Microgravity Research, Satellite Communication, Space Technology Transfer were among the space technologies she highlighted. Satellite Earth observation is used to address food security and drought concerns, she said, adding that satellite communication through telemedicine sessions gives people who live far away the opportunity to access specialised medical services. Musa Mhlanga, principal researcher and technical manager of the biomedical translational research initiative, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa, highlighted the significance of genome-editing technologies and other molecular biology technologies in the achievement of the SDGs, but also noted how they affect the developing world and places like Africa. He mentioned the effects of these technologies on agriculture and food production as we see today with genetically-modified organisms and also the better management of epidemics. The panel ended with recommendations for policymakers from Ilkka Turunen, special government advisor at the Cabinet of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland. He advised creating funding structures for strategic research, making sure everyone can acquire skills and competencies that they need in a rapidly changing world and supporting those who are finding it difficult to acquire these skills. 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