…Africa, Others Show Dilligence
By Clifford Agugoesi
Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) are priority issues that shaped discussions at the 22nd Session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which took place on 13-17 May, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Commission is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which is under the supervision of the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and is meant to provide the UN General Assembly and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues.
STI analysts have every cause to be proud of the performance of African and other developing countries whose diplomats and ministers were part of the high profile discussants at the session. Specifically, however, it was at the High-level roundtable on ‘The role of STI in empowering people and in ensuring inclusiveness and equality’ that the future STI thrust of these countries, was revealed by those who should know and actually know what this direction is all about.
The opening ceremony of the session started with a few words from Chair of the CSTD who is a Professor and Director at the Institute of Software Technology and Interactive Systems, University of Technology, Vienna, Austria A Min Tjoa. He said that critical issues related to the contribution to science, technology, and innovation (STI) in empowering people, ensuring inclusivity and equality, and as enabler of the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) were at the core of the 22nd session, which focused on two macro themes: the impact of rapid technological change on sustainable development; and, the building of resilient communities.
Statements were addressed by Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Isabelle Durant and Deputy Secretary-General, International Telecommunications Union (ITU, Malcolm Johnson. Durant stressed the crucial role played by the sharing of knowledge and education to foster the mandate of UNCTAD, driven by collaboration among different stakeholders. The themes of the 22nd session highlighted this aspect, underlining the key role of technology in stimulating progress. Johnson explained that there is a need to come up with answers to the challenges that the world is facing in terms of recent technological developments such as artificial intelligence (AI). He said that given the advantages and potential risks of rapid technological change, new mechanisms to face these challenges need to be put into place to benefit from STI on a global level, and emphasized that the various stakeholders involved need to work together. Nonetheless, according to Johnson, the functioning of STI needs to be better understood, especially with regards to their ability to upset the way society works (namely with genetic manipulation). Therefore, he added that one of the main challenges we face is protecting society from catastrophic changes, while fostering positive innovation.
Johnson focused his speech on the Implementation of the Outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), reiterating its progress in line with the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s goals. He highlighted that all ITU activities are related to the SDGs and their action line.
In the WSIS process, the multistakeholder approach – which recalls the need to strengthen collaboration and co-operation among different stakeholders – represents a platform for fostering discussions on how information and communications technology (ICTs) can accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.
The event was then featured by a panel discussion with distinguished scientists, entitled ‘A conversation with great minds’. Moderated by Nigeria’s award-winning journalist, Didi Akinyelure, it addressed the topic of international co-operation on frontier technologies for sustainable development, by focusing on the opportunities created by new technological developments, on the inclusivity and technological device issue, and on the role of ethical and moral frameworks for learning-based technologies.
Nobel Laureate for Physics and former Director-General of CERN Carlo Rubbia focused his speech on the challenges posed by environmental protection and security. While renewable energies seem to represent a good solution, he said questions remain unanswered with regards to their storage, adding an alternative pathway for frontier innovation is represented by using fossil energy in a different way, such as by transforming natural gas in hydrogen by recovering carbondioxide (CO2) and mixing it with hydrogen that would produce energy sources, and represent a frontier technology example for sustainable development.
A Professor at University of Southampton and Executive Director, Web Science Institute, Wendy Hall talked about the work of the Web Science Institute, as interdisciplinary research not only focused on the technical aspects of technology, but also on the impact that it has on society. As she argued, the research tries to look at policymaking from a different perspective. As an AI expert, Hall explained that the future will be largely based and impacted by AI and that there is a consequent need to tackle the challenges posed by biases embedded in data, as well as the ethical considerations. She argued that ‘In AI, if it is not diverse is not ethical’ and with this statement, stressed the need to have diversity in terms of ethnicity, accessibility, age, gender, and religion, to cite a few. Additionally, she explained that when it comes to AI, there are currently not enough experts able to talk ethics and their implementation. She underscored the critical place of research as well as on the implementation of mechanisms such as AI auditing.
Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, NNAISENSE, as well as Scientific Director, Swiss AI, Lab IDSIA and Professor of AI, USI & SUPSI, Switzerland, Jürgen Schmidhuber introduced his recent project, which aims to develop an AI system able to act like a human. The project is based on a long short-term memory (LSTM) technique which aims to allow a learning technology system to shape data on its own actions, inventing its own experiments and action sequences. As he explained, the next wave of AI will be about machines that shape data in their actions as artificial agents which are already developed in the lab. According to Schmidhuber, this evolution is going to affect everything, especially because in the future, AI will become very cheap. With regards to the conducts and morals of robots learning on their own, he explained that the process will be featured by great commercial pressure on creating a good, ethical AI. This, he said, requires that the systems have the freedom to invent themselves in order to produce exponential benefits to society, adding inevitably, this will create a transitional period that will affect job availability; but, in the long term, it will create benefits for improving everyday and professional activities.
The High-level roundtable on ‘The role of STI in empowering people and in ensuring inclusiveness and equality’ was moderated by Professor A Min Tjoa who began by presenting the impact of rapid technological change on sustainable development. He also explained the role of science, technology, and innovation (STI) in building resilient communities, including through the contribution of citizen science.
In her video message, President of ECOSOC Inga Rhonda King said that STI are key to providing high-level services for humanity. She said that the 2030 Agenda is the pillar of innovation and a link between ECOSOC and other institutions noting how STI can facilitate health, economic growth, and various services.
King noted the importance of political will and co-operation in order to develop a common framework for science and technology. According to her, ECOSOC should be a central player in the STI global policy. She emphasised the opportunities and challenges of STI in implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation of Angola, Marisa Do Rosario Bragança Sambo explained that equality, the creation of jobs, and inclusiveness are crucial to empowering people noting that national development strategies (provision of energy, infrastructure, scientific research, etc.) must pay attention to STI.
She noted further the importance of human capital and education in order to be able to take advantage of STI on national and regional levels. According to her, Angola has the following challenges: digital literacy, the high cost of STI, and food insecurity. She emphasised that STI can help to resolve various problems in the following sectors: health (disease, drug resistance), agriculture, and academia.
Deputy Vice-President for Science and Technology of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mahdi Elyasi said that STI policy has an important place in the Iranian Government. He said that more than four million young people are studying STI at university. He stressed the importance of including STI in economic development, and talked about broadband in rural areas adding that STI policy helps start-ups and the achievement of the SDGs in Iran. Elyasi explained that the Iranian government is using STI policy in both health services and the pharmaceutical sector.
Secretary for Science and Technology of Nepal Krishna Raj B.C. explained the importance of STI policy in Nepal and the role it plays in promoting gender equality in his country. He added that women have an important part in making STI policy, developing technical skills, and education. He talked about empowering people by using innovation and technology, data policy, and good quality education (learning process).
Moreover, Raj B.C. noted the role of STI in social and economic development saying that Nepal is committed to improving STI policy on a local level, and to developing a plan which is based on inclusiveness and emphasized the importance of the private sector’s role in developing STI in Nepal.
Undersecretary for Research and Development of the Philippines, Rowena Cristina L. Guevara started by discussing the 2017-2020 Philippines plan to empower people through gender equality and research projects in STI. She talked about excellency and equality in STI scholarships given to young ladies at university. She noted the role of STI in doing business for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). L. Guevara went further to talk about sharing technological skills to accelerate the SDGs and public services. She mentioned that her government is working on developing STI in rural areas.
Minister of Higher Education of Zambia, Nkandu Luo explained the role of STI in contributing to the acceleration of the SDGs in Zambia. She noted that Zambia believes that STI will help economic development and innovation. She talked about Zambia’s Vision 2030, a development plan linked to the SDGs: creating sustainable growth and innovation, manufacturing, transportation, and so on.
Furthermore, Luo explained the role of STI in industry, academia, primary and secondary schools. She noted the importance of training technicians in order to enhance STI policy in Zambia, and emphasized the linkages between government and the private sectors. Finally, she noted the importance of infrastructure and good policies in implementing STI in her country.
Minister of Science and Technology, Nigeria Ogbonnaya Onu started by explaining the importance of STI in Nigeria. He talked about the national STI Roadmap Review Policy and discussed the role of STI in providing jobs and creating digital capacities in rural areas for sustainable economic growth. He also emphasized the role of the business community in developing new technology in Nigeria.
Moreover, Onu said that STI is the key pillar in developing digital development and creating jobs in his country. He talked about the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in implementing STI as a key-driver of economic goals.
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Austria to the UNOG Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger explained that Austria is an active member of CSTD and said that STI can play a role in economic development. Moreover, the Austrian government is employing a plan which includes AI in education, health, and other sectors on a national level. She also emphasized Austria is committed to working with ECOSOC in tackling the challenges of STI.
The representatives of Bostwana, Bulgaria, and Armenia, talked about investing in STI infrastructure and innovation. They noted the importance of the inclusiveness of women and young people in digital development. Moreover, they emphasized the importance of national strategy in economic development adding that STI policy must improve the health and other services of the countries, as well as reduce the digital divide and improve services in rural areas.
-With reporting from Stefania Pia Grottola and Gilles D. Bana, DiploFoundation