In a pandemic scenario, a life without technology seems unimaginable. Technology has enhanced our individual and collective response to the pandemic from our work, schooling, socializing, shopping, telemedicine, and contact-tracing apps.
The rapid shift to digitalization during the pandemic has fueled unprecedented growth in medium and high-tech industries. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Report 2021 recognizes tech’s growth, saying that it is fueled by surging demand for computer electronics as employment shifted to work-from-home, schooling to remote learning, and shopping to eCommerce.
The Geneva-based organization also acknowledged that this intensified growth in the sector could “accelerate progress” on the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tech can also heighten inequalities
Yet, there’s a caveat: this intensification of tech can also heighten existing inequalities. For instance, while the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated the power of tech to advance health care and other rights, it also exposed countries that fell through the cracks of digital inequality.
Digital access remains skewed against poorer nations’s and even when people have access, responsible technological governance remains wanting. Users need to be protected against data privacy breaches, job displacement, and biased algorithms.
Moreover, as societies and people become increasingly dependent on the Internet, they are also vulnerable to cyberattacks. A report from the BCG and Forum concluded that users need to band together and fight back given these challenges. Another concerning finding is that based on feedback from UN member countries, the pandemic led to an increase in the number of cyberattacks.
SDGs – how to promote tech for good?
Three SDGs govern inclusive technology: SDG8, SDG9, and SDG12.
SDG8 refers to Decent Work and Economic Growth. Economic productivity needs to be enhanced through innovation, diversification, and technological upgrades to drive this SDG towards tech for good. Technology can also be used to fuel job creation and the growth of small and medium enterprises.
SDG9 involves Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. To promote tech for good and address this SDG would require boosting the technological capabilities of Targets include promoting innovation and R & D in domestic technology, and upgrading technological capabilities of the sector of countries, and democratizing access to ICTs.
Meanwhile, SDG12 pertains to Responsible Consumption and Production. Tech has a massive contribution and capability to reduce waste, promote sustainable production and consumption, and facilitate ethical procurement.
There has been significant progress with respect to what kind of progress has been made in converting tech for good. Nearly $2.2 trillion has been invested in R&D, up from only $741 billion in 2020. Yet, several challenges remain.
For instance, while nearly all the world’s population are within mobile network range, 85% of which 4G-capable, universal internet access that’s affordable is still an uphill climb. As of 2020, only one in five people in the poorest nations have access to the Internet.