Promises and risks of the digital revolution for sustainable development.
Among the topics that are not explicitly present in the SDGs is the digital revolution. Certainly, the transformations brought by digital science and technologies are (and will be) major ones, and difficult to foresee precisely.
The authors of the report The Future is Now dedicated a box to this digital revolution.
They stress that digitalization is often stated as a booster for sustainable development, for instance giving access to information and services all over the world, even in remote locations, and to illiterate populations.
A key enabler of sustainable development in the coming years will be the digital revolution, constituted by ongoing advances in artificial intelligence, connectivity, digitization of information, additive manufacturing, virtual reality, machine learning, blockchains, robotics, quantum computing and synthetic biology. […]
The digital revolution is already reshaping work, leisure, behaviour, education and governance. In general, those contributions can raise labour, energy, resource and carbon productivity; reduce production costs; expand access to services; and may even dematerialize production.
Losers and risks of digital revolution
But, they write, there also may be losers in this revolution, if we don’t take care. SDG10 (Reduced inequalities) is particularly endangered.
[…] the loss of jobs, rising inequality, and the further shift of income from labour to capital. With automation and advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, many more workers, even those who are highly skilled, may find their jobs and earnings under threat. While new jobs might replace old ones, the new jobs may come with lower real earnings and working conditions.
They also make a list of other dangers:
- personal security the invasion of privacy
- cyberattacks or cyberwarfare
- new monopolies in digital services
- manipulation of social media that undermines democracy
- exclusion of older people who cannot cope with the rapid advance of technology
- human “enhancements”
- intelligent machines.
Organize the change for sustainability
Consequently, and in order to prevent these risks, the authors call for specific work on digital transformations and how to exploit them for sustainable development.
The digital transformation calls for a comprehensive set of regulatory and normative frameworks, physical infrastructure and digital systems. An essential priority should be to develop science, technology and innovation roadmaps and write the principles of digital transformation for sustainable development.