The World Economic and Social Survey is the flagship publication on major development issues prepared by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (UN/DESA).
Frontier technologies—from DNA sequencing to 3D-printing, from renewable energy technologies to biodegradable plastics, from machine learning to artificial intelligence—present immense potential for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Good health and longevity, prosperity for all and environmental sustainability are within our reach if we harness the full power of these innovations. However, these same technologies also raise serious concerns. The World Economic and Social Survey 2018 deepens our understanding of the impact of many technological advances. Clearly, we need policies that can ensure frontier technologies—which increasingly transcend sectoral, geographic and generational boundaries—are not only commercially viable but also equitable and ethical. This will require a rigorous, objective and transparent ongoing assessment, involving all stakeholders.
Frontier technologies, which encompass an array of new materials, products, applications, processes and business models, are interdependent, interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Advances in one technology foster progress in others. For example, the invention of new materials is transforming energy production and storage, additive manufacturing and 3D printing; artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly enabling automation, online search engines and social media platforms; and rapid increases in computing power are enabling breakthroughs in genetics, nanotechnology, blockchains and cryptocurrencies. The present Survey focuses only on a selected set of new technologies that are deemed most pertinent and promising for sustainable development.