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A fairer world requires fairer tech. Here’s why

In the decade ahead, a wave of technological solutions will touch and transform every part of our lives

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"As tech can scale both progress or harm, the time is now to shape the fair and responsible future we want to live in."
"As tech can scale both progress or harm, the time is now to shape the fair and responsible future we want to live in."

by Jeremy Jurgens*

In the decade ahead, a wave of technological solutions will touch and transform every part of our lives. These new solutions could either tackle existing problems – or exacerbate them while creating others. As tech can scale both progress or harm, the time is now to shape the fair and responsible future we want to live in.

Connected risks and opportunities

The world faces a range of challenges regarding people (economic and social well-being) and the planet (climate and biodiversity). These problems are interconnected and at the top of leaders’ minds as they weigh future risks and opportunities.

Innovation - including emerging and frontier technologies – is essential to scaling solutions to these problems. In Rwanda, for instance, there’s only one radiologist for every million people. At a time when AI-powered radiology assessments compare favourably to those from trained professionals, we have the capability to extend high-quality assessments to a wider population.

And thanks to telemedicine, access has already increased for millions. Health bots powered by AI will help boost this access further. These technologies, as one publication has explained recently, will help make Rwanda “one of the world’s most advanced countries for digital health.”

Tech can act as a multiplier, tackling multiple problems at once. In India, for instance, drone and satellite imagery won’t just give smallholder farmers better market information or better ways to detect pests. It can lead to economic resilience and even prevent hunger.

But technological solutions present their own challenges. The AI expanding access to radiology assessments in countries around the globe is typically trained on Western patients. It’s not fully known what difference that could make in patient care.

Furthermore, such radiology assessment data is often stored on US servers. Guidelines must be put in place to protect patients’ information, all while ensuring protocols take foreign countries’ regulatory frameworks into account.

Other questions surface as well. Can these solutions be designed with inclusion in mind? To keep humans at their center? With these questions - and the fast pace of transformation - a critical third challenge emerges: tech governance, ensuring that new solutions are designed fairly and responsibly.

Shaping the transformation

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) was created to help pose such questions, to facilitate their discussion – and most importantly to pilot solutions. This hub for multi-stakeholder cooperation works with leaders in governments, business and civil society to help develop new approaches to technology adoption that maximize benefits while mitigating risks.

In Rwanda, for instance, the C4IR is helping to develop policies for the use of AI to ensure data and privacy is protected. The Centre is working with government leaders and legislators to create laws that might serve as models for others around the globe. In India, our teams are seeking similar collaborations in agriculture, health and mobility among other domains.

In the years since the C4IR was founded, we’ve learned the importance of looking beyond short-term needs or even any single challenge. By approaching problems holistically, and accepting incremental progress, we’ve seen first-hand how to shape system-wide change.

Such discussions are not possible, of course, without a range of stakeholders. With voices from different sectors, industries and geographies decision-makers have a stronger sense of the impact issues will have in different contexts to better design lasting frameworks and best practices.

Critical to consider, however, is the willingness to question how technology will fit into our lives. By providing the simple space to discuss technology’s trade-offs, we have the opportunity to better understand technology’s impacts. This practice is all the more important to prioritize as our needs and technologies evolve.

To drive home the importance of these discussions, the C4IR will present its inaugural Global Technology Governance Summit this April. This two-day event hosted by Japan will showcase the most cutting-edge technologies while raising awareness of the ways solutions can be designed more fairly and responsibly. The sessions will bring together business leaders, entrepreneurs, academics and policymakers to engage in these urgent conversations.

To be sure, the importance of these discussions will continue long after the event. The spirit of these talks - and the willingness to shape innovation’s place in our lives – must not be lost in the days and months to come.

Technology is developing at a rapid pace. The models created today can shape how we live and work for decades. Today’s leaders can scale more than just technology – they can scale a responsible approach to life in the digital age.

*Managing Director, World Economic Forum
**first published in: www.weforum.org

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