By Amera Kudamat
We live in a world where digital technology impacts are inevitable. We have digital platforms like the information and communication technologies (ICT), the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, CCTV, facial recognition and much more. It is a world where having a smartphone enables you to carry out your daily tasks without having to leave your house.
Digital technologies have infiltrated into every aspect of our daily lives, spanning across the world, actively impacting education, health care and medical systems, jobs, labour markets, services, agriculture, finances and more.
The 2030 Agenda promotes equitable development and fair access to education, healthcare, water, energy, sanitation, social protection, services and opportunities, through 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to leave no one behind. Technology is constantly evolving and plays a significant role in achieving sustainability. It has been successful in reducing our environmental footprints through the development of green technology and more efficient energy use. According to the Global Footprint Network, it would take 1.6 earths to produce the ecological resources that humans use; that’s more than nature can regenerate. Hence, any developments that would contribute to a decrease in our footprint are momentous. Technology is also a driver of economic growth via its effects on jobs and wages. Technological development can potentially contribute to all 17 of the SDGs.
Thus, it is absolutely crucial to fully understand the opportunities and the risks and challenges that are associated with this digital growth in order to have positive impacts on development. We need to understand the complexity and multidisciplinary nature of ICT development. On the one hand, ICT plays a fundamental role in socio-economic development, empowering people and improving lives; through providing access to education, health care, services, creating new jobs. It can boost agricultural productivity by improving farming techniques and better access to markets. Technology plays a role in achieving the SDGs and measuring their progress. Technology can accelerate the achievement of each of the 17 SDGs, and also the pillars of sustainable development which are: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. But on the other hand, the creation, distribution and use of digital development is subject to political, economic and social control. The misuse of it could create risks that generate even greater inequalities than what exists, it could lead to increased social divisions and a widening of the development gap and digital divide between those who have access and those who do not. These risks involve data management, privacy concerns, surveillance issues, cybersecurity and increased amounts of E-waste.
Similarly, an article published in The Guardian discussed this idea regarding the IoT; hardware, software and the diverse platforms and models that are surging up around have the potential to benefit us. However, they are not innocent; they are charged and determined by power structures and driven by profit just like our society is determined by inequality
It is pivotal to also analyse this topic from the aspect of protection, promotion and development of human rights; considering that this is an essential component of the 2030 Agenda. In July 2015, the UN Human Rights Council appointed its first Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, where it was stated that having privacy is crucial to enable other rights and freedoms to be enjoyed, and also to be able to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural fabrics of life. This Rapporteur promotes and protects the right to privacy through ensuring the existence of trustworthy policies and laws related to digital communication and data collection. This is linked with mass surveillance, personal data, big data and open data, which could be processed by personal corporations and/or public institutions.
For a future that will be mediated by digital technologies, and without ignoring the immense benefits brought to us by technologies on cross-sectorial levels, we need to take these multidisciplinary aspects; the social, ethical and legal concerns into account.
Digital platforms are catalysers to advancement, improvement, empowerment and sustainability. They offer solutions and resources that can foster developments in a sustainable manner. But to harness these positive impacts, we must educate* ourselves on the opportunities, the risks, the challenges and the ethical concerns that are attached to it. Whether we are future development practitioners, technology professionals, policymakers, or just citizens of this digital age, this is an issue which is already impacting each and every one of us. We need to also work together to develop, design and implement programs and technologies that are safe and efficient and work on reducing user vulnerability.
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