UNCTAD15: Policies are critical to harnessing frontier technologies for good

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s 15th quadrennial conference (UNCTAD15) was convened online and hosted by Barbados from 3-7 October 2021 under the theme ‘From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all.’ During the event, science, technology, and innovation (STI) ministers and experts underscored the importance of key enabling and supportive government policies to unlock the actual benefits of new and frontier technology. The conference addressed the question of why the policy is vital to ensuring new technologies and data are harnessed in ways that boost economic recovery, reduce inequality, and foster sustainable development. ‘The impact of technology on the quality of economic, social and environmental outcomes is not deterministic. The trajectory of technological change can be influenced by policy choices, and sometimes by the absence of any informed choice,’ highlighted UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant during the opening session. The conference has further pinpointed key actions to harness the true potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, drones, and gene editing while minimising their potential harms.