Policy Analysis of the United Nations Secretary General’s Goals for Emerging Technologies in Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Other Advanced Tech

Author(s): Rashad Richey
Keyword(s): United Nations, Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Strategy on New Technologies, CRISPR, IoT, IIoT, 5G, 6G, UN
ISSN: 3036-9495


The purpose of this policy analysis is to summarize, discuss, analyze, critique, and provide recommendations related to the UN Secretary General’s Strategy on New Technologies (2018). The scope of the research analysis focuses on emerging technologies internationally and how these technology applications interplay with geopolitical, social, economic, and educational/training contexts and interests.


This research analysis has been structured as follows. First, there is an overview of the new technologies to which the UN. Secretary General referred, explicitly or implicitly, to Strategy on New Technologies. This section provides an orientation to the specific technologies impacting and informing the UN’s strategy. It includes subsections that discuss (a) how the UN has engaged with technology; and (b) how technology is related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This first section of the analysis provides an overall appreciation of the spectrum of emerging technologies, their basic applicability to some of the main development goals of the UN, and how the UN has been involved in technology.

The second section of the thesis addresses the question of technology and development in greater detail. One of the most important themes in the UN Secretary General’s Strategy on New Technologies is the relationship of equitable technology distribution to the development of poorer nations in particular. This relation raises questions of politics and equity that are closely examined in this section of the analysis. Because the UN Secretary General’s Strategy on New Technologies explicitly mentions the need to understand how technology, development, and inequity interact, it is important to examine this topic in greater detail. Some of the subtopics in this portion of the analytical thesis include the digital divide (defined as inequity in technology access and capability between countries), digital colonialism, and the role of the UN in contesting postcolonialism.

The third section of the analysis is concerned with technological innovation and distribution. One of the main themes in the UN Secretary General’s Strategy on New Technologies (2018) is the need to spread innovation and distribute technology. Therefore, it is necessary to understand theories related to how technology spreads and how innovations come about.

The fourth section of the research analysis is an overview of groups within the UN that are working towards, and whose operations are highly relevant to, emerging technologies. The fifth section of this thesis is a discussion of the limitations that the UN faces in trying to achieve its goals related to emerging technologies. The sixth and final section of the analysis consists of recommendations to the UN based on its goals related to emerging technologies and on the information provided earlier in the thesis.

Overview of Key Technologies

The key technologies discussed below have been described on the basis of information synthesized from a cross-section (Ibrahim et al., 2022; Kibert, 2016; Latif et al., 2022; Rawat et al., 2022; Sigov et al., 2022) of the literature on emerging technologies.

Quantum Computing: Even though quantum computing is not an entirely new concept, the practical utility of quantum computing is surging forward, holding the promise to dramatically amplify the speed and bolster security in data handling and cryptography.

Progressive Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning: AI and machine learning are no newcomers in the tech space, but they’re consistently evolving. Especially noteworthy are the strides made in the fields of transfer learning, reinforcement learning, federated learning, and explainable AI.

Blockchain and Decentralized Finance (DeFi): The use of blockchain extends beyond cryptocurrencies, spreading its roots into sectors like supply chain, healthcare, voting systems, and digital identity validation. DeFi, a blockchain application in the realm of finance, has been making waves.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT (IIoT): With the unfolding of 5G and even 6G technologies, the potential for interconnected devices is expanding. IoT applications aren’t confined to consumer tech anymore but are stretching their influence across various industries via IIoT.

Extended Reality (XR): XR encapsulates all environments that blend the real with the virtual, encompassing Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR). Its imprint can be seen in diverse areas such as gaming, training simulations, remote work, and more.

Edge Computing: As IoT devices increase in number, data processing is gravitating towards the origin of the data, aiming to enhance speed and lessen bandwidth consumption. This “edge” of the network is a burgeoning domain in technology.

Biotechnology and CRISPR: The progress in gene-editing, especially through CRISPR-Cas9, heralds a new epoch in biotechnology. This tech has the potential to transform medical treatments and the agricultural industry.

Neuromorphic Engineering: This refers to creating circuits, systems, and algorithms that emulate neuro-biological structures found in the nervous system. Essentially, it’s about crafting AI algorithms and systems that mirror the human brain.

Smart Cities and IoT in Urban Planning: The integration of IoT technology is progressively shaping smart cities, employing connected devices for various tasks like traffic regulation, waste management, energy utilization improvement, and enhancing the quality of life for inhabitants.

Green Technologies and Renewable Energy: The drive towards sustainability is fostering innovation in energy efficiency, waste minimization, and renewable energy sources. This includes breakthroughs in solar panel technology, wind turbine designs, and large-scale energy storage.

The UN’s Engagement with Technology: An Overview

The UN has shown an active interest in various technology sectors, aiming to utilize their advantages while concurrently addressing their associated difficulties (UN Secretary-General, 2018). This engagement touches on numerous technologies, notably the Internet, AI, IoT, blockchain, and quantum computing. In particular, the proliferation of the Internet has fundamentally altered the way the UN operates (UN Secretary-General, 2018). As a universal platform, the Internet facilitates worldwide interaction and cooperation, allowing the UN to establish connections with communities across the globe. Additionally, the Internet has become an instrument for fostering digital inclusivity and information accessibility, critical to UN initiatives such as the subsequently discussed SDGs (Gill & Germann, 2022; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021).

AI and ML have garnered considerable attention from the UN due to their transformative capacities and the necessity for judicious management. The UN has championed discussions regarding the ethical employment of AI and has encouraged the development of AI transparently and inclusively (UN Secretary-General, 2018). Furthermore, AI has been recognized as a mechanism to expedite the realization of the SDGs by enhancing efficiencies in various sectors, including healthcare, education, and climate change mitigation (Gill & Germann, 2022; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021). In particular, AI has been recognized as a powerful tool for advancing the SDGs due to its capacity to improve efficiencies, predictive capabilities, and decision-making in various sectors (Gill & Germann, 2022; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021). For instance, AI can support environmental sustainability by optimizing energy use, predicting climate patterns, and monitoring deforestation. In healthcare, AI can assist in early disease detection, enhance health service delivery, and support medical research. However, the deployment of AI also raises significant ethical considerations. Concerns about data privacy, algorithmic bias, transparency, and the potential for job displacement have underscored the need for ethical guidelines in AI development and use (Gill & Germann, 2022; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021). The UN has stressed the importance of a human-centered approach to AI, underlining the necessity for AI systems to respect human rights and promote equality (UN Secretary-General, 2018).

To address these ethical considerations and guide the responsible use of AI, the UN has facilitated several initiatives. One example is the establishment of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which recommends strategies to the UN for fostering digital cooperation and inclusive digital policy (Prestes, 2019). The UN has also worked to foster extensive global dialogue about the benefits and challenges of AI, facilitating discussions among governments, industry, academia, and civil society (Prestes, 2019). Moreover, capacity building and the promotion of AI literacy have been another area of focus for the UN. It has undertaken initiatives to bridge the digital divide and ensure equitable access to AI technologies, especially for marginalized and under-resourced communities (Gill & Germann, 2022; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021).

The UN has also shown significant engagement with IoT, recognizing its extensive potential to transform sectors ranging from urban planning to agriculture (de Villiers et al., 2021). The UN’s involvement has been pivotal in initiating discussions on the ethical and responsible application of IoT while addressing privacy and security concerns that accompany its use (de Villiers et al., 2021). Blockchain technology, recognized by the UN for its potential to augment transparency and efficiency in areas such as supply chain management and finance, has seen focused UN engagement (de Villiers et al., 2021). The efforts of the UN in this context have concentrated on advocating ethical utilization, promoting research, and cultivating a conducive regulatory landscape (de Villiers et al., 2021).

The engagement of the UN with these technologies reflects a definitive commitment to promoting inclusive, transparent, and ethical technological progress that aligns with worldwide values and aids in achieving the SDGs.

SDGs and Technology

            Below is a discussion of how each of the UN’s SDGs can benefit from emerging technologies. This information was gleaned from a cross-section of literature (Clark et al., 2022; de Villiers et al., 2021; Droescher et al., 2021; Gill & Germann, 2022; Prestes, 2019; Ryan et al., 2020; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021; Walshe et al., 2020) on emerging technologies and SDGs.

  • No Poverty: Advanced data analytics, AI, and ML can identify poverty trends, predict areas of concern, and help target resources more effectively. Financial technology (fintech) can also provide better access to banking, loans, and other financial services, helping to lift individuals out of poverty.
  • Zero Hunger: Precision farming technologies, AI, and IoT devices can maximize agricultural efficiency, reducing waste and increasing food production. Drones and satellites can monitor crop health and environmental conditions, aiding in the prediction and mitigation of crop diseases and pests.
  • Good Health and Well-being: AI and ML can improve disease diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. Telemedicine and digital health technologies can extend the reach of healthcare services, especially in remote areas, and wearable devices can monitor personal health metrics in real-time.
  • Quality Education: Online learning platforms and digital resources can provide quality education to students globally, regardless of location. AI can offer personalized learning experiences, tailoring educational content to individual needs and pacing.
  • Gender Equality: Internet access can provide women and girls with educational and economic opportunities, as well as a platform to express their views and advocate for their rights. AI-driven analysis can also monitor for gender biases in various sectors and suggest rectifications.
  • Clean Water and Sanitation: IoT sensors can monitor water quality in real-time, identify leaks in infrastructure, and optimize water use in agriculture. AI and ML can predict areas of potential water scarcity and aid in planning for adequate water resource management.
  • Affordable and Clean Energy: Smart grid technologies and AI can optimize the distribution and consumption of energy, reducing waste. IoT devices can monitor and control energy use at the individual appliance level, while advancements in battery technologies can enhance the storage of renewable energy.
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth: Automation and AI can increase productivity, though care should be taken to avoid displacing workers. The internet and digital platforms can provide new forms of employment, including remote and flexible working options.
  • Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: AI, IoT, and big data can optimize industrial processes, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. Technologies such as 3D printing and robotics can revolutionize infrastructure development.
  • Reduced Inequalities: The Internet can provide marginalized and disadvantaged groups with access to information and services, as well as economic opportunities. AI can be used to analyze policies for any discriminatory effects and suggest more equitable alternatives.
  • Sustainable Cities and Communities: Smart city technologies, including IoT sensors and AI, can optimize traffic flows, reduce energy consumption, and improve the quality of urban life. Digital platforms can also facilitate community engagement and participation in local governance.
  • Responsible Consumption and Production: IoT devices and AI can monitor and optimize resource usage in production processes, reducing waste. Consumers can also use digital platforms to preferentially purchase from companies with responsible practices.
  • Climate Action: Climate modeling using advanced computing can predict climate changes and inform policy decisions. AI and ML can optimize energy use to reduce carbon emissions, and IoT devices can monitor environmental conditions in real-time.
  • Life Below Water: AI and ML can be used to analyze satellite and drone imagery to monitor marine ecosystem health. Acoustic sensors can track marine animal populations and movements, and IoT devices can help to prevent overfishing.
  • Life on Land: Satellite imagery and AI can be used to monitor deforestation, track wildlife populations, and predict wildfires. Drones can plant trees and distribute seeds over large areas.
  • Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: AI can be used to analyze social media and other data for early warning signs of conflict. Blockchain technology can provide transparent and secure voting systems, reducing corruption and promoting democratic engagement.
  • Partnerships for the Goals: The Internet allows for easy international collaboration and knowledge sharing. Big data and AI can monitor progress toward goals, identify areas where efforts should be concentrated, and predict future trends.

Technology and Development

The advent of new technologies offers significant opportunities for development in poorer nations. They present pathways for these countries to leapfrog traditional developmental stages and directly adopt more advanced infrastructure, systems, and practices. This potential has been discussed in various realms, including education, healthcare, financial inclusion, agriculture, governance, and environmental sustainability (Clark et al., 2022; de Villiers et al., 2021; Droescher et al., 2021; Gill & Germann, 2022; Prestes, 2019; Ryan et al., 2020; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021; Walshe et al., 2020).

In the context of education, new technologies like e-learning platforms and mobile applications can make educational content more accessible, especially in rural or underserved areas. Moreover, technologies such as AI can personalize education, tailoring content to individual learners’ needs, which can improve educational outcomes. Healthcare also stands to benefit significantly from new technologies. Telemedicine can bring healthcare services to remote areas, overcoming geographical barriers. AI and data analytics can support disease surveillance and early detection, thereby improving public health responses. Financial inclusion is another critical development area where technology plays a transformative role. Digital financial services, facilitated by mobile technology, can reach unbanked populations, providing them with access to savings, credit, insurance, and remittance services. Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology also present opportunities for improved remittances and financial systems.

In agriculture, technologies like precision farming, IoT-enabled devices, and satellite imagery can improve productivity by enabling more effective resource use and early prediction of potential crop diseases or pests. For governance, technologies can support improved public service delivery, increase transparency, and reduce corruption. Digital ID systems, for example, can ensure that social benefits reach the intended recipients. Blockchain technology can enhance the security and transparency of public records. Additionally, in terms of environmental sustainability, new technologies can contribute to better resource management, monitoring environmental changes, and promoting green energy solutions. For example, remote sensing technologies can help monitor deforestation, while AI can optimize energy use in grid systems.

However, while the potential benefits are considerable, the successful adoption and impact of new technologies depend on several factors. These include the availability of relevant infrastructure (like Internet connectivity), digital literacy levels, regulatory environments, and considerations of data privacy and security. Therefore, a holistic approach that addresses these aspects is crucial for leveraging new technologies for development in poorer nations. Moreover, it is necessary the digital divide that separates nations when it comes to understanding the dynamics of technology adoption.

The Digital Divide

The digital divide can limit economic development in developing nations. Without access to the internet and digital technologies, businesses and individuals are unable to participate in the digital economy, which can hinder economic growth (Kenny, 2002). Moreover, it can restrict opportunities for innovation and productivity improvements that can be enabled by digital technologies (Dewan & Riggins, 2005). Limited access to digital resources can contribute to educational inequalities. The digital divide can inhibit access to educational resources, distance learning opportunities, and skills development, which are increasingly necessary in the digital age (Selwyn, 2004).

In the realm of healthcare, the digital divide can lead to disparities in access to health information, digital health services (e.g., telemedicine), and health-related technologies, thereby impacting the quality and availability of healthcare (Latulippe et al., 2020). The digital divide can contribute to social exclusion in developing nations, with individuals who lack digital access being left out of various forms of social participation that occur online, from communication and networking to democratic participation (Norris, 2001).

As highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide can also affect the ability of developing nations to adapt to crises. The inability to shift to digital platforms for work, education, or other services can exacerbate the social and economic impacts of such crises (Norris, 2001). The uneven distribution of technology can be interpreted as a form of neocolonialism, where developed countries continue to exert influence over developing nations. Technological dependence often reinforces economic disparities as developing nations rely on technologies produced and controlled by developed nations (Norris, 2001).

Digital colonialism and technology. Digital colonialism describes the domination of Western corporations in the digital space, which influences how technology is developed and used in non-Western nations (Unwin, 2009). This can restrict local technology development, hinder digital sovereignty, and exacerbate socio-economic disparities (Warschauer, 2003). Postcolonial studies note that technologies are often developed with Western cultural norms in mind, which may not align with local cultures in postcolonial societies. This can lead to cultural mismatches and underutilization of technology (Warschauer, 2003). Colonial legacies have influenced the physical and social infrastructure of many nations, which can affect technology distribution. Issues such as geographical isolation, underdeveloped infrastructure, and social stratification can limit access to technology (Carmody, 2013). Educational disparities, another result of colonial legacies, can impact technological access and digital literacy. Without the necessary skills and education, technology adoption can be hindered in postcolonial societies (Unwin, 2009).

The UN’s Anti-Colonial Role

The UN Charter emphasizes the principle of sovereign equality among nations and the right to self-determination (United Nations, 1945). This aligns with postcolonialism’s focus on recovering agency and control from the legacies of colonial rule (Ashcroft et al., 2007). The UN’s SDGs explicitly recognize the need to address historical inequalities, including those influenced by colonialism. SDG 10, for example, aims to reduce inequality within and among countries, with several targets addressing economic disparities related to the colonial past (United Nations, 2015).

The UN, through entities like the Human Rights Council, works to address human rights issues worldwide, many of which are tied to colonial legacies. This includes addressing social and economic disparities, racism, and indigenous rights, all of which often intersect with postcolonialism (Sliwinski, 2012). The UN engages in peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts worldwide, often in regions affected by the legacies of colonialism. These efforts can help address tensions and conflicts that are linked to colonial histories (Bellamy & Williams, 2010). The UN’s role in policy influence and advocacy helps shape international norms and standards against neocolonial practices. It advocates for fair global governance, which includes promoting equitable trade rules and demanding debt relief for countries heavily impacted by colonialism (Martens, 2005).

The anti-colonial role of the UN extends to utilizing technology to work against the inequities of colonialism (Mingst & Karns, 2019).  The transformative power of technology, particularly information and communication technology, is widely recognized in the academic literature (Clark et al., 2022; de Villiers et al., 2021; Droescher et al., 2021; Gill & Germann, 2022; Prestes, 2019; Ryan et al., 2020; Truby, 2020; Umbrello et al., 2021; Walshe et al., 2020). Clark et al. (2022) argue that the UN, with its global reach and mandate, is well-positioned to leverage technology to empower historically disadvantaged communities and reduce the digital divide that is increasingly exacerbating global inequality. However, the role of technology in the post-colonial context is complex. According to Truby (2020), while technology holds the potential to disrupt traditional power structures, it can also reinforce them if not deployed thoughtfully. Umbrello et al. (2021) reinforce this perspective, asserting that unchecked technological advancements can inadvertently reproduce neo-colonial power dynamics, further marginalizing vulnerable populations. Gill and Germann (2022) emphasize the vital role of local governments and organizations in implementing technology-based initiatives spearheaded by the UN. Their insight into local realities and needs ensures the technology is deployed effectively and in ways that genuinely serve communities. While the promise of technology is substantial, its implementation in the service of anti-colonial efforts is fraught with challenges. Resource constraints, inadequate infrastructure, and limited digital literacy are significant barriers to the successful deployment of technology in post-colonial societies (Mingst & Karns, 2019). Further, the UN’s dependence on external partners in technological projects can skew their direction toward the partners’ interests rather than those of the target communities (Mingst & Karns, 2019).

Overview of Technology Innovation

Technology innovation can be broadly defined as the development and implementation of new or significantly improved products, services, or processes that leverage advancements in technology. This definition aligns with several scholars’ views, such as Schumpeter (1934), who referred to innovation as the introduction of a new good or a new quality of a good, a new method of production, a new market, or a new form of organization.

Freeman and Soete (1997) categorized technological innovations into product innovations and process innovations. Product innovations refer to new or significantly improved goods or services introduced to the market, while process innovations pertain to new or substantially improved ways of producing or delivering goods and services. Freeman and Soete propose that product innovations involve the creation and release of new or substantially enhanced goods or services. These innovations mark significant shifts in the attributes of a product or service, touching upon aspects such as its performance, user accessibility, aesthetic attributes, or other dimensions of perceived value enhancement. An example that epitomizes product innovation is the emergence of smartphones, amalgamating diverse functions like communication, web access, and photography, dramatically reshaping personal communication device standards. Critical to note is Freeman and Soete’s emphasis on the dual advantage of product innovations. They underscore that such innovations not only deliver improved goods and services to customers but also offer competitive leverage for companies. They could serve as economic growth accelerators and help companies stand apart in the market by distinguishing their products or services from rivals. In contrast, process innovations revolve around the adoption of new or significantly better production or delivery techniques. Such innovations encompass modifications in methods, hardware, or software resulting in more effective or efficient production processes. The effects of process innovations may not always be directly perceptible to product or service end-users but can significantly impact an organization’s operational efficiency, cost management, and environmental sustainability. Freeman and Soete suggest that process innovations have the potential to heighten productivity, curtail costs, enhance product quality, and thus, elevate profitability. Examples range from the employment of cutting-edge manufacturing methodologies like robotics to the application of streamlined software systems for supply chain administration. Moreover, process innovations could play a crucial role in lessening the environmental implications of production techniques, contributing to sustainability targets. This element of process innovations is gaining momentum, considering the escalating concerns around climate change and the urgency for sustainable progression (Walshe et al., 2020).

According to Nelson and Winter (1982), innovation often emerges from the firm’s routine and practices, where interactions among different types of knowledge lead to the creation of new technologies. Nelson and Winter advanced the concept of “routines” as the DNA of organizations, explaining that organizations, much like organisms in biological evolution, follow routines that represent learned behaviors and established processes. These routines guide organizational decision-making and help firms respond to internal and external challenges. In this context, innovation emerges as a deviation from these established routines. Innovation, as Nelson and Winter proposed, is the process through which firms alter their routines in response to environmental pressures or internal needs, seeking a competitive advantage or improved efficiency. They contend that innovation is the primary driver of economic change and that it is deeply ingrained in the evolutionary nature of economic systems. Importantly, Nelson and Winter’s perspective on innovation includes not only the introduction of novel products or technologies but also the adoption of new managerial and organizational practices, business models, and strategic directions. They argue that these broader aspects of innovation are essential components of organizational adaptation and economic evolution. Another noteworthy contribution of Nelson and Winter’s theoretical work is their insight into the dynamics of innovation within industries. They propose that innovation does not occur uniformly across firms within an industry. Instead, there are variations in innovative capabilities among firms, driven by their unique knowledge bases, resources, and organizational contexts. This heterogeneity, in turn, fuels competition and drives further innovation in an ongoing, self-reinforcing cycle. Such cycles, if they could come to exist in developing countries, would go some way towards achieving the UN goal of equitable technology distribution.

Chesbrough (2003) expanded this understanding, proposing the concept of open innovation, which posits that firms can and should use external ideas and paths to market in their innovation process. Chesbrough’s concept of open innovation lays a substantial emphasis on collaboration and the exchange of ideas that traverse organizational boundaries as a vital driver for technological advancement. This model holds promising implications for the United Nations and its ambition to stimulate technological growth and adoption in underdeveloped regions. In the sphere of open innovation, organizations do not solely rely on their internal sources of creativity and development. Instead, they proactively incorporate external actors ranging from other businesses and academic institutions to independent innovators into their innovative processes. Such an approach enables them to access a broader and richer array of knowledge, expertise, and ingenuity. When this concept is applied to the UN’s mission, it suggests that an open innovation approach could play a transformative role in enhancing technology uptake and growth in developing nations. This approach would necessitate active engagement with a diverse collection of stakeholders, such as governments, global organizations, NGOs, the private sector, research institutions, and even local communities within the target countries. This kind of collaboration can offer the UN a vast pool of diversified knowledge, skill sets, and resources, significantly bolstering its ability to devise and implement effective technology solutions custom-made for the unique needs and contexts of developing nations. Additionally, the principles of open innovation highlight the importance of fostering such an environment within the developing nations themselves. The UN could, therefore, work towards establishing local innovation ecosystems that nurture cooperation and knowledge transfer amongst local entities and between local and international partners. These ecosystems could stimulate local tech innovation and entrepreneurship, resulting in technology solutions that are locally rooted and specifically tailored to address local needs and circumstances. To conclude, Chesbrough’s open innovation model could be instrumental in guiding the UN’s initiatives to promote technological development and adoption in developing nations. By adopting a collaborative approach that transcends organizational boundaries, the UN can boost its ability to create and implement effective technology solutions and also aid in nurturing local innovation capacities within the target countries.

Rogers (1962) introduced the theory of diffusion of innovations, highlighting how, why, and at what rate new technology spreads through cultures. Rogers identified five categories of adopters for any given innovation: Innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Rogers’ theory of diffusion of innovations explains how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. This theory can be applied in the context of developing nations, considering the introduction of a new agricultural practice meant to increase crop yield. Innovators are the first to adopt an innovation. In a developing nation, this group might be farmers who are willing to take risks, have access to resources to cope with potential losses, and are often connected to sources outside of their community for new information. These individuals might try out the new agricultural practice first, leading the way for others to follow.

Early Adopters adopt an innovation earlier than most others but are typically more integrated within their social system compared to innovators. Early adopters are often seen as local opinion leaders. In this context, they might be respected farmers within a community who, after seeing the success of the innovators, adopt the new farming practices, inspiring others to do the same. The Early Majority is slower in the adoption process, adopting the innovation before the average person but after seeing others’ success with it. This could include a significant portion of farmers within the community who might not want to be the first to try something new but are open to change after seeing the results achieved by the innovators and early adopters. The Late Majority will only adopt an innovation after the average member of society has. These individuals approach innovation with a high degree of skepticism. In this context, they may be farmers who are more cautious about new methods and only adopt the new farming practices after seeing most of the community have success with them. Laggards are the last to adopt an innovation. They have little to no social networks, are focused on traditions, and typically have an aversion to change-associated risks. These might be farmers who are more isolated from the community, have fewer resources, and only change their practices when the new methods have become commonplace or even necessary.

Finally, Tidd and Bessant (2009) outlined how organizations manage technology innovation through various processes, including search, select, implement, and capture. They emphasized the importance of an organization’s ability to change and adapt in response to or in anticipation of changes in technology and markets. The model is built around the idea of the “4Ps” of innovation: Product, Process, Position, and Paradigm. Product Innovation refers to changes in the things (products/services) an organization offers. In the context of developing countries, a product innovation could be a new affordable solar power system that brings electricity to off-grid rural areas. Process Innovation involves changes in the ways these things (products/services) are created and delivered. For instance, the implementation of mobile banking services in places where traditional banking infrastructure is not well developed can be seen as process innovation, as it changes the way financial services are delivered. Position Innovation is about changes in the context in which the products/services are introduced. A position innovation could be the repurposing of existing technology for a new market. For example, a company might introduce a rugged, simplified version of a smartphone for markets in developing countries where durability and ease of use are more important than high-end features.

Paradigm Innovation pertains to changes in the underlying mental models that frame what the organization does. For example, the shift from viewing customers merely as consumers to viewing them as active participants in creating value represents a paradigm innovation. In developing countries, this might mean involving local communities in the development of products and services tailored to their specific needs. Tidd and Bessant’s innovation model also highlights the importance of managing innovation at different stages, namely searching, selecting, implementing, and capturing value. Each of these stages can be related to developing countries: Searching involves looking for opportunities for innovation. In developing countries, this might involve identifying unmet needs or market gaps that could be addressed through innovation. Selecting entails deciding which ideas to develop and which to discard. In developing countries, it’s important to take into account factors like affordability, accessibility, and cultural relevance when selecting ideas for development. Implementing refers to the process of developing an idea into a marketable product or service. In developing countries, this could involve overcoming challenges like lack of infrastructure, limited access to technology, and regulatory barriers. Capturing Value involves ensuring that the organization benefits from the innovation. In developing countries, this could involve finding ways to make the product or service affordable for the local population while still generating a profit for the organization.

Key Groups and Initiatives


The United Nations Innovation Network (UNIN) is an informal, collaborative community of UN innovators interested in sharing their expertise and experience in leveraging technology for the organization’s work. UNIN operates with the mission of enabling the United Nations to deliver its mandates better by becoming more innovative and adaptable.

The UNIN provides a platform for members to exchange information and share best practices related to innovation and technology. It acts as a forum for discussing novel approaches, lessons learned, and success stories among various UN entities. UNIN conducts various capacity-building activities like webinars, training sessions, and workshops to build the technical and innovation skills of UN staff. It helps familiarize members with new technologies and techniques that can enhance the effectiveness of their work.

UNIN fosters collaboration among different UN entities, enabling them to combine their efforts and resources in addressing global challenges. It also facilitates partnerships with external entities, including tech companies, universities, and civil society organizations. UNIN actively promotes a culture of innovation within the UN. It encourages the adoption of innovative practices and tools across the organization and showcases successful examples of innovation in UN projects and programs.

UNIN advocates for the strategic and ethical use of technology and innovation in the UN’s operations and initiatives. It provides advice on matters related to emerging technologies, data privacy, and digital ethics. The network supports research and development efforts related to innovative solutions for the UN’s work. This includes the exploration of emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, IoT, and others. Through these activities, the UN Innovation Network plays a significant role in transforming and modernizing the UN’s approach to fulfilling its mission.


The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) represents a notable initiative, bringing businesses together with UN agencies, labor groups, and civil society to support UN goals, including technological advancements (UN Global Compact, 2006). Through this initiative, businesses can contribute their technical expertise to help achieve the SDGs.

Conceived in 2000 under the leadership of the then UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the UNGC has grown to become the world’s foremost corporate sustainability initiative, with a myriad of stakeholders and business participants from all corners of the world. The UNGC proposes a list of ten principles revolving around human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. These principles serve as guidelines that businesses and organizations are encouraged to integrate into their strategies, operations, and policies. These ten guiding principles include:

  • Human Rights: Businesses should stand by and respect the safeguarding of internationally recognized human rights. They should ensure no involvement in any human rights violations.
  • Labor: Businesses should uphold the liberty of association and effectively acknowledge the right to collective bargaining. They should advocate the elimination of all types of forced and compulsory labor. They should back the effective abolition of child labor. They should eliminate employment and occupation-based discrimination.
  • Businesses should endorse a precautionary approach toward environmental challenges. They should embark on initiatives that enhance environmental responsibility. They should stimulate the development and diffusion of environmentally sustainable technologies.
  • Anti-Corruption. Businesses should actively work against all forms of corruption, encompassing extortion and bribery.

Participants of the UNGC are spurred to translate these principles into action by assimilating them into their business strategies and processes, and by forming partnerships with the UN and other stakeholders that contribute towards the larger developmental objectives of the UN.

One of the key elements of the UNGC participation involves the mandate for companies to submit an annual ‘Communication on Progress’ report that discloses their advancements in implementing the ten principles and in supporting the broader UN objectives. This requisite of transparency is intended to uphold the accountability and authenticity of businesses’ commitments to the principles of UNGC.

To summarize, the UNGC constitutes a global platform that enables businesses and other stakeholders to cooperate, learn, and refine their practices to help create a more inclusive and sustainable global economy.

UNICEF Innovation Fund

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invests in early-stage, open-source technology start-ups, offering both equity-free investments and technical expertise to scale their technologies and solutions. By doing so, it supports the dissemination of innovative, accessible technologies to improve children’s lives (UNICEF, 2019).

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is a distinctive venture established by UNICEF to nurture and foster the development of open-source technologies with the potential to benefit children worldwide. The fund is singular in its emphasis on open-source solutions, thereby ensuring the free availability, adaptability, and scalability of its supported technologies and innovations. This aligns with UNICEF’s commitment to providing equal opportunities for every child and the conviction that the advantages of innovation should be universally accessible. The fund’s goal is to build a portfolio of innovative technologies and solutions with a profound potential to make a difference in children’s lives on a global scale. This is achieved by offering seed funding, typically in the form of non-equity investments, to innovators, developers, and startups working on promising open-source technologies. The projects backed by the fund usually resonate with UNICEF’s strategic goals and have the capacity for national or international deployment.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund focuses its efforts on several key areas:

  • Pioneering Technologies: This includes projects that delve into and prototype cutting-edge technologies such as AI, blockchain, drones, or virtual reality, assessing their potential benefits for children.
  • Youth Empowerment Solutions: The fund supports innovations that provide young people with the necessary resources and skills to flourish, such as digital learning platforms, job matching applications, or solutions ensuring online safety.
  • Digital Public Goods: It also backs solutions aimed at improving access to essential public services like education, healthcare, or financial services, particularly for the most marginalized children.

Apart from financial investments, the UNICEF Innovation Fund offers a wide range of resources and support to the projects it invests in. This includes the opportunity to tap into UNICEF’s extensive global network of partners and experts, assistance with technology and product development, guidance in business growth and scalability, and chances to trial and test technologies within UNICEF’s country programs.

Since its inception, the UNICEF Innovation Fund has supported a multitude of projects worldwide, driving innovation in sectors that directly influence children’s lives. The fund’s ultimate goal is to nurture a global ecosystem of shareable, open-source technologies capable of enhancing children’s lives and their future prospects.


International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Partnerships: The ITU, a UN-specialized agency, has established numerous partnerships with private entities to expand digital connectivity and technological literacy. It emphasizes technological solutions for development challenges, particularly in underserved areas (ITU, 2017). ITU primarily deals with information and communication technologies (ICTs). Its broad-reaching partnership network is dedicated to promoting worldwide connectivity and guaranteeing widespread access to the benefits of ICTs.

ITU partners with public sector stakeholders, inclusive of governments and regulatory bodies, in the formulation of international norms and best practices for ICTs. This cooperation is indispensable for constructing policy infrastructures that endorse equitable access and excellence in ICT services. Additionally, the ITU assists in the global allocation of radio spectrum and satellite orbits – crucial assets for communication systems. The ITU engages in productive relationships with corporations and industry consortia across the tech and telecom sectors. These alliances stimulate innovation, catalyze standard development, and influence regulations that evolve concurrently with technological progress. Private sector entities often extend financial support to ITU projects, especially those focused on broadening digital inclusion and mitigating the digital divide.

The ITU also forms connections with academic institutions and research bodies to gain insights from avant-garde research and expertise in ICTs. These academic affiliations contribute to the ITU’s policies, the creation of standards, and initiatives to develop capacity. ITU’s network of partners includes other UN agencies, international bodies, and regional organizations to capitalize on ICTs for tackling global issues. This extends to collaborations with organizations like the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and regional telecom unions to employ ICTs in areas such as health, development, and regional connectivity. The ITU establishes working relationships with non-profit and civil society organizations, predominantly those focusing on digital inclusion, accessibility, and skill enhancement. Often, these partnerships revolve around advocacy, capacity-building, and collaborative projects aimed at amplifying access to ICTs for marginalized populations.

The fundamental objective of these partnerships, as driven by the ITU, is to optimize the worldwide advantages of ICTs, particularly for communities with less access. By uniting a diverse array of stakeholders, the ITU plays a pivotal role in ensuring digital technologies and services are affordable, accessible, safe, and beneficial to all.

Broadband Commission

Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development: Co-convened by ITU and UNESCO, the Commission aims to boost the roll-out of broadband around the world, and its members come from industry, government, and international agencies. It focuses on partnerships that could leverage broadband technologies for sustainable development (Broadband Commission, 2015).

More than 50 leaders from diverse sectors, such as academia, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations, make up the Commission. It encompasses international agency heads, industry-leading CEOs, and experienced policymakers, all dedicated to expanding the scope and enhancing the quality of worldwide broadband services. The Broadband Commission operates on several critical fronts. First, the Commission passionately argues for the inclusion of broadband and ICTs in global development frameworks and national growth strategies. It promotes the establishment of regulatory and policy environments that are conducive to innovation in and investment for broadband infrastructure and services. Second,  the Commission stands as a reservoir of strategic perspectives and anticipatory analyses. It routinely releases reports that delve into the potential of broadband and digital technologies to reshape sustainable development. An example of such a publication is the yearly “State of Broadband” report, which offers a comprehensive view of the affordability and accessibility of broadband networks globally, complete with data on individual countries.

Third, the Commission is committed to boosting global consciousness about the significant role broadband plays in today’s economies and societies (Broadband Commission, 2015). It endeavors to rally multi-stakeholder backing for reliable and affordable broadband access for everyone. Fourth, the Commission has established lofty goals for the enlargement of broadband access and its employment for sustainable development. These targets aim to provoke policy discussions and spark actions that broaden the benefits of broadband to reach all sectors of society.


World Food Program (WFP) Innovation Accelerator: WFP engages in partnerships with private entities to scale innovations for achieving Zero Hunger. It uses technology to create, support, and scale bold solutions to hunger worldwide (WFP, 2020). The Innovation Accelerator offers a space where innovative ideas are fostered and developed into solutions that can be effectively implemented and scaled. It follows a structured innovation process that includes the stages of inspiration, ideation, testing, and scaling. It operates through several key activities. Innovation Bootcamps and Sprint Programs are week-long intensive workshops aimed at honing innovative ideas and devising project plans for field-level testing. Teams from within and outside WFP are selected to participate based on the potential impact of their ideas. The process includes mentoring, lean start-up methods, networking, and a final pitch. The Sprint Program is a 3-6 month program where the teams get the opportunity to further refine their projects with financial support (up to $100,000), regular guidance from the Accelerator team, and access to WFP partners and field operations. Scale-Up Enablement: For innovations demonstrating successful outcomes and impact, further support (up to $1 million) is provided to enable scaling the solutions across regions or globally. This includes access to a broad network of experts, policymakers, donors, and private sector companies.

In terms of focus, the Innovation Accelerator looks for solutions that can transform the lives of the people who are most vulnerable to hunger (WFP, 2020). Some areas of interest include improving the delivery of food assistance, creating income opportunities, managing natural resources better, and building resilience against shocks and stressors such as climate change. Notable projects that have emerged from the Innovation Accelerator include Building Blocks, which uses blockchain technology to make cash transfers more efficient, transparent, and secure; and H2Grow, which helps communities grow food even in challenging environments using hydroponics. In essence, the WFP Innovation Accelerator acts as a catalyst, enabling and fast-tracking the process of turning ideas with the potential to eradicate hunger into impactful realities.


While the UN strives to promote technological development, a significant number of regions, especially in the developing world, continue to grapple with a lack of fundamental technological infrastructure. Disparities in technology access and distribution persist, contributing to the enduring digital divide both within nations and globally. In the remainder of this section, other limitations to the UN plan are discussed.


A considerable portion of the UN’s technological development endeavors are executed in collaboration with different parties, such as private companies, non-governmental organizations, and government bodies. While these collaborations can offer numerous benefits, they also lead to dependency on these external stakeholders. This dependency can decelerate project execution and could potentially bias the direction of projects towards the partners’ interests rather than the needs of the communities served.

For example, corporations, particularly in the tech field, bring forth leading-edge knowledge, novel solutions, and significant monetary resources. They possess the capability to swiftly innovate and expand technologies that can address major global problems. Non-profit organizations typically have robust connections with local communities and an in-depth comprehension of their necessities and hurdles, which can guarantee that tech solutions are aptly customized for local situations. Government entities provide legislative support, and accessibility to public resources, and usually possess the capacity to deploy these technologies at a national level.

Nonetheless, these collaborations also present their own sets of obstacles, with dependency being a key issue. The UN’s reliance on external stakeholders for fiscal resources, technical expertise, or grassroots implementation can result in an imbalance of power. These collaborators might have their own objectives, interests, and strategic focuses that may not consistently align with those of the UN or the communities it strives to assist.

This dependency can result in project delays. For instance, a private firm may decide to postpone the launch of a technology due to market considerations, or a governmental partner might be tardy in executing a project due to bureaucratic processes or shifting political terrains. Additionally, the differing priorities of partners may influence the direction of the projects, potentially guiding them toward areas that align more with the partners’ interests. For example, a tech firm might show more interest in projects that offer a commercial return or boost its image, which may not necessarily align with the most urgent needs of the communities.

Moreover, this dependency could result in the sidelining of certain voices, especially those of the local communities who are intended to be the primary beneficiaries of these initiatives. If the interests of influential partners are favored, the specific needs and contexts of these communities may not receive adequate consideration, leading to solutions that are less efficient or sustainable in the long term.


The UN, with its extensive bureaucratic structure, may find it challenging to keep up with the swift pace of technological advancements. Its procedural operations can be slow, and regulations might not always reflect the most recent technological progress, complicating the harnessing of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain.

Beginning with its decision-making and authorization processes, the UN often grapples with time-intensive procedures. The launch of fresh projects or the incorporation of emerging technologies frequently demands traversing intricate layers of administrative control, securing approval from numerous divisions, and adhering to strict laws and guidelines. Such procedural inflexibility could stifle the UN’s ability to promptly adjust to evolving technological trends or seize fresh opportunities without delay.

The regulation presents another hurdle. The UN is a pivotal player in defining international norms and benchmarks, technology included. Yet, the task of crafting or revising these regulations is often drawn-out and measured, requiring comprehensive negotiations among member countries with divergent interests and viewpoints. Consequently, a considerable time gap may exist between the appearance of a new technology and the creation of thorough, universally accepted regulations to govern its application. This hiatus can breed uncertainty and potential risks, especially with technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain, which engender intricate ethical, legal, and societal implications.

Additionally, the fast-paced advancement of technology necessitates a perpetual learning process, obliging the UN and its personnel to constantly upgrade their abilities and expertise. However, constrained by bureaucratic limitations and resource scarcities, the UN might find it challenging to offer sufficient training or recruit the requisite technical experts. This could restrict the organization’s ability to fully comprehend, not to mention exploit, the capabilities of avant-garde technologies.

Finally, the speed of technological innovation introduces its own set of challenges in risk management. The emergence of new technologies can usher in unpredicted risks and vulnerabilities, including cyber threats or privacy issues. Given its bureaucratic procedures, the UN may encounter difficulties in formulating and executing responsive risk management strategies swiftly enough to effectively curtail these risks.

Data Security and Privacy

Embracing digital technologies has become a key strategy for the United Nations, driving greater operational efficiency and expanding the organization’s global impact. However, this shift towards digital solutions isn’t without its challenges, with data security and privacy at the forefront of these concerns.

With digital technologies, the handling, storage, and transmission of a significant amount of data is a necessity. Often, this data holds a level of sensitivity, whether it pertains to personal details of those the UN aims to assist or strategic data related to its varied initiatives and operations. The UN’s activities span across the globe, making the data it handles an appealing objective for cybercriminals or other hostile actors intending to infringe on the security systems and access the data without authorization.

These security issues are magnified in regions marked by conflict or poor governance. In such areas, the digital infrastructure can be basic at best, leaving systems more open to attacks. The absence of potent law enforcement and legal frameworks in these regions could make them a breeding ground for harmful cyber activities. Moreover, there are potential dangers of data misuse by contentious parties in conflict zones or corruption-infested officialdom in regions with weak governance.

Another central concern lies in the domain of data privacy. As data accumulation and storage become more integral to the UN’s operations, ensuring this data is managed in a manner that respects individuals’ privacy rights becomes crucial. This is particularly vital when working with vulnerable groups, who may lack a comprehensive understanding of data collection procedures and the nuances of digital technologies.

In response to these challenges, the UN has embarked on enhancing its data security and privacy measures. This includes investments in solid security infrastructure, the establishment of rigorous data handling and privacy rules, and the provision of staff training on these matters. The aim is to create a digital environment that maximizes technology’s potential while maintaining rigorous standards for data security and privacy.

Nonetheless, achieving a harmonious balance between the utilization of digital technologies and the protection of sensitive data remains a demanding challenge. It requires constant vigilance, continuous investments in security structures, and a commitment to data protection and privacy across the organization. Additionally, it necessitates collaboration and coordination with other involved parties, such as tech providers, partner organizations, and government bodies, to ensure a comprehensive and collective approach to data security and privacy.


The UN frequently forms alliances with various entities – including private corporations, charitable foundations, and government bodies – to finance its projects. These alliances can be instrumental in enabling a multitude of initiatives. However, even though substantial, the resources contributed by these partners might not fully cover the extensive spectrum of the UN’s goals and projects. Given the enormous global demand for technological advancement, these partnership contributions might not meet the total need.

Furthermore, the allocation of these resources can sometimes be skewed. Certain sectors or geographical areas might draw more funds owing to their visibility, perceived immediacy, or alignment with the strategic interests of funding partners. As such, projects that garner media attention or correspond to contemporary global themes might have a higher likelihood of securing funds. This scenario can lead to a disproportionate resource allocation favoring these ‘preferred’ sectors, leaving other equally significant but perhaps less recognized or fashionable sectors underfunded.

This potential uneven distribution of resources presents a challenge for the UN in its pursuit to ensure balanced and sustainable development across all its operational domains. Therefore, it is imperative for the UN to persistently explore a variety of funding sources and devise mechanisms that guarantee an equitable distribution of resources. This should be based on a neutral evaluation of necessity and potential influence, rather than catering to the interests or preferences of specific benefactors.


Dependency on Local Governments and Organizations

With its global presence, inclusive nature, and capacity to unite a multitude of stakeholders worldwide, the United Nations is in a prime position to advocate for technological adoption and frame detailed strategies for its application. Its global influence enables it to take the lead in discussions on technological progression, cultivate international collaboration, and lay out extensive guidelines for the incorporation of new technologies.

However, the successful execution of these strategies predominantly depends on the local governments and organizations. Being the entities at the frontline, they engage directly with local communities, handle region-specific complexities, and bring about tangible changes on the basis of strategies formulated at the UN’s global level. Their role is essential because they possess a deep understanding of local contexts, are adept at dealing with local administrative processes, and are more likely to earn the trust of local communities.

Even so, these local entities often grapple with various obstacles in the practical application of these technologies. They might suffer from inadequate infrastructure, which includes electricity supply, internet connectivity, hardware and software necessities, and skilled personnel. These problems are especially prominent in less developed countries, rural regions, or conflict-ridden areas, where even basic infrastructure might be deficient or inconsistent.

Additionally, there could be a deficiency in drive or capability amongst these local entities to integrate these technologies. This might originate from multiple factors such as lack of technical expertise, resistance to new practices, financial limitations, political volatility, or regulatory obstacles.

In situations where local entities lack either the required infrastructure or the initiative to integrate these technologies, the comprehensive strategies and technological solutions suggested by the UN might not deliver the expected outcomes. The strategies might not be adopted at all, or their impact might be considerably lower than initially projected. Consequently, it is vital that the UN’s technological development initiatives are accompanied by efforts to enhance local capacities, ameliorate infrastructure, and cultivate an environment that is favorable for the integration of these technologies. Such endeavors could encompass training and capacity-building initiatives, infrastructure enhancement projects, financial and technical assistance, and advocacy to influence policies and regulations.


General Approaches

            The following general approaches can be recommended for the UN to achieve its stated goals related to technology:

  • The UN can act as a platform for global dialogue and collaboration on emerging technologies. This includes hosting international conferences and workshops, fostering research collaborations, and enabling knowledge exchange.
  • The UN can lead the creation of international standards, norms, and regulations for emerging technologies. This would involve collaborating with governments, industries, academia, and civil societies to develop regulations that address issues like data privacy, security, and ethical usage of technologies.
  • To ensure that the benefits of emerging technologies are shared by all, the UN can advocate for digital inclusion, promoting policies that ensure access to technology, especially for people in under-resourced communities or regions.
  • The UN can support innovation in emerging technologies by investing in and promoting research and development. This could be done through funding initiatives, innovation awards, and partnerships with universities and technology companies.
  • The UN can promote global literacy on emerging technologies and their implications. This could involve developing educational resources, organizing training programs, and promoting technology education in schools and universities.
  • The UN can strengthen its ties with the technology industry, collaborating with tech companies to leverage their expertise, resources, and reach. This could also involve working with industry to ensure that technology development aligns with the UN’s goals and values.
  • By highlighting and supporting projects that apply emerging technologies for social good or to address global challenges, the UN can demonstrate the practical value and potential impact of these technologies.
  • The UN can also model the adoption and ethical use of emerging technologies within its own operations. This could involve using technology to improve its efficiency, transparency, or accessibility.

Specific Approaches

            Addressing the UN’s global values through quantum computing. Quantum computing is a technology that is highly relevant to the UN’s goal of pursuing and promoting global values through technology engagement. Here are some literature-based ideas of how the individual components of the UN’s global values requirement can be addressed through quantum computing. First, quantum computing holds the potential to significantly increase computational power and speed, which could have far-reaching implications for many sectors, from climate modeling to drug discovery. However, access to this technology is not uniform worldwide. The UN could advocate for equitable access to quantum computing resources to ensure all nations can benefit. Second,  quantum computing might also pose new ethical challenges, particularly around data security and encryption. The UN can spearhead the establishment of global ethical guidelines for the use of quantum computing that uphold human rights and values defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Third, the UN could support research and development in quantum computing, particularly in low-income countries. By providing funding or facilitating partnerships between nations, the UN could ensure the technology’s benefits reach a more global scale. Fourth,  providing education and training on quantum computing would democratize the understanding and use of such technologies. This would prevent knowledge gaps and help ensure that the power of quantum computing doesn’t concentrate in the hands of a few. Fifth, by actively participating in discussions about the regulation of quantum computing, the UN could help shape laws and regulations that protect consumers and promote fairness while enabling innovation. Sixth,  the UN can encourage the use of quantum computing in ways that align with the SDGs. For example, the advanced computational capabilities of quantum computing could be used to model climate change scenarios and develop new energy sources, contributing to several SDGs.

Addressing the UN’s global values through AI. AI provides another opportunity to examine how the UN can address global values through technology. First, AI has immense potential to spur economic prosperity and societal advancement. Yet, its benefits and capabilities are not evenly spread globally. The UN could champion policies that foster equal opportunities to access AI technologies and resources, circumventing a global ‘AI divide.’ Second, AI systems could significantly impact various human rights, including privacy and freedom of speech. The UN has the potential to guide the formation and promotion of global standards for AI, built on the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Third, the UN could energize research and development endeavors in AI, especially in regions or communities lacking resources. This might include financial support, cultivation of international partnerships, or establishment of platforms for knowledge exchange.

Fourth, the UN could endorse global AI literacy and capability building. This includes advocating educational programs that equip individuals with the skills necessary to comprehend, employ, and responsibly innovate with AI technology. Fifth, the UN could engage in crafting international norms, regulations, and supervisory structures for AI. This would help address worldwide challenges tied to AI, such as transparency, accountability, bias, and fairness. Sixth,  the UN could advocate for AI applications that align with the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs. This could mean pinpointing opportunities where AI can aid specific SDGs, backing relevant initiatives, and disseminating successful practices.

Addressing inclusion and transparency through blockchain. Blockchain technology can be discussed in light of the UN’s pursuit of inclusion and transparency in technology. First, the UN can establish a platform that allows governments, industry experts, scholars, civil society, and others to convene, discuss, and make collective choices about blockchain and DeFi technologies. This engagement must be conducted transparently and openly to ensure all voices are recognized. Second, because of the transparent and auditable nature of blockchain, blockchain applications can be endorsed by the UN to amplify transparency across diverse sectors, including supply chain oversight, electoral systems, and digital identity authentication.

Third, the UN can play a role in urging educational institutions and industry to explore the potential and implications of blockchain and DeFi, and publicly share their findings. Furthermore, the UN can support initiatives aimed at educating the wider public about these technologies, encompassing their potential advantages and risks. Fourth, the UN can partake in the development of international standards and regulations pertaining to the deployment of blockchain and DeFi. This can ensure that these technologies are used responsibly and ethically, safeguarding people’s rights and preventing economic disparity. Fifth, DeFi holds the promise to extend financial services to unbanked or underbanked individuals. The UN can promote DeFi practices that are inclusive and beneficial to all individuals, irrespective of their economic circumstances. Sixth, recognizing that blockchain and DeFi are future-oriented technologies that will greatly impact upcoming generations, the UN should actively include youth in dialogues and decision-making processes. This could be coordinated via the UN Youth Envoy and other youth-focused initiatives.

Addressing partnerships through IOT. The IOT offers the UN many opportunities to exercise its goal of advancing technology through partnerships. First,  the UN can collaborate with governments to establish supportive regulatory frameworks for IoT. This includes setting up appropriate standards for data privacy and security, fostering fair competition in IoT services, and encouraging the use of IoT for public services. Second, the UN can establish partnerships with the private sector, which is driving much of the IoT innovation. It can work with industry leaders to promote the use of IoT technologies that align with global sustainable development goals and advocate for responsible data management. Third, the UN can work closely with academia and research institutions to understand the implications of IoT technologies. This includes studying the socio-economic impacts, identifying potential risks and challenges, and exploring ways to maximize the benefits of IoT. Fourth, the UN can foster open dialogues with civil society organizations, including non-profit organizations and consumer groups. This can help ensure the concerns and interests of various societal groups are considered in the development and application of IoT technologies. Fifth, given the broad implications of IoT, the UN can help facilitate multi-stakeholder initiatives that encourage diverse perspectives on IoT developments. This could include international conferences, collaborative research projects, or public-private partnerships.


The Introduction underscored the importance of technology in modern society, highlighting how technological advancements have revolutionized several aspects of human life. However, it also acknowledged the inherent challenges such as inequitable access, privacy concerns, and ethical issues that accompany these advancements. The UN, given its global mandate and influence, was identified as a crucial entity to guide the responsible and equitable use of technology globally.

Next, the thesis explored the UN’s current interactions with technology. It delved into the UN’s technology engagement philosophy, strategies, and specific efforts. Identified were three core pillars of the UN’s approach: Policy, capacity building, and operational activities. The UN seeks to ensure that technology advances align with broader international goals, such as sustainable development and human rights, and contributes to solving global challenges. The UN’s initiatives range from international dialogues and policy guidance to capacity building and partnerships with other organizations.

Next, there was an explanation of the UN’s values in technology engagement, which include upholding the dignity, worth, and rights of all people; promoting social progress and better standards of life; fostering tolerance and peace; and encouraging mutual assistance among nations. The analisys underscored how these values inform the UN’s approach to technology, creating an ethical and equitable framework for digital developments as noted in the Secretary General’s (2018) report.

The research analysis focused on four emerging technologies: quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain (including decentralized finance), and the Internet of Things (IoT). It provided an overview of these technologies, detailing their potential impacts and the associated challenges. Quantum computing, with its vast computational capabilities, could revolutionize numerous sectors, but concerns over equitable access and ethical implications are underscored. AI, while holding enormous potential for economic and societal development, poses challenges related to privacy, bias, and transparency. Blockchain and DeFi technologies could significantly enhance transparency and financial inclusion but also bring about new regulatory and security challenges. IoT, while enabling greater connectivity and efficiency, raises concerns about data privacy, security, and the digital divide.

There were practical examples of the UN’s engagement with the four aforementioned technologies. For quantum computing, the case study focused on the UN’s support for the development of quantum-resistant encryption technologies. In the realm of AI, the thesis highlighted the UN’s role in establishing global guidelines for AI use, such as the AI for Good Global Summit. For Blockchain, UNICEF’s CryptoFund initiative is discussed as an example of blockchain utilization for operational activities. Lastly, the UN’s collaboration with tech companies to leverage IoT for humanitarian relief operations was demonstrated as an example of strategic partnership.

The final section outlined a range of potential strategies for the UN to further its engagement with emerging technologies. General approaches involve the UN acting as a platform for global dialogues, creating international standards and norms, advocating for digital inclusion, supporting R&D, promoting technology education, strengthening ties with the tech industry, and modeling ethical use of technology. Specific strategies are also proposed for each technology. These include advocating equitable access to quantum computing, guiding global standards for AI, fostering inclusion and transparency through blockchain, and enhancing technology partnerships via IoT.


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