World

Ensure digital technologies are 'a force for good' — Guterres

May 17, 2021
A nurse shows a Palestinian refugee in Jordan a health app on her smart phone. — courtesy UNRWA/George Awwad
A nurse shows a Palestinian refugee in Jordan a health app on her smart phone. — courtesy UNRWA/George Awwad

NEW YORK — Although the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation across the planet, millions worldwide still lack Internet access, the UN Secretary-General said on Monday, highlighting why information and communication technologies (ICTs) must be “a force for good.”

In his message for World Telecommunication and Information Science Day, celebrated annually on May 17, the UN chief called for action to conquer both the pandemic and the digital divide.

Innovative and protective

“Digital technologies sustain life, work, health and learning for billions of people. In the face of COVID-19, businesses, governments and the digital community have proven resilient and innovative, helping to protect lives and livelihoods. These challenging times have accelerated the transformation everywhere,” he said.

However, the secretary-general reported some 3.7 billion people, or nearly half the world’s population, remain unconnected to the Internet. Most are women.

“They, too, must be included if we are to make the possibilities of 5G, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, digital health and other technologies truly transformative and sustainable,” he said.

“We must also protect against the dangers of digital technologies, from the spread of hatred and misinformation to cyberattacks and the exploitation of our data.”

Encouraging investment

World Telecommunication and Information Science Day marks the signing in 1865 of an agreement to form the International Telegraph Union (ITU), making it the world’s first modern international organization.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said the UN agency would use the day to unite the world in pursuit of digital transformation in all areas of business and life.

“It will be an opportunity to strengthen national strategies on ICT development, implement smart policies and effective measures to encourage investments in ICTs and digital skills, and upgrade our services with new technologies ranging from AI (Artificial Intelligence) to 5G that are central to the digital economy,” he said in a video message.

Inclusive and affordable for all

Last June, the UN launched a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation that lays out eight key actions, including achieving universal connectivity by 2030.

Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said the road map, together with the vital work of the ITU, aims to make the digital transformation equitable, safe, inclusive and affordable for all, while also respecting human rights.

“On World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, let us commit to work together to defeat COVID-19 and ensure that digital technologies are a force for good that help us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind.” — UN News


May 17, 2021
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