United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)


Globalization, including a phenomenal expansion of trade, has helped lift millions out of poverty. But not nearly enough people have benefited. And tremendous challenges remain.

We support developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively. And we help equip them to deal with the potential drawbacks of greater economic integration. To do this, we provide analysis, facilitate consensus-building, and offer technical assistance. This helps them to use trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

Description of Activities on AI

UNCTAD, through its Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL), aims to enhance the economic development and competitiveness in developing countries – in particular Least Developed Countries – through science, technology and innovation, including in the use, adoption, adaptation, dissemination and development of frontier technologies such as AI.

Project 1: United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD)

UNCTAD is the secretariat of the CSTD, a functional commission of ECOSOC. The CSTD is the focal point within the United Nations for science, technology and innovation (STI) for development. As such, it plays a central role in analysing how STI, including frontier technologies such as AI, serve as enablers of the 2030 Agenda. In 2020, one of the two priority themes considered by the CSTD was “Harnessing rapid technological change for inclusive and sustainable development,” and the CSTD recognized that rapid technological change, including in AI, can accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda by providing new solutions to economic, social and environmental obstacles. At the same time, it poses considerable challenges for legal, social, and cultural norms regarding issues ranging from the integrity of human life to privacy, security, and the prevention of new forms of discrimination. The CSTD has highlighted the role of appropriate science, technology and innovation policies that provide directionality to rapid technological change through a supportive enabling environment, skills development to foster innovation, with an emphasis on carefully scaling up businesses and technological foresight.

Project 2: Technology and Innovation Report (TIR)

UNCTAD’s flagship Technology and Innovation Report (TIR) address issues in science, technology and innovation that are topical and important for developing countries in a comprehensive way with an emphasis on policy-relevant analysis and conclusions. Technology and Innovation Report 2018 addressed the of harnessing frontier technologies for sustainable development, which included AI and other technologies such as Big data, Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Biotech, Nanotech, Renewable Energy, Drones, and Satellites. The Technology and Innovation Report 2020 critically examines the possibility of frontier technologies such as AI widening existing inequalities and creating new ones. It extends the usual treatment given to this topic beyond the context of developed countries and also analyzes the potential effect of rapid technological change on developing and least developed countries, as well as on the most vulnerable segments of societies.

Project 3: Interagency coordination on STI for SDGs

UNCTAD co-leads together with DESA the UN interagency task team on STI for the SDGs, which is part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism of the Agenda 2030. The interagency task prepares the Multistakeholder STI Forum, which has discussed the impact of key rapid technological changes on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Common to these activities is the continuous broad discussion with the involvement of all stakeholders on the impacts of new technologies and the need for technical assessments of these impacts that systematically use models, scenarios and foresight exercises to make clear the assumptions and the most relevant policy areas when considering the impact of these technologies.

Related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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