There is all too often a tendency to see technology as being inherently good. This notion underlies the plethora of initiatives designed to show how ICTs can contribute positively to the Sustainable Development Goals, and the convening of global summits on themes such as “AI for Good”. Such instrumental views of technology, though, are fundamentally flawed, because all technologies are designed and sold with a particular purpose in mind, and to serve a particular set of interests. Technology does not yet have power of its own to make the world better. Determining whether these interests are good or bad involves fundamental moral questions, such as whether achieving economic growth at the expense of increasing inequality is a desirable outcome. The theme of this conference focuses on this tension between increasing productivity on the one hand, and achieving greater equality and inclusiveness on the other. Unless all technology is inclusive, for example, it will create greater inequality between those who have access to it, and those who do not. This keynote seeks to disentangle such challenges, by exploring the interests underlying the interface between humans and machines. It does so particularly in the context of digital governance and government, from the perspective of the poorest and most marginalised, those with disabilities, street children, refugees and women in patriarchal societies. It also looks to the future of this interface, and suggests that many potential machine<>human scenarios are indeed very ugly. We need to act now if we are to have any chance of shaping a fairer, more equitable world in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.
Professor Tim Unwin is Emeritus Professor of Geography (since 2011) and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (since 2007) at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is also Honorary Professor at Lanzhou University in China. He was Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) from 2011-2015, and was Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission from 2009-2014. He serves on the UK Department for International Development’s Digital Advisory Panel, the UN University – Computing and Society International Advisory Board, the ITU's m-Powering Development Advisory Board, and the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Internet for All initiative. He is currently working with UNESCO and UNICEF to co-ordinate 21 UN agencies in developing a UN-wide strategy for the future of education and learning. His edited book Information and Communication Technologies for Development, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009, and his latest book Reclaiming ICT4D was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. Most of his research and writing currently focuses on the inequalities caused by ICTs and what needs to be done to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised people can also benefit from them. He was appointed a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St George (CMG) in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours list in 2016 for his services to the Commonwealth.