We all want to imagine a future with no poverty, zero hunger, higher life expectancy, few diseases, greater opportunities and financial inclusion. But all of this isn’t possible if we don’t put technology to extensive use. By one estimate, achieving many development goals would require a level of resource use that is 2–6 times the sustainable level. Technology can play a pivotal role in replacing renewable energy, it can also lead to better health outcomes and drive prosperity for the human race, all of which are very important for a sustainable world.
Using technology to achieve environmental sustainability
The production of energy is the largest contributor to global Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, being responsible for approximately 65% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2010. If we want to achieve a higher rate of economic growth, then it is highly likely that we will consume a lot more fossil fuel. However, due to energy scarcity and increasing climate change, this is unsustainable. Here’s where technology comes in to transform the energy industry. By improving low emissions energy technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear power, and carbon dioxide capture and storage, we can achieve economic growth in an environmentally sustainable manner. While only a small percentage of the earth’s population relied entirely on renewable energy, we must understand that this is going to change with the rapid advancement of technology. The major challenge that arises from renewable energy is the ability to store and supply it when the demand arises.
Energy through nuclear, wind, solar and other sources can be fully exploited only if we have better energy storage technology, something that is currently in the making. Similarly, when it comes to the automobile sector, electric vehicles (EVs) are increasingly becoming a viable alternative to traditional vehicles. The stock of EVs is forecast to reach between 40 million and 70 million by 2025, thus making them more affordable and easily available. Batteries too are being designed in a way that will favour EVs. For example, Toyota has plans to develop all-solid-state batteries by 2022. However, replacing traditional vehicles with EVs will not be fruitful if the electricity supplied to the EVs are generated through fossil fuels. This will result in higher GHG emissions. EVs have the definite potential to transform the automobile sector, more importantly it will pave the way for environmental sustainability by reducing emissions to a great extent.
Improving health outcomes (social sustainability)
Scientists on behalf of humanity, are tremendously hopeful that technology can improve health outcomes and increase overall life expectancy.
One such technology is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Encompassing algorithms, machine learning and pattern recognition, AI holds immense potential to transform the healthcare sector. Image analysis algorithms can help detect skin diseases, pneumonia, breast cancer and other diseases. Speech recognition can help physicians reduce the time they spend in medical record keeping. Augmented reality can be used to administer wound care under remote supervision of a doctor. AI systems that are conversational can rid the world of the problem of shortage of psychiatrists by offering limited help to mentally ill patients who cannot afford the services of a psychiatrist.
3D printing which is another promising revolutionary technology can lower the cost of precision medicine and medical devices. Robots are performing routine and highly technical procedures on patients, infact robots are believed to outperform human surgeons in preventing infection and stitching the segments of intestines. Surprised? Me too! Great strides have also been made when it comes to the usage of technology in vaccine and drug delivery. Polypill, which combines multiple drug products into a single pill has been vastly successful in preventing cardiovascular diseases. The quad pill too has shown great results when it comes to treating HIV patients. Technological advances in delivery of drugs can also improve the overall reproductive health of females in underprivileged countries. Similarly, self-inject contraception can prevent unwanted pregnancies.
According to WHO, between 11 million and 20 million people are affected by typhoid every year. Between 128,000‒161,000 people die from typhoid annually . The use of antibiotics along with better water quality and adequate sanitation has provided better resistance to the disease. While immunisation is important to prevent typhoid, current vaccines are not as effective and cannot be administered to children below 5. However, with recent efforts a new type of vaccine has recently been approved by WHO for global use. Referred to as the typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV), it will provide the required immunity to tackle typhoid.
Achieving economic prosperity
New age technology has opened up the doors to new opportunities for economic growth, jobs and wealth creation. They continue to expand individual and institutional capacities and have resulted in increased levels of productivity. Infact, the better use of technology and its applications has been the basis for creation of entirely new business models and industries. But it doesn’t stop there. Apart from its commercial use, in the last 3 decades, technology has been a driving force in halving the global poverty rate.
Countries and companies that lead technological innovation will gain a superior competitive edge over their peers, who are lacking when it comes to adoption of technology. The technological divide has to be closed down upon, this will help them achieve phenomenal economic growth and reduce economic inequalities. Legacy investments in technology and public infrastructure will no longer hold good. The ever-increasing ability of AI can reshape our economy through its thorough application in healthcare, mobility etc. Machine learning has made AI on par with any intelligent human, if not more. AI capabilities have also greatly enhanced computer vision, speech recognition, motor control (of robots), language translation, and decision-making processes in science, finance and other fields.
3D printing as well has made manufacturing a whole lot faster and easier. It has the ability to design prototypes quicker, change designs quickly and produce complex products. As this technology continues to evolve and mature, it will realise its full potential when new industrial, consumer and medical uses, especially when low-volume, complex and customized solutions are needed. Lastly, we have digital finance technologies that are currently catering to the financial services and needs of people who lack formal financial services. Globally, about 2 billion people lack a formal financial services account, of whom 1.4 billion reside in low- or lower middle-income countries. Through digital finance technology operators are able to carry out financial transactions for only 10% of the original cost that conventional banks charge. People are making good use of digital finance services by receiving wages, paying school fees, groceries, paying utility bills and even remitting money. It has also led to the birth of new finance models such as the Pay-As-You-Go, thereby encouraging spending and altering consumer buying behaviour. On the lending side, digital finance will facilitate great access to short term loans and insurance products.
The above are examples of how beneficial technology can be for us in all walks of life. Those who embrace and innovate using technology will certainly be the frontrunners.