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Authorities and Specialists Agree that Latin America and the Caribbean Needs to Understand Emerging Technologies to Assess their Opportunities and Risks

A special session on artificial intelligence took place at the first meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, underway in Mexico City.

27 April 2017|News

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The special session on artificial intelligence took place during the first meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.
The special session on artificial intelligence took place during the first meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.
Photo: ECLAC

To board the fourth industrial revolution “train” and avoid being razed by the technological “tsunami,” the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean must first understand what this global process is about, identify the sectors that can harness new technologies and assess the potential benefits and costs of their use, authorities and specialists agreed at a special session on artificial intelligence that took place during the first meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development in Mexico City.

The goal of this session was to have a first exchange of opinions on the opportunities and risks involved in the use of new technologies in the region’s countries, explained Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, Mexico’s Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the Foreign Affairs Secretariat, who moderated the discussion.

Margarita Cedeño, Vice President of the Dominican Republic, pointed out that “our governments have realized that we must use science to support the design and execution of public policies.” The challenge, she emphasized, is “to tackle this issue at the breakneck speed at which data is growing.”

“In 2020, to give an example, there will be 50 billion connections linking people, data and objects on the Internet alone. However, in the public administration of our countries, we do not have the tools or the capacities to be able to digest, comprehend, analyze and incorporate this disruptive volume of social and economic data,” the Vice President acknowledged, as she provided details on diverse initiatives under development in her country.

Marcelo Jenkins, Costa Rica’s Minister of Science, Technology and Telecommunications, sustained that “to avoid being left at the station by the fourth industrial revolution train, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have to know what the revolution consists of and how to board that train.”

The Costa Rican official referred to “quantum computing,” among other technologies, that in his view “will revolutionize the way we see digital computing today,” given that “it has the ability to break all currently known asymmetric encryption systems,” exposing, for instance, passwords on any device.

José Ramón López, professor, founder and coordinator of the Oxford University Center for Mexican Studies, defended the innovative capacity of the State, calling for a radical transformation of education and strengthening of universities.

The expert gave his analysis of the “optimistic” and “pessimistic” viewpoints currently circulating with regard to new technologies and their consequences on diverse aspects of life. “Technological change is embedded in the 2030 Agenda,” he underscored, calling for progress on international cooperation in the highest possible forums.

Sergio Alcocer Martínez de Castro, President of México Exponencial, a strategic think-tank, asserted that “regulation should not be a straightjacket on innovation.” The specialist expressed his conviction that some of the most outstanding emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, augmented reality, robotics, blockchain, virtual reality, drones and 3-D printing, can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “We must follow them, work on them and see how we can implement them in every country in our region,” he said.

In closing the session, Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena indicated that ECLAC is intensely focused on studying new technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean, work that she made available to the countries of the region to identify new needs and priorities.

Along the same lines, Bárcena invited attendees to participate on August 8-9 in Chile in the preliminary meeting leading up to the Sixth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, scheduled for 2018 in Colombia. The themes addressed at this special session will be revisited at the meeting in Chile, she assured.

“This session has been fascinating. If we have the 2030 Agenda, if we have a set direction, we can devote ourselves to understanding what technologies are available and how we can develop them to resolve the most pressing problems in our region,” Bárcena concluded.