The ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) celebrated its 25th anniversary in style at a Gala Dinner in Buenos Aires, Argentina last night.
Tango dancers flashed across the stage as distinguished delegates from around the world mingled in national dress to celebrate 25 years of steady progress promoting the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve lives worldwide.
Former Directors of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) joined current BDT Director Brahima Sanou and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao in heartfelt tributes to two and a half decades of hard work.
These pioneers of ITU-D reflected on the progress made, highlighted some of the top achievements — and reminisced that it all started here in Buenos Aires with the establishment of ITU-D in 1992.
But true to its pioneering nature, ITU-D is looking forward, not back.
The two 25th Anniversary Ministerial Roundtables held hours before the Gala Dinner during the quadrennial World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-17) focused on how to harness rapidly changing technological trends to improve sustainable development and to build the next digital economy for the benefit of all.
During the first roundtable on how to use ICTs to accelerate achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), keynote speaker Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission leading the EC’s “Digital Single Market” initiative, spoke about the importance of e-government to lower costs and make services much more efficient.
“The digital economy has become the substance of the new economy. It’s the main engine of development.” – Majed Al-Mazyed
He also shared with the audience of government ministers and distinguished delegates some of the lessons the EC has learned as a regional body — and some of its new approaches.
“In May, the European Commission published a strategy to mainstream digital technologies and services into all of our development activities,” said Mr. Ansip. “It has four main priorities: ensuring access to affordable secure broadband and to digital infrastructure; promoting digital literacy and skills; supporting entrepreneurs and digital innovation; and promoting the use of digital technologies and services across sectors to increase accountability, transparency and coordination.”
During the first roundtable, ITU announced the publication of a new book titled ICT-centric economic growth, innovation and job creation, which provides a roadmap and practical strategies to utilize advances in ICTs to promote social and economic development.
During the second roundtable on building the digital economy, Majed Al-Mazyed, Deputy Governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) of Saudi Arabia stressed the importance of ICTs for today’s economy.
“The digital economy has become the substance of the new economy. It’s the main engine of development,” said Mr Al-Mazyed. “Saudi Arabia has understood very quickly the importance of their digital economy. … Saudi Arabia has put in place a special service for the digital transformation, including many ministers, among them the Communications Minister, the Health Minister, the Education Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Trade, the Minister of Rural Wealth. Among the functions of this service is to develop ICTs in Saudi Arabia.”
The second roundtable was punctuated by 13-year-old tech phenom Tanmay Bakshi, a keynote speaker who developed his first app at age 9. Tanmay spoke about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to exponentially improve lives, much sooner than we may think.
“AI is already playing a very critical role in our digital economy,” said Tanmay. “And we can only expect it to get much bigger from here, because not only can artificial intelligence complete tasks no other human and no other algorithm can, but in fact, AI eliminates many of the mundane tasks that today’s workers are faced with in order to free them to innovate and work in other areas that require them the most.”
“I believe there are two things that governments need to do to sustain the growth of the digital economy, said Tanmay. “No. 1: Governments need to support the programs that foster digital skills development in the youth. And they need to do this so that are future proofed for the era in which AI is the dominant part of the digital economy. And so that, we can nurture the computational thinking in our youth. And No. 2: Governments need to invest really heavily in the research and development that we’re doing for AI now so that we can build a foundation and the base for the future of the digital economy and start leveraging it and using it to our advantage, very, very soon.”
Tanmay’s energy was infectious and his speech brought a rousing round of applause as the mature audience of decisionmakers saw the future flash before their eyes.
BDT Director Sanou referenced that in his closing remarks. “[Tanmay] is telling us: you have to change the way you have been looking at the world,” he said. “[He is] telling us: ‘Don’t continue to look at the world of tomorrow with the eyes of yesterday.'”