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UN lists technologies most likely to have the biggest global impact


The United Nations Global Compact has listed a number of technologies which it says are most likely to impact the global population.

Among the list are a number of technologies regularly featured on this website, including robotics, autonomous cars, drones, internet of things, digital agriculture, and additive manufacturing, among others.

Working with PA Consulting Group, the UN promoted what it describes as “breakthrough innovation and disruptive technologies” at a UN Global Compact Leaders Summit.

Alan Middleton, CEO of PA Consulting Group, moderated the panel discussion at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, held in New York City. 

One of the themes of the summit was how organisations can achieve breakthrough innovation in pursuit of the UN sustainable development goals.

The sustainable development goals represent a $12 trillion opportunity for businesses. Yet at current pace, the global community risks coming up short on many of the targets, says PA Consulting.


To date, efforts to accelerate progress towards the sustainable development goals have largely focused within individual organisations and their existing value chains.

During his session at the Leaders Summit, Middleton highlighted the need for organisations to adopt an approach of breakthrough innovation, which calls for looking beyond incremental change to find new business models that deliver both societal and economic outcomes.

He also emphasised that disruptive technologies are key to powering many of the breakthrough innovations.

In partnership with the UN Global Compact and Volans, PA has identified twelve disruptive technologies that have the potential to drive significant improvements in business performance and the quality of life of the world’s population.

For each technology, PA has developed an executive summary which details its key features, provides examples of its applications, outlines its potential positive and negative societal impact, and explores how it can enable economic growth.

The “disruptive” technologies and their associated potential are:

  • Additive manufacturing – reduce waste, improve performance, create new products, and challenge global supply chains.
  • Artificial intelligence – transformational automation and machine learning, the potential of which is as yet unknown.
  • Autonomous road vehicles – revolutionise travel and logistics by fundamentally shifting our attitudes to transport and mobility, creating new business models.
  • Big data – deliver better understanding of our complex, interconnected world, to provide improved understanding, decisions and outcomes.
  • Blockchain – build digital trust through tamper-proof online transactions which could revolutionise management of IP, personal records, identity, ownership, provenance, and so on.
  • Digital agriculture – combine sensors, communications, and advanced computing to increase productivity and reduce resource consumption.
  • Gene editing – manipulate the genetic code of plants and animals, potentially changing human health and food production forever.
  • Internet of things – apply sensors, connectivity and computing to previously isolated objects to unlock new value networks.
  • Next generation robotics – move from fixed repetitive tasks to free unstructured collaboration with humans and change the world of work.
  • The microbiome – deliver new understanding of the microbes around and within us, and use bacteria to prevent and treat diseases.
  • Unmanned air systems – transform delivery, inspection, surveillance, imaging, search and rescue, logistics and law enforcement.
  • Virtual and augmented reality – enable new forms of experience, collaboration and interaction, without the need for physical presence.

Alan Middleton, CEO, PA Consulting Group says, “Achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals offers economic opportunities estimated to be worth at least US$12 trillion.

“Right now we are falling short because change has been incremental and delivered mostly within individual organisations and their existing value chains.

“We need businesses to adopt an approach of ‘breakthrough innovation’, looking beyond incremental change to identify new business models that will deliver both societal and economic outcomes.

“Disruptive technologies will be at the heart of many breakthrough innovations and will enable organisations to operate in new and far more sustainable ways while seizing huge commercial opportunities.

“A daunting challenge for sure, but taking the long-view, ‘business as usual’ is a bigger risk than pursuing breakthrough innovation.”

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