The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were created to reach a healthy balance of the three dimensions of sustainable development by 2030: progress would have to be made on the social, economic and environmental front. How can we achieve these laudable goals that seek to bring prosperity while improving the condition of the planet and its inhabitants? The answer could be (information) technology. In Estonia, where all government services (except getting married and divorced) are accessible online and legally binding documents can be signed digitally, we have come a long way. But the innovation never ends. Where do we go from here?
Machines, people and quality of life
At the end of last year, the Estonia’s pre-crisis unemployment rate was 4.1%. That’s great, but since job satisfaction is part of overall happiness and well-being, “employed” doesn’t necessarily mean “happily employed” – just like “married” does not automatically mean “happily married”. So let’s dig deeper!
How can we make sure that people would have more meaningful careers? Implementing flexible working hours and remote work are among the solutions to help raise job satisfaction where ICT can play a role. In the context of the current global crisis, however, this has become a necessity rather than a luxury. By the way, if you are looking to run your business entirely online, Estonian company Xolo would most likely be able to help you out, no matter where you are located.
Of course, this kind of flexibility is not yet possible in all areas of life – but still we can see right now that robotics and automation can make it an option for a growing number of workers. The world is in a constant state of flux – something that will remain to be true is the perception of active learning and ICT literacy as being elementary skills. Previously, driving a tractor might have been seen as a rather simple task requiring little skill. Nowadays, you will need some digital skills if you want to navigate, let alone fix it.
Several jobs today include tasks that could very well be automated. Should we be worried that in the future AI will be able to replace people in various areas? Changes often tend to be scary, but in my opinion, we should be excited. In 2016, the OECD predicted that 65% of kids today will do jobs that have not yet been invented. We need to foster transferrable skills that will allow on average 25 job changes throughout our lives. For any species to survive, they need to adapt. No doubt, digital transformation will be a part of this process.
Free internet as a vital tool
Free internet is indispensable for building a digital society so it makes sense that Estonia is among countries which have the freest internet in the world. This means that government services and information are accessible to everyone regardless of their socio-economic background. Easily accessible internet could improve the situation of many developing countries: from data collection and calculated decision-making to selling products and offering services online. All this is directly tied to citizens’ health and the overall economic situation. Some countries, for example, struggle with pervasive criminal activity and predictive data analysis could help solve crimes before they occur. From this one example, however, we can also see that with great technology comes great responsibly: creating an unbiased AI that upholds the cornerstones of democracies around the world, such as privacy and personal freedoms, will be an ethical and legal challenge for policymakers around the world.
Innovation-driven solutions help us fight global warming
Technology helps to seek solutions based on sustainable energy. In the area of sustainable energy, Estonia is focusing on solar and wind power as well as bioenergy. However, we should never become complacent – sustainable energy components should be easily renewable with as little energy lost in the process as possible. In all honesty, this is something where Estonia has a long way to go.
Feeding the nearly 8 billion inhabitants of planet Earth is a task that contributes quite heavily to our global emissions, partly because of the consumption of meat. This means that we need to make the meat consumption more sustainable. Furthermore, according to the WHO, growing meat on antibiotics is contaminating the food supply with resistant bacteria, causing difficult-to-treat infections while reducing the power of antibiotics to cure human infections.
In response to this, Beyond Meat rose to fame in the United States and our neighbours in Finland have Vöner – wheat kebab that serves as a meat substitute and looks, tastes and feels like the real thing. Interestingly, Vöner was voted as the best meat substitute in Estonia in 2019. And we can see that this is not merely a local trend –startups working on plant-based meat substitutes elsewhere have received investments from Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and many others.
I believe that it’s safe to say the future of science across the globe is in the hands of those who try to solve the most pressing challenges of our time and do so with the help of (information) technology. The world is smaller than ever, and we should not be afraid of looking at what other countries are doing and learn from their best practices.
events coordinator at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre