How will technology affect you in the future?

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours synthetic biology company Antheia. (State Dept./Chuck Kennedy)

Technology is improving crop yields, saving people from dying after drug overdoses and even generating new body parts from a patient’s own cells.

Artificial intelligence tools and synthetic biology are behind these advances and are just some of the technologies improving humankind’s health, prosperity and environment.

In fact, studies suggest that artificial intelligence could accelerate progress on 80% of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the next decade, the U.S. government and private sector will invest $3.5 trillion in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, synthetic biology and biotechnology, as well as in innovations in telecommunications and clean energy.
“We’re harnessing technology for the betterment not just of our people and our friends, but of all humanity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the RSA Conference, a meeting of cybersecurity experts in San Francisco. He called the U.S. efforts “tech for good” — a focus on supporting global prosperity while reducing any risk of misuses.

Synthetic biology

Blinken visited a California company that uses synthetic biology to produce ingredients for critical medicines, including Narcan, an antidote for opioid overdoses that saves countless lives. “We want to see biotech harnessed for more uses like this,” he said.

U.S. companies also engineer genes to work toward next-generation antibiotics that bacteria can’t outsmart and to develop regenerative medicine. Other firms are using biology to develop fossil fuel replacements that produce less greenhouse gas.

And a New York company recently helped a woman born without one ear by creating and implanting an ear using her own cells.

Apps and computers

With a smartphone app, developed by a University of Pennsylvania research lab, farmers can photograph an unhealthy crop and, with the help of AI, compare the image to a database of over 100,000 plants and diseases. It helps them to identify pests and disease so they can replant only healthy crops and increase yields.

Person in lab coat and black gloves looking at fluid in large dropper (© Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun/TNS/Getty Images)
Delfi Diagnostics, in Baltimore, uses machine learning algorithms to detect cancer in patients. (© Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun/TNS/Getty Images)

 

U.S. innovators also develop computer technology to help solve pressing problems. In the future, “quantum computing” could potentially predict whether a harvest will produce enough food or help an airline adjust routes in real time to avoid severe storms.

Protecting against risks

Rapid innovation also brings risks. Paola Gálvez Callirgos, a technology policy adviser from Peru, says that while AI can break down language barriers and expand access to vital resources, it also can bring fake, biased or polarizing content. Speaking at the Summit for Democracy in Seoul recently, she said the world’s young people should play a role in ensuring AI’s safe development.

“Protecting democracy and establishing safe guardrails for AI is a shared responsibility,” Gálvez Callirgos said. “Governments … must not be alone in this endeavor.”

Blinken, when in California this week, unveiled the U.S. International Cyberspace and Digital Policy Strategy to ensure safe development of technology. At home, the U.S. government has created guidance for trustworthy AI and worked with tech companies to test products’ security. And around the world, core elements of U.S. guidance have been adopted by Group of Seven nations and have informed a UN resolution that has many nations’ support.

“Even the most far-sighted among us don’t know for sure what the tech future will look like, or exactly how emerging technologies will be used,” Blinken said. “Working together, we can seize this extraordinary inflection point to shape a future that reflects our best values.”

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