MWC SHANGHAI 2021: Technology as an engine for human progress

“Believe in the power of technology,” says Huawei’ Catherine Cheng

Huawei Corporate Senior Vice President and Director of the Board Catherine Chen delivered a keynote speech.

Throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, technology has served as a lifeline that helped people all over the world cope up and try to continue living their normal lives. If not for technological advancements we enjoy today, more businesses would have probably shut down and the effects of the lockdown would have been even more devastating.

The value of digital technologies in sustainable development for a better, connected world, was the topic of the Connected for Shared Prosperity forum, one of the events preceding the MWC Shanghai 2021. 

Hosted by Huawei, GSMA, the Center for Environmental Economic Studies at Fudan University, and The Paper, governmental ministers from multiple countries gathered at the Connected for Shared Prosperity forum held at Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel in Shanghai.

More than 1000 guests from over 50 countries attended the conference online as participants joined both online and in person to discuss the value of digital technologies in sustainable development for a better, connected world, representing organizations from around the world, including international industry regulators and think tanks from China, Malaysia, Spain, Thailand, Hungary and Portugal. 

Among the distinguished guest speakers included Spanish Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism María Reyes Maroto, Portuguese Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Pedro Nuno Santos, Hungarian Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics, Malaysian Minister of Communications and Multimedia Dato’ Saifuddin bin Abdullah, and the Thai Secretary-General of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission Vunnaporn Devahastin.

All speakers agreed that the global economic recovery is increasing instep with greater enforcement of pandemic control measures. They also agreed that reductions in emissions, more jobs, and more initiatives in facilitating prosperity are needed to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 and the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals. Multiple speakers identified digital technologies and global collaboration as essential in this process.

In her keynote speech, Huawei Senior Vice President and Director of the Board Catherine Chen, stated Huawei’s belief that the ultimate goal of technology is to benefit all humans, and that digital technologies can facilitate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She called on enterprises to take firm action to use technology to create more value for the world as a whole.

“We’ve all had mixed feelings about 2020. The pandemic has changed our lives. Many things we took for granted no longer exist and our values have changed. My biggest takeaway from the past year has been just how hard it is for society to reach a consensus. There seems to be constant conflict and disagreement, from deciding if it’s necessary to impose lockdowns to debating if it’s worth it to wear a mask.”

Today, we’ve come together to discuss the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I, personally, believe that technology is crucial to advancing these goals, and together, we must do two things to fully unleash the power of technology and drive sustainable development.

Huawei Corporate Senior Vice President and Director of the Board Catherine Chen delivered a keynote speech.

Our first challenge will be to reach an honest consensus on whether technology is an engine of human progress.

Looking back over history, we’ve seen how large social changes happen in lockstep with breakthroughs in science and technology. But today, technological advancements are hyped and politicized, sometimes demonized. Many have stopped believing in the power of technology because of fear and distrust. Some are going to great lengths to hinder the development of technology.

I recently read a report, which said that any important digital platform that is dominated by China will be highly dangerous to the US if not effectively contained and that 5G was one such platform.

5G is a standardized technology defined by its high bandwidth, low latency, and broad connectivity. It helps traditional industries transform and can benefit all. Wide-scale 5G deployment can already be seen in multiple industries around the world. Every-day consumers are benefiting from 5G experiences, while industrial use in seaports, mines, and the transportation sector is increasing operational efficiency. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so.

If we claim that technology is critically important but its development is ideologically wrong, this will only result in division, confusion, and regression.

We must reach a global consensus on this issue and believe in the power of technology to leverage it for the benefit of the society.

Of course, there is always the danger that someone will abuse a new technology. This is not a new concern. But since the industrial revolution, we have seen how establishing rules to manage technological risks can safeguard us. Through rules, technological developments can transcend national boundaries and improve the livelihoods of all without incurring undue risk. We are entering a digital era, and many are hard at work creating the governance rules for cyber security, privacy protection, and trusted AI that will keep us safe. For the rest of us, it’s time to be confident and open to technological development.

Our second challenge will be taking resolute action to make technology truly effective/ and create value for all.

It may be hard to reach a consensus, but it is easy to shut down technology.

For enterprises, believing in tech can start from something small. For example, let’s look at the minimum viable product concept. Typically, MVP refers to the product development stage where what you’ve made just meets the most critical of user requirements while using the smallest amount of resources. That MVP can then be constantly iterated and refined after its launch.

Building broad consensus is difficult, so we can draw on this MVP concept to help technological advancement continue. By focusing on the limited common understanding we have right now and by keeping in mind what resources are actually available, we can drive progress step by step. Iteration means perfect. Fostering conflict will mean stagnation.

Huawei has always supported technological advancement. We believe, ultimately, tech benefits humanity. We also believe digital tech will help the UN achieve its SDGs. Already, Huawei has explored many applications of digital tech guided by the SDGs.

Huawei’s Smart PV solution is being widely used in more than 60 countries to reduce carbon emissions by 148 million tons. This is the equivalent of planting more than 200 million trees. In Ethiopia alone, we have helped our customers deploy over 400 solar power stations, reducing carbon emissions by 2,850 tons. In China, we have also helped build the world’s largest solar stations dedicated to agriculture and fishing in Ningxia and Shandong provinces.

What’s more, Huawei and UNESCO launched the Open Schools program over the course of a three-year partnership, to help schools in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Ghana improve their digital skills with online education.

“Every one of these examples, every single connection, every gram of emissions reduced, every watt of electricity saved, every small improvement we’ve made, couldn’t have been achieved without small advances in tech. This is the value tech brings to the world.”

The GSMA, the world’s largest telecom industry body that organizes the annual Mobile World Congress, launched this year’s event in China in February, as the rest of the world was still struggling with COVID-19. 

About 20,000 visitors and more than 200 exhibitors attend the event, with a major focus on how to empower more business with the next generation of wireless technologies. The GSMA also holds a bullish view on the deployment of 5G in 2021, forecasting that by the end of the year, the technology – with billions of US dollars worth of investment – will reach one in five people. This could help the global economy overcome the effects of the pandemic.

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