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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

World Federation of Scientists Meeting

20 August 2010, Erice, Italy

Science and the Future of Cyberspace: An ITU Perspective


Professor Zichichi,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Erice today to discuss ITU’s perspective on Science and the Future of Cyberspace. Given that they are now so completely interdependent, however, I could just as easily say that I am here to discuss ITU’s perspective on Cyberspace and the Future of Science.

The sum of scientific knowledge and understanding has increased exponentially over the past two decades, and I believe that this is in very great part due to the massive uptake and proliferation of information and communication technologies.

We have seen the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grow almost five-hundred-fold, from 11 million worldwide at the end of 1990 to over five billion by the end of this year.

Twenty years ago, virtually nobody was online. Today, almost two billion people have access to the Internet, and by the end of this year there will be close to 900 million mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide.

At ITU, we believe that this will have a profound affect on the future of each and every person on the planet, and that this will have huge implications for the future of science.

We are already seeing many examples of this, across multiple sectors, and I firmly believe that over the coming years we will see many more.

Take the field of medicine, where massively powerful computers and the power of online collaboration have enabled huge advances in our understanding of human biology and chemistry, helping us unlock the secrets of life itself.

ICTs are also driving a revolution in the provision and delivery of healthcare – through applications as simple as using text messages to remind patients to take their medicine or as complex as surgery performed remotely using telemedicine.

Looking at the field of education – which of course is the key to all scientific progress – we are now seeing a dramatic shift away from classrooms and into cyberspace.

Distance learning is not a new phenomenon, but its uptake – as more and more people get online – has recently mushroomed, and the world’s biggest universities are now online establishments. The two largest are the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, which has an astonishing three million students enrolled, and the Allama Iqbal Open University in Pakistan, which has 1.8 million students enrolled.

This will change everything. For the first time in human history, the potential of individuals to realise their dreams and ambitions will not be limited by the place they were born, by their status in the family, or by their wealth. As long as they are able to get online, and into cyberspace, anybody in the world will be able to get a decent education.

Distinguished guests,

ICTs will also help us address the most pressing issues of our time – including, most notably, climate change.

Take the example of satellites, which will be increasingly important in the future in helping to boost food output and reduce emissions – with satellite monitoring producing 98% fewer emissions than ordinary ground monitoring. Satellite-based intelligence services for farmers, for their part, cost less than US$ 15 per hectare annually and can increase yields by as much as 10%.

Satellites also play a vital role when natural disasters and catastrophes occur, often providing the only reliable communications links when other networks have been destroyed. ITU is proud to play a very active role wherever we can: in Haiti and Chile, earlier this year, for example, where we were quick to provide emergency communications services.

ICTs will also play an increasingly important role in helping to reduce energy consumption. While technology itself contributes around 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, smart use of modern technologies could cut global power consumption by 15%.

ICTs help to reduce waste, cut business travel and make industry more efficient. And new technologies being developed within ITU – such as Next-Generation Networks – can reduce network and data centre power consumption by up to 40%.

In the future I am confident that the smart application of science will see us achieve much more in cyberspace than we have ever been able to achieve in the real world alone.

I expect transport, for example, to become much safer than it is today, with cars – equipped with smart ICTs and communicating with one another in real-time – becoming able to avoid having accidents altogether.

And I expect networked ICTs to dramatically improve the lives of the disabled, the elderly and the infirm.

Underpinning all of this progress will be broadband networks – and equally, without ubiquitous broadband networks, we will be able to make none of this progress.

It is therefore absolutely essential that we create the right conditions to allow the rapid rollout and proliferation of broadband networks, and that access to broadband becomes much more affordable around the world. This point is especially important, as today there are quite extraordinary disparities in the affordability of broadband access.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me give you some dramatic figures from ITU’s ‘Measuring the Information Society 2010’ report.

In the top 21 countries included in the fixed broadband Internet sub-basket, published in the report, broadband subscriptions cost less than 1% of average monthly income – and under 3% of average monthly income in a further 22 countries. Here in Italy, for example, the figure is just 0.98%.

At the other end of the scale, in the most expensive 28 countries in ITU’s list – most of which are UN-designated Least Developed Countries, LDCs – a monthly broadband subscription costs over 100% of average monthly income.

What a terrible irony that is!

The people who can least afford access to broadband are being asked to pay the most, relative to their income.

This is scandalous. But there are grounds for optimism, and broadband access is in fact getting more affordable every year. Worldwide, broadband prices dropped by 42% between 2008 and 2009, and broadband became more affordable in almost every market across the globe last year.

There are many reasons for this, and I am confident that broadband will continue to get more affordable as time goes on.

One of the most important drivers in terms of bringing down costs in both the developed and the developing world has been an ongoing increase in capacity, itself driven by a newly competitive environment.

In Africa, for example, we are seeing new broadband capacity coming on-stream fast, and I was delighted to be personally present in Kenya when a new submarine cable was brought onshore in March, and then to be in French Guiana earlier this month to see new satellites for Africa being launched.

By increasing the size and scale of cyberspace, these are truly inspirational events, and signs of the very positive times in which we live.

It is vital that we keep up the momentum, and that we do everything in our power to ensure that the digital divide does not become a broadband divide.

This is why ITU launched our ‘Build on Broadband’ initiative earlier in the year, and why we are so proud to be playing a key leadership role in the ‘Broadband Commission for Digital Development’.

The Broadband Commission is chaired by President Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. The Vice-Chairs are myself, and Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, and we have a total of over 50 very high-profile Commissioners from the public and private sectors.

Our Commissioners come from many different walks of life and many different backgrounds, but they all share a common vision: the desire to see the vast benefits of broadband brought to all the world’s people.

Together, we are determined to demonstrate broadband’s truly transformational nature. And together, we believe we have a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to drive social and economic progress.

The Commission will be delivering its report to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 19 September, just ahead of the 2010 MDG Summit in New York.

Distinguished guests,

The future of science and the future of cyberspace are clearly inter-linked and inter-dependent, and will rely on ubiquitous broadband networks.

But while broadband can bring the world’s riches within reach of all the world’s people, it also opens up new opportunities for wrong-doers, and in particular cybercriminals.

It is estimated that each year cybercriminals steal up to a trillion dollars worth of intellectual property from businesses worldwide. In addition, many millions of individuals have their privacy violated, suffer identity theft or have their hard-earned savings stolen from them.

Governments constantly face cyberattacks – and terrorists increasingly rely not just on their weapons, but on the power of cyberspace technologies like GPS and VoIP to sow destruction.

As a result, the next major war will probably begin in cyberspace rather than on the ground.

Given the scale of the threat – and the phenomenal harm that can be caused by even a single cyber attack – we cannot rely on ad hoc solutions or hope to survive by strengthening our defences only after attacks have occurred.

No – we must work together, to ensure a coordinated response.

This is why ITU is playing a lead role in coordinating global efforts in this area, and why we launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda in 2007.

The GCA is now in its operational phase, with a physical home in Malaysia at the headquarters of IMPACT – the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Threats.

If users lack faith in the security of the Internet, it will not continue to flourish as a facilitator of learning, as a platform for telemedicine, or as a tool for more efficient and accountable government. Or indeed as a key driver of trade and commerce, as a global communications channel, or as a vital research tool.

So we need to be sure we have an environment where criminals cannot hide behind legal loopholes and regulatory inconsistencies. Nations with less well-developed ICT legislation should no longer find themselves host to villainous online activities. And all states – from the most prosperous to the most disadvantaged – need to have an effective shield with which to safeguard themselves.

We must therefore take action to enhance security in cyberspace, and increase cooperation and coordination at the global level.

Existing frameworks, while good, are not in fact global. The best example is the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which has been ratified by only 26 countries. The nature of the convention makes it hard for other countries to join.

ITU therefore offers to host international discussion – identifying aspects we can agree on (there are many); recognizing that there are many different viewpoints; and working with all stakeholders, from government, industry and civil society.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We cannot predict exactly how the development of the information society, built on broadband, will enrich the lives of everyone on the planet. But I believe it will be as transformational – and as surprising – as the widespread use of electricity.

Originally aimed at providing better lighting, electricity totally transformed our world, powering large-scale industrialization, stimulating national and international commerce, and allowing skyscrapers and mass urban transport systems to be built.

I am absolutely confident that we will be astonished by what broadband networks help us achieve in the next twenty years – which will see scientific advances beyond our wildest dreams, and quite extraordinary social and economic development.

I believe it is perhaps the greatest opportunity we have ever known for human progress.

So in closing let me encourage each and every one of you to act as an ‘ICT advocate’, and in particular as a broadband advocate. For the future of science and the future of mankind.

Thank you.