As new technologies and digital business models reshape economies and disrupt incumbencies, interest has surged in the potential of novel frontier technologies to also contribute to positive changes in international development and humanitarian contexts. Widespread adoption of new technologies is acknowledged as centrally important to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
But while frontier technologies can rapidly address large-scale economic, social or political challenges, they can also involve the displacement of existing technologies and carry considerable uncertainty and risk. Although there have been significant wins bringing the benefits of new technologies to poor consumers through examples such as mobile money or off-grid solar energy, there are many other areas where the applications may not yet have been developed into viable market solutions, or where opportunities have not yet been taken up in development practice.
Against this background, the Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned the Digital and Technology Research Group at the Institute of Development Studies to undertake a review of frontier technologies in five key areas.