The concept of human security was first defined in the 1994 UNDP Human Development Report as “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want”. Human security envisions protecting human beings from various threats through an independent and subjective lens. The basic human needs of food security, healthcare, education and a safe habitat, are enshrined in the notion of human security along with socio-economic notions such as providing for one’s family, the stability of livelihood, trust in surrounding community and associated social relationships.


However, our growing interconnectivity and evolving geopolitical and technological trends are leading to new kinds of threats (as mentioned in the Global Risks Report 2018) such as data fraud and theft, cyberattacks, large-scale involuntary migration and asset bubbles in major economies. The existing legal and institutional mechanisms are inadequate to counter today’s threats.



How can we confront the threats to human security posed by the dark side of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? The answer lies in the essence of a nexus between human security, economic security and sustainable development, and technological progress. These are endogenous factors influenced not just by market forces but also by policy. We see a precariat class emerging as a result of an obsolete social contract; growing climate change threats with grave consequences that include crop failure and infrastructure ruination; and a forced migration because of war that has caused modern slavery, a refugee crisis and spike in human trafficking.


In an evolving society, we need to design tools, standards and ethics for these challenges to ensure a responsible Fourth Industrial Revolution for human security.


Building trust and integrity in a hyper-connected society


Human security aims to ensure peace and freedom of thought. The foundations of these are based on mutual trust and tolerance in society. There is an emerging trend of mistrust, manipulation and polarization in society accompanied by a non-acceptance of opinion and propagated by digital platforms.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution provides us with the unique opportunity to shift powers to communities and people on the ground and institutions who work to bring trust back into society. New technologies enable more democratic ways of working as well as transparency and can, therefore, significantly contribute to developing a model for change.


Public institutions can be at the forefront of this change – prevailing issues such as corruption and mishandling of citizens’ personal records and healthcare data, can be tackled to restore trust in society. Similarly, fake news posts on platforms can be tackled if the initiating source of information is readily available to the public.


Canada is leading the way by using blockchain technology to improve transparency in government funding. Its National Research Council is using the Ethereum blockchain to proactively publish grants and contribution data in real time, complementing ongoing quarterly disclosures available through the Open Government website.


Re-evaluate the values and ethics that govern us


Humans have begun to live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives owing to technological developments in recent decades. A white paper published by the World Economic Forum on Values, Ethics, and Innovation suggests humankind is starting to challenge ideas about the world after a loss of jobs to automation, cybersecurity disasters or existential threats posed by artificial intelligence, and move toward questioning how personal identities, social relationships and family systems are evolving.


The concept of human security is reaching a new level beyond basic necessities towards a critical moment in history where it demands guidance in terms of values and ethics of technological development to be addressed. We need to integrate values and ethics into the technological development process to ensure human security. As such, transformative innovation requires new tools, new skills, new partnerships and new institutions that can mould technologies to serve a collective vision of the future.



Prioritizing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to protect vulnerable populations and in humanitarian emergencies


Displaced persons, workers, children and ethnic and sexual minorities are the most vulnerable populations that exist today. Satellite imagery for demographic scoping and understanding, the use of drones for service delivery in isolated locations, and the use of big data to improve decision-making in humanitarian settings can provide a big boost to human security in these populations.


Humanitarian and human rights organizations uptake of these technologies is a lot slower than private organizations owing to a lack of a common language and jargon suitable for these purposes. There is a need for data translators who can both understand vulnerable populations and humanitarian contexts and have data intuition. There is also a need for effective use of visualization to provide accessible and easily understandable information.


IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), for example, makes it easier for field staff to share data through its ‘Humanitarian Exchange Language’ (HDX). Sharing through this exchange platform, they are able to track and monitor the displacement and mobility of fleeing populations, provide critical information to decision-makers for rapid response, and contribute to better understanding of movements.


Over the course of 2017, 31.5 million individuals (internally displaced persons, returnees and migrants) were tracked by DTM. By sharing this data with a broader audience, IOM not only increases the reach but also the impact of this data. This has led to a greater uptake of these technologies by civil society organizations, which helps protect vulnerable populations in these settings.



Information access, reskilling and capacity building to tackle challenges


A loss of social relationships, livelihoods and communities, and a fear of automation are all challenges and fears persisting in society relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To understand and verify the current magnitude of these fears and threats is mere speculation.


But how can someone achieve freedom from this fear and these threats? Systematic guidance is required in policy-making by countries to prepare us for the future of work. We require new skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility. The nature of change very much depends on the industry but we need to adopt a human-centric approach.



Finland, like other countries, is delivering free, accessible digital skills training to anyone who is interested in learning more about AI, even if they have no prior mathematical or programming skills. Along with providing access, countries will also need to rethink scalability so that the most vulnerable populations gain access to these new skills and they are not just limited to the rich.


Abhinav ChughCommunity Specialist, Civil Society, World Economic Forum










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