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Technology can help solve some of society’s pressing social and environmental problems

A recent initiative on using technology to tackle the illegal wildlife trade shows how much the tech sector can contribute to solving some of society's biggest challenges

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) recently organised a tech roundtable with the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to explore the role of technology in supporting the fight against illegal wildlife trade.

Many tech firms are already doing some amazing things with their technology to counter this global trading racket that is estimated to be worth $323bn. For example, a new partnership between Dimension Data and Cisco is working to dramatically reduce poaching of rhinos in South Africa, using CCTV, drones with infrared cameras, thermal imaging, vehicle tracking sensors, as well as seismic sensors being deployed on a highly secure intelligent network in the Kruger National Park.

Tata is using surveillance drones in India’s Kaziranga National Park, home to two-thirds of the world’s greater one-horned rhinos, as well as elephants, tigers and other wildlife. The drones are capable of fully autonomous flights and can carry thermal imaging and mapping equipment, as well as day and night-capable video cameras. Images can be recorded on board and monitored on the ground in real time, allowing park authorities to monitor even the most remote parts of the 480km2 national park.

And these are by no means isolated projects. Indeed, TechUK held a conference this year in partnership with the environmental consultancy firm ERM to explore how our members were responding to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Understanding the problems

I was struck by how many companies are embracing them, from ARM’s collaborative 2030 vision, to BT’s globally ambitious science-based carbon emission reduction targets, to the ground-breaking work Intel is doing through the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals. It made me reflect that, while invariably we debate the transformative impact that technology is playing in our lives, we must not lose sight of the role of technology in solving some of society’s most pressing problems.

But, frequently, while technologists have the technology and the solutions, they don’t always understand the problems. And here’s where I think TechUK has a role: to bring together the experts who understand the problems with the technologists who have the solutions, and then communicating those opportunities to the market and decision-makers.

As well as exploring the role of technology in tackling the trade in illegal wildlife trade, we are working with experts and members to address an array of issues, from modern slavery to decarbonisation of our economy, to the role of technology in supporting the delivery of the government’s plan for the environment.

Beyond good

For example, last year we worked with BT, Nokia and the Foreign Office’s Wilton Park to organise a three-day conference which brought together civil society, regulators and enforcement authorities with technologists to explore how tech can support their efforts framed around a 5P framework – “pursue, prevent, protect, prepare and partnership”.

In June 2018, we will be announcing a new initiative that has developed directly from those discussions. It’s a timely reminder that we can deliver great things when we work together.

In many ways, labelling these interventions as #techforgood does not do them justice – they go further than that. These technologies have the potential to go beyond “good”. They could be pivotal to the creation of a more sustainable, healthier and happier planet. Which is why, over the coming months, TechUK will continue to work with the government to draw attention to these technologies and advocate for their deployment.

We’re hosting another roundtable with the FCO this month, and I will be meeting with the foreign secretary at the beginning of July to push this agenda forward. We therefore invite all tech companies working in this area, or which have innovative solutions that could tackle wildlife trafficking, to get in touch with us so we can work together to bring an end to this scourge on our environment.   

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