Digital societies: a common agenda

Most countries are convinced that their future economic competitiveness will depend upon how well they succeed in transitioning to digital societies. 

Digital technologies are transforming society as we know it. This rapid upheaval has been termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0). 

Among cross-cutting technologies of high relevance to Industry 4.0, it is the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that dominated scientific output in 2018–2019 in countries of all income levels.  

Since 2016, more than 30 countries have adopted dedicated strategies for AI. Other countries have adopted dedicated strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

Although health research continues to dominate scientific output, accounting for 33.9% of publications in 2019, cross-cutting technologies accounted for 18% of global scientific output in 2019, led by AI and robotics. Between 2015 and 2019, the shares of China, the EU and USA in AI and robotics receded as developing countries boosted their own output in this field. 

Figure 1.13

See Figure 1.13

The second-most popular cross-cutting technologies relate to energy, followed by materials science. Materials science ranks first for both Indonesia and the Russian Federation. Energy is the top field for China, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, for instance.  

The fourth-fastest-growing field is nanoscience and nanotechnology, thanks largely to China, which produced just under half of all publications in this field in 2019. 

There were just 18 000 more publications in biotechnology in 2019 than in 2015. This compares with an additional 148 000 publications in AI and robotics over the same period, to which countries from all income groups contributed. 

There was a general trend over the period between 2015 and 2019 towards more intense scientific publishing, with global output being 21% higher in 2019 than in 2015. Publications on cross-cutting strategic technologies even surged by 33%. These trends extend to lower-income and low-income countries, which recorded some of the fastest growth rates in both publication categories. Scientific output overall grew by 71% among low-income countries and surged by 170% for cross-cutting technologies. 

The race against time for smarter development (digital technologies)

According to the UNESCO Science Report, released on 11 June 2021, the world is investing heavily in the digital economy. This transformation will take creativity and innovation.   

What is your country doing to nurture science and innovation?   

Volume of scientific publications on cross-cutting strategic technologies

Output by broad field and the five top sub-fields for output, 2011–2019  

Note: Data are on a logarithmic scale. The broad field of cross-cutting strategic technologies encompasses artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, bioinformatics, biotechnology, blockchain technology, energy, Internet of Things, materials, nanoscience and nanotechnology, opto-electronics and photonics and strategic, defence and security studies. No Scopus-indexed journal specialized in blockchain technology published papers prior to 2018. Data within each of these subfields are collected using a journal-based categorization; for details, see Annex 5. 

Source: UNESCO Science Report: the Race Against Time for Smarter Development (2021); data sourced from Scopus (Elsevier), excluding Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, by Science-Metrix and animated by Values Associates