Ultra-light graphene aerogel resting on a flower at Zhejiang University, China. ©PLANET Pix/ZUMA-REA

Ever heard of “magic-angle” graphene? This is a next generation material and newly-found superconductor that could revolutionise energy efficiency, and much more. It could help us address climate change. AI could play a key role in this. But real scientists are needed too… 

Dustin Hoffman (left) in The Graduate, 1967 ©Alamy

“I just want to say one word to you. Are you listening? Plastics.” This infamous advice, delivered to Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film, The Graduate, foresaw a great career in plastics. 

Marine experts in Tornio, northern Finland, drill holes on February 5, 2016 in the sea-ice and inject dye into the water to study how it flows, to model how an oil spill would behave underneath the arctic ice. ©Sam Kingsley/AFP

If you think the ice looks a little greyer in the Arctic, your eyes are not deceiving you. A five-year study by international researchers has found that diesel-engine vehicles, coal-burning factories and other such fossil-fuelled activities spew out soot, which circles around in the cold air before landing on the snow, turning it from white to sometimes black.

Jaana Matila, an unemployed coder, at her home in Oulu, Finland, Nov. 14, 2016. While Oulu's shaky technology industry is trying to regain its footing, the Finnish government will soon be handing out cash to 2,000 randomly selected jobless people as part of a two-year experiment to test the effects of universal basic income on the economy. ©JANNE KORKKO/The New York Times-REDUX-REA

Most people spend their evenings kicking back with a book or whatever’s on Netflix. In Finland, they’re teaching themselves artificial intelligence (AI). In the summer of 2017, computer scientist Teemu Roos heard that the government was looking for ways to teach ordinary people the basics of artificial intelligence. It would be a continuing education initiative­—not necessarily to train people to become machine-learning engineers, but to understand how neural networks work and grasp how AI is changing the way we do things. 

©Andris Romanovskis/Unsplash

What do toothpaste and ice-cream have to do with a circular economy? If you live in Finland, quite a lot. CP Kelco, a multinational company with facilities in Äänekoski, Finland, recycles waste pulp from the city’s pulp and paper mill into carboxymethyl cellulose, a natural polymer used to thicken ice-cream and toothpaste.

©astudio/Shutterstock

Digitalisation, climate change and urbanisation are changing our lives and forcing us to find new ways to move people and goods. We must cut down on carbon emissions, and make traffic safer and more efficient than before. Digital tools will help us with this. After all, small, wallet-sized devices now enable near-instant data transfer and internet connections all over the world. Mobile phone technology provides us with services we could not even have dreamt of a few years ago.

©Shutterstock

Back in the 1960s, when my dad wanted to make an international call for work, he had to order it 24 hours in advance. Today, he uses WhatsApp to make toll-free calls from anywhere, anytime, in just a couple of clicks.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is sometimes thought of as something esoteric, a shiny idea that may become real at some distant point in the future. But the reality is that although AI is developing globally at different rates, AI is already being integrated rapidly into the internal workings of governments, business, civil society, and more.

OECD

The digital transformation is not new, but the pace of change has quickened, with our hyperconnected societies generating huge volumes of data of all kinds.

Two decades ago the OECD held its first international ministerial meeting on the digital economy. A lot has changed since then, but some old challenges persist while new ones have emerged. Food for thought as we embark on the next 20 years and prepare for the transformative effects of the digital economy.

Digital innovations are everywhere, in our pockets, cars and homes. However, while digital technologies seem to offer great potential to enhance firm productivity, productivity growth has slowed sharply in most OECD countries over the past two decades. Read more on the OECD Ecoscope blog.

©IMAGINECHINA/AF

“We are not in the future. The rest of the world is in the past.” Swiss innovator Bertrand Piccard whose round-the-world flight in a solar-powered plane absorbed the world’s attention and imagination in 2015-16, does not mince words. Piccard proved that solar-powered transport is technically possible. What is needed now are investors and policymakers to help make it happen, not least by providing legal frameworks and cutting back on bureaucracy, he told a packed audience at the Big IdEAs distinguished speaker series, organised by the International Energy Agency and hosted by the OECD in September 2017.

Not so private: Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg in the public lens before a US Senate hearing in April 2018. ©Leah Millis/Reuters

“We care about your data privacy and security. With this in mind, we’re updating our privacy policy by 25 May 2018 in compliance with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Click to learn more.”

Engineers prepare to launch a medical drone, Rwanda 2018 ©Kristin Palitza/DPA/AFP

Accelerating the knowledge-led development of Africa through science driven policy and investments is important for boosting long-term growth and well-being.

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Countries around the world are struggling with rising healthcare bills. Every introduction of pricey new biologics, surgical procedures, and exotic “precision” treatments causes ever-increasing fiscal stress, leading to deficit spending, cutbacks in other government services, and insurance costs shouldered by firms and employees alike. Yet, freezing budgetary allocations is clearly not an option, as citizens in our ageing societies are likely to demand more and better access to new health innovations, and essential healthcare services. What can be done?

While the digital world is a driver of innovation and productivity, it raises the issue of digital security, since online vulnerability can lead to financial, privacy and reputational damages. 

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The diffusion of internet-based cloud computing among private companies has picked up over recent years, with higher uptake within large firms compared to small businesses. 

©Serprix

Recent years have seen a rapid rise in digital transactions, notably through web-based “sharing economy” platforms that have bridged, and indeed blurred, the gap between consumers and producers. But this upsurge has also created new challenges for measuring GDP, and, against a backdrop of slowing rates of productivity growth, has led some to question whether the slowdown reflects these new transactions.

©James Thew/Alamy Stock Photo

Meteorology was the first scientific discipline to use space capabilities in the 1960s, and today satellites provide observations of the state of the atmosphere and ocean surface for the preparation of weather analyses, forecasts, advisories and warnings, for climate monitoring and environmental activities. Three-quarters of the data used in numerical weather prediction models depend on satellite measurements. 

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Given Korea’s prowess in digital goods, it should come as no surprise to see the country leading the field in e-governance. Its lead, notably in open data, owes much to government efforts and investments in digital infrastructure and systems since the 1990s. In 2014 more than 70% of all Koreans reported having used the internet at least once over the previous 12 months to interact with the public authorities, whether to obtain information on a government website, or to download or file a form, for instance. That’s far more than the OECD average of 55%. 

©Thomas Peter/Reuters

Since the 1970s, economic growth in Korea has largely been driven by big companies such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG. These so-called chaebol have been remarkably successful, but have dominated the economy, with little room for small and medium-sized businesses (SME) to gain traction and grow. 

While policy making and OECD membership helps explain much of Korea’s successes in the last two decades, major firms have had a role to play too. In fact, Korea is associated with several global household brands, as strong demand for the likes of Samsung curved televisions, Hyundai hybrid cars and K-pop hits like “Gangnam Style” jolting the Land of the Morning Calm into the sixth-largest exporter in the world. But while productivity in many large manufacturers has pushed Korea into the world’s top ten producers of cars, ships, mobile phones and DVDs, productivity in smaller firms and the service industry means overall productivity is half the level of leading OECD countries. 

©Tom Gilks / Alamy

Stephan-Noël looks anxiously about the hut at the computer terminals. Through the walls of thatch drifts the faint, pervasive scent of vanilla. A girl saunters in, her face painted with the saffron used by Malagasy women both as make-up and protection against the sun. Stephan-Noël exchanges a few words with her, but his mind is on the eventuality of a connection break.

©Alamy

What do sunscreen, deodorant, smartphone batteries and tennis rackets have in common, besides being everyday items? They are all likely to contain nanomaterials. These very small objects–from 1nm to 100nm–are increasingly used for industrial, commercial and medical purposes. The number of products containing them leapt fivefold from 2006 to 2011. Nanotechnology may be revolutionary, but is not without risks. 

The Internet is now an essential part of our lives and a critical element of the world economy. Internet penetration increased almost sevenfold in the past 15 years, from 6.5% of the world population in 2000 to 43% in 2015.

©Rights reserved

On 21-23 June Mexico hosts the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy. The first ministerial of its kind on this subject (then called “electronic commerce”) was held in Canada in 1998, and the second one in Korea in 2008; hence Mexico is the third country to have this distinction and the first Latin American country to organise and lead this undertaking. As the use of information and communications technology (ICT) is favourable for productivity across a large number of strategic industries in any economy, we have chosen "Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity” as this year’s theme, three goals that can hardly be achieved without the impetus of digital technology.

When the OECD adopted its first E-commerce Recommendation in 1999, online spending on so-called e-commerce was well-below 1% of total retail spending. Fifteen years later, the figures have jumped to almost 8% in the EU and more than 11% in the United States. This is no longer some future trend: e-commerce is here and is critical for the economy, in which household consumption accounts for about 60% of total GDP in the OECD area.

©OECD

The digital economy is here, and growing every day, sometimes in surprising ways. As ministers gather for major meetings in Paris and Cancun, government leaders should be in no doubt about the key role they must play in securing the digital economy’s future as a driver of productive and inclusive progress.

Pepper the humanoid robot, at OECD Forum 2016 ©Rory Clarke/OECD Observer

To many workers, the words “digital technologies” may evoke one simple, dismaying image: a human-like robot sitting at their desk, doing the work that they used to do! This anxiety is not different from the fear of coachmen witnessing the diffusion of cars in the 1920s. In a sense, coachmen were right: cars did replace horse coaches. However, their children and grand-children found new and often better paid jobs in the wealth of new activities made necessary or possible by cars: automobile manufacturing, car repair, travelling sales, home delivery, mass tourism, road building, the petrol business, and so on.

©Dennis MacDonald/Alamy Stock Photo

Connectivity is the foundation for the digital economy. The Internet has already connected more than three billion users across the globe and about 14 billion devices. 

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.5% Q3 2018 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.1% Jan 2019 annual
Trade: +0.3% exp, +0.7% imp, Q2 2018
Unemployment: 5.3% Jan 2019
Last update: 12 Mar 2019

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