LONDON: Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan has warned of the dangers posed by humanity’s growing reliance on technology and called for greater emphasis on using it to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people around the world.
“The real progress we need is not better machines but for all of us to be better humans,” she said at the Web Summit in Lisbon on Wednesday, in her keynote speech during a session titled “Battling Built-In Biases,” the Jordan News Agency reported.
Jordan is participating for the first time at the annual summit, which was founded in 2009 and is described as Europe’s largest tech event.
Queen Rania argued that we have become “hooked” on our devices, citing the findings of the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report that the average daily amount of time spent online had increased in the past year by four minutes per day, which adds up to one additional day per person per year.
“If someone told us we’d have one extra day per year, would we conclude that the best thing we could do for our families, for our communities, for our world was to take those extra 24 hours and invest them back into our screens?” she asked.
“I am concerned that we’re undervaluing the most precious currency of all — our time. I am concerned that, even as virtual reality improves by the day, we’re neglecting the needs of our actual reality. And our mental health is suffering, too.”
The queen also noted that while the response of the international community to the Ukrainian refugee crisis has demonstrated how much can be accomplished through collective action, it also highlights a marked “difference in generosity, tone and urgency” compared with the help extended to refugees from Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar.
“It’s hard not to wonder if skin color and religion affect the global community’s humanitarian instincts and whether the impulse is to lend a helping hand or look away,” she said. “Addressing that prejudice isn’t an algorithm’s job — it’s up to us.”
Queen Rania also took part in a discussion with Frederik Pleitgen, senior international correspondent with CNN, during which they covered a variety of topics including the inequalities in the global response to refugee crises around the world.
“It is frighteningly simple for the human mind to tune out the suffering of others, particularly when they do not seem to be like us or when they have names that we find difficult to pronounce,” she said.
“That kind of ‘choosy’ compassion, that selective kind of empathy, has real, tragic geopolitical consequences. It’s a blind spot in our humanity; it determines where we look and what we see.”
The queen urged the technology community to work to help alleviate the suffering of refugees.
“The biggest selling point for technology is the fact that it transcends borders at a time when our world, unfortunately, keeps erecting them,” she said.
“Refugees, on a daily basis, face legal, cultural, linguistic, economic barriers and you all can develop solutions that can help overcome those barriers.”
Queen Rania also met representatives from a number of Jordanian startups that are active in the local and global technology scenes, in sectors such as gaming, medical information systems, artificial intelligence, drone-based solutions, and cloud-based video editing.
Startups from the country are taking part in the Web Summit as part of Jordan Source, a program developed in line with the vision of Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah. It aims to promote the Kingdom as a leading destination for investment and innovation in the information and communications technology sector.