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Expectations of science for the good of mankind

Expectations of science for the good of mankind

GESDA Radar predicts that within five years, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) could allow for more complex analysis of brain data and thus a better understanding of human consciousness. Keystone / Salvatore de Nulvi

A Geneva-based foundation has launched a bill aimed at mapping future scientific developments. If it is approved in a referendum, it will be possible to anticipate the effects and improve their implementation.

This content was published on Oct 28, 2021 – 10:00

Dorian Burkhalter

A digital tool that provides an overview of 216 scientific advances expected over the next 25 years. About 550 scientists from around the world contributed to the project. NS Scientific innovation radarExternal link It was revealed at the first conference of the Foundation for the Expectation of Science and Diplomacy in Geneva (GESDA), held in early October.

According to Radar, within 25 years, high-performance quantum computers will be able to solve currently unsolvable problems. For example, they can perform complex chemical simulations to speed up the discovery of new pharmaceuticals.

Within 10 years, private companies may be able to extract minerals and minerals that Earth lacks from the Moon. Within five years, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) could allow for more complex analysis of brain data and thus a better understanding of human consciousness.

GESDA hopes that Radar will serve pluralism by encouraging the inclusion of science in discussions and negotiations at international organizations in Geneva and elsewhere. The radar will be updated regularly to reflect the evolution of science. “It is rare for researchers to try to predict where the science will go, so that policy makers can prepare and avoid the harmful use of science,” GESDA Vice President Patrick Ebecher told swissinfo.ch (in French).

Joseph D’Cruz, a special advisor to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said the Scientific Progress Prediction Tool meets the needs of political leaders. “The choices we make today must be in response to events that will happen in three, five or 10 years. But we don’t have a good understanding of what will happen next,” Joseph D’Cruz said.

GESDA 2021

Over 100 speakers and 900 participants gathered in person and online for the first GESDA Conference, which took place in Geneva from 7-9 October. Discussions focused on future scientific developments, their potential impact on society, and the policies needed to ensure that their benefits are shared and their risks are minimized.

The three-day conference was an opportunity for GESDA to present itself to the public, two years after its establishment in 2019 by the Swiss government and the Geneva cantonal government. Its mission is to build bridges between decision-makers in the international community and researchers working at the forefront of science, taking into account the concerns of civil society and the private sector.

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During the conference, the COVID-19 pandemic often served to make clear not only the difficulty of predicting but also ensuring access to and confidence in scientific developments.

Often, the results of publicly funded research are published in paid scholarly journals. This knowledge is still not available to many researchers, policymakers and the public, said Camilla Markram, co-founder and CEO of Frontiers. Breaking down these barriers has allowed the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines. “If we want to have discussions in the community about important scientific issues, whether it’s a climate emergency, COVID-19 or genome editing, we need to get to the scientific findings first,” Camila Markram explained.

Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for Cooperation and International Affairs, has stressed the difficulty of some African countries in building trust in science when they are “the last to get a vaccine”.

What is the future of GESDA?

GESDA builds partnerships to work on solutions to problems identified on its radar. The foundation has partnered with XPRIZE, the contest’s organizer, to launch a contest to encourage the development of quantum computing. The two organizations plan to work together to launch more competitions of this kind.

The Scientific Innovation Radar will also serve as the framework for a series of science diplomacy education programs to be launched by 12 Swiss and international institutions, including the University of Geneva and the Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich (ETH). “We cannot provide a credible solution to all the problems mentioned. We have to be very clear that by limiting our ambitions, we will be more reliable and effective,” said Peter Brabeck-Litmath.

The next GESDA conference will take place in August 2022. An updated version of the radar will be presented along with “two, three at most”, its chair, Peter Brabec-Letmathe, at the closing session. Despite the rhetoric of inclusion, civil society and private actors remained underrepresented at the GESDA Summit.

Patrick Ebecher acknowledged this during a session in which he said that GESDA hopes to engage more private companies next year. This is especially important in the debate over artificial intelligence research, where private companies, not states, lead. Meanwhile, radar provides an opportunity for anyone to come up with ideas that will fuel GESDA’s work in the future.

GESDA will soon have to turn to the Swiss government to persuade it to continue supporting its work when the foundation’s pilot phase ends in 2022.

Adaptation: DvSperling

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