Expectations of science for the good of mankind

Expectations of science for the good of mankind

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

A foundation in Geneva has launched a tool to map future scientific discoveries. It aims to help the political world and the public anticipate its effects.

This content was published on Oct 14, 2021 – 19:45

Dorian Burkhalter

This digital tool provides an overview of 216 scientific achievements expected over the next 25 years. Nearly 550 scientists from around the world contributed to the project.

The “Scientific penetration radarExternal linkIt was unveiled at the first summit of the Geneva Foundation for Science and Diplomacy (GESDA) last week. According to Radar, within 25 years, powerful quantum computers will be able to solve problems that are now inaccessible. They can perform complex chemical simulations to speed up the discovery of new pharmaceutical products. Within 10 years, private companies may be able to extract minerals and minerals lost on Earth from the Moon. Within five years, the advance of artificial intelligence (AI) could allow for more accurate 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 anticipate the direction in which science could go, in order to allow the political class to prepare themselves and avoid the harmful use of science, emphasized Patrick Ebecher, Vice President of GESDA, in an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch.

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 actually respond to events that will take place in three, five or ten years. But we don’t have a good understanding of what will happen at that point,” Joseph DeCruz explained in an interview with SWI swissinfo.ch.

GESDA Summit 2021

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

This three-day conference was an opportunity for the GESDA Foundation to present itself to the public, two years after its establishment in 2019 by the Swiss government and the Geneva cantonal government. GESDA aims 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 GESDA Summit, the Covid-19 pandemic often illustrates not only the difficulty of anticipating, but also ensuring access and confidence in scientific progress.

Often, the results of publicly funded research are published in paid scholarly journals. Camilla Markram, co-founder and CEO of Frontiers, told SWI swissinfo.ch that this knowledge is no longer accessible to many researchers, policy makers and the public. Removing these barriers has enabled the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines.

“If we want to have community discussions about important scientific questions, whether it’s the climate emergency, or COVID-19, and gene editing, we must first have access to scientific findings,” Camila Markram explained.

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

What future for GESDA?

GESDA is in the process of establishing partnerships to work on solutions to problems identified by 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 cooperate in launching other competitions of this type.

‘Science Breakthrough Radar’ will also serve as the framework for a series of educational programs in proactive science diplomacy to be launched by 12 Swiss and international institutions, including the University of Geneva and the ETH Zurich Federal Institute of Technology.

The second GESDA Summit will take place in August 2022. An updated version of the radar will be presented along with two “maximum three” solutions, said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, President of GESDA, during the closing session of the Summit.

We can provide a reliable solution to all the problems raised. We must be very clear that by limiting our ambitions, we will be more credible and efficient,” Peter Brabeck-Letmath said.

Despite the rhetoric about inclusivity, civil society and private actors remained underrepresented at the GESDA Summit. Patrick Ebecher acknowledged this at a hearing in which he said that GESDA hopes to engage more private companies next year. This is especially important in the debate over AI research, where private companies, not states, lead the way. In the meantime, the radar provides the possibility for anyone to put forward their ideas, which will fuel the work of GESDA in the future.

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

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