The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) was established to explore how advances in science and technology can most efficiently be translated into and used as tools for the benefit of humanity as a whole. It wants to interlink the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science and with the diplomatic world.
As part of its efforts on scouting emerging technologies, GESDA deals with three primary questions:
- Who are we? What does it mean to be human in the era of robots, gene editing, and augmented reality?
- How are we going to live together? How can technologies reduce inequality and foster inclusive development?
- How can we assure mankind’s well-being with the sustainable health of our planet Earth? How can we supply the world’s population with the necessary food and energy and regenerate our planet?
As far as methodology is concerned, GESDA aims to bring together people of different mindsets and communities to figure out how to use the future to build the present, and in particular the best of what is being explored in the world’s leading research laboratories. In order to achieve this, GESDA has started developing an overview of scientific trends at various time horizons (5, 10, and 25 years), which will provide the diplomatic community, the impact community (philanthropy, industry), and the citizen community worldwide with an outlook on the next possible science advances.
- GESDA will prepare these communities to understand the issues, opportunities, and concerns around upcoming disruptive sciences and technologies.
- GESDA will bring these communities to a decision point on specific actions and then help financially launch concerted actions through its Impact Fund.
- GESDA will convene the global scientific community (one of the most interconnected around the world) in global discussions about future governance and geopolitics.
As of November 2020, GESDA is developing its first thematic platforms in order to anticipate possible advances in four scientific frontier issues, as well as their related challenges:
- Quantum revolution and advanced artificial intelligence (AI), with for instance the challenge of privacy.
- Augmented human, with for instance the challenge of advanced gene editing or neuroenhancement.
- Eco-regeneration and geo-engineering, with for instance the challenges of synthetic biology, decarbonisation, and regenerative agriculture.
- Science and diplomacy, with for instance the challenge of future world geopolitics, including multilateral conflict modelling, forecasting, and prevention.
In 2021, the GESDA Board of Directors will choose and fund (in partnership with other foundations) a limited number of large-scale, high-impact initiatives aiming to :
- Help the world population benefit more rapidly from the advances of science and technology as stated by Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Contribute to inclusive human development by reducing poverty and inequality while increasing the number of developing and emerging economies, in line with Agenda 2030; and
- Leverage the role of Geneva and Switzerland as a hub of multilateralism capable of anticipating cutting-edge science and technologies, as well as translating them into effective tools for humanity.
GESDA was created as a global foundation in 2019. The founders are the Swiss Federal Council and the Canton of Geneva with the City of Geneva. It became operational in January 2020 with the ultimate objective to strengthen the contribution of Switzerland to multilateralism as the host country of the UN in Geneva.
It emerged out of recommendations by a high-level working group made up of experts from International Geneva, inspired by the importance of leveraging the assets of this multinational and multidimensional ecosystem.
All the science fields at the core of GESDA’s target activities include big data and high performance computing, as well as digital frameworks and infrastructure.
However, GESDA focuses on ‘science anticipation’ in general and not only on digitalisation. It wants to interlink the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science in order to cope with and to promote the developing so-called ‘info-bio-nano-cogno-convergence”. GESDA’s headquarters is the Campus Biotech in Geneva.
Activities, reflections, and discussions regarding the GESDA’s thematics are supported by an online weekly review of articles and editorials from the world press, as well as online content (blogs, websites, and chat tools) and top science journals. This weekly digest has been sent out since Summer 2020 and is titled ‘GESDA’s BESTREADS’.
Digital policy issues
GESDA is working on ten interdisciplinary and interrelated scientific emerging topics. Five of these topics are more specifically related to digital policy issues.
- Artificial intelligence
The third wave of AI is about integrating contextual information, common sense, and higher order reasoning into machine learning algorithms. Instead of learning from large data sets, these algorithms will understand and perceive the world on their own, and learn by understanding the world and reason with it. This is the next step toward truly intelligent machines and artificial general intelligence (AGI, i.e. the fourth wave of AI), defined as the level of machine intelligence to have the capacity to learn and understand any intellectual task better than a human. A recent survey conducted by the Future of Humanity Institute found that AGI will be achieved with a probability of 50% in 45 years and of 10% in 9 years. This will have implications ranging from our understanding of fundamental science questions (abstracting new laws of physics) to new applications in virtually all areas.
- Quantum computing and communication
While the first special purpose quantum devices to support research are already in the pipeline, a significant amount of science and engineering is needed to demonstrate a quantum advantage for real problems and develop the first fault-tolerant scalable quantum computers (10 years). Large-scale quantum computing could be available in 25 years with an impact, for example, on chemical catalysis (i.e. carbon, nitrogen fixation), quantum-inspired machine learning, and quantum-driven discoveries and modelling (i.e. compounds, materials). At the level of networked quantum communication systems, they will evolve from a quantum Internet, which allows unconditionally secure communication through device-independent quantum cryptography, to a large-scale quantum network for unconditionally secure computations. At this stage, traditional RSA cryptography protocols will be crackable, raising questions of security and privacy, as well as access control to quantum computation.
- Cognitive engineering and memory
Through deep-brain, temporal lobe, or cortical stimulation, but also non-invasive stimulation techniques, neuroscientists aim at restoring brain functions affected by common neuro-degenerative diseases. Combining the learnings from these interventions with advanced AI technologies, the mid- to long-term goal is to close the loop between brain activity and computers in order to augment the cognitive capacities of human beings. While the human brain is not always able to take the morally optimal decision (for example the ’trolley problem’, but also AI-assisted policing or an AI-augmented judiciary), the forthcoming augmentation – or even fusion – between computed and ‘brain’ intelligence will allow to ‘enhance’ human decision-making on moral and ethical issues, with the risk of brain hacking via computational systems.
- Social augmentation
Future technologies at the convergence of digital and neuro- sciences will have a strong impact on future societies and the position of human beings therein. Depending on choices made, those technologies could augment social interactions and work towards citizen empowerment. Social, socio-technical, cultural, network-based, and immaterial innovations will probably bring forth important breakthroughs and possibly deliver many future-emerging innovations and offer the possibility to evolve towards a human-centered digital world.
- Values, behaviours, and futures literacy
Coming societal disruptions will affect our values and behaviours. At the same time, social understanding of (disruptive) technology is essential, should they be deployed at scale for the common good. Futures literacy, or the set of skills that allows people to better understand and ‘use-the-future’ (anticipate), for instance in how AI works, becomes an essential component for this. There is also a need to explore the education and training components in future science and technologies in order to ensure beneficial and inclusive deployment as well as to inform citizens, users, and leaders.
GESDA is also already accompanying two projects on the digital evolution:
The International Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) project in collaboration with Fondation Botnar located in Basel, which was launched in September 2019 at the Graduate Institute Geneva. I-DAIR explores how inclusive and responsible AI research and digital technology can help advance progress in the field of health and ultimately create a platform for global research collaborations on the matter. It aims to forge ahead recommendations on digital health issued by the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and objectives set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in regard to universal health coverage.
The joint initiative of the University of Geneva and ETH Zurich to develop science in diplomacy; for example, digital diplomacy and online negotiation engineering.