GESDA launches first global scientific radar to reinvent multilateralism

GESDA members ​​Patrick Aebischer, Nanjira Sambuli,, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, and Chorh Chuan Tan, launch their Breakthrough Radar in Campus Biotech in Geneva, 7 October 2021. (Credit: Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

The Swiss foundation, the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), kicked off its summit on Thursday with the launch of a new open source platform to anticipate the next big trends in science.

Three years in the making, the Breakthrough Radar is the combined work of 543 scientists around the globe and diplomats brought together by GESDA. The radar ranks scientific breakthroughs by how closely and greatly they loom over the next 25 years, so that scientists and policymakers can prepare for the technological, ethical and social challenges they pose, as well as opportunities. It also embeds analysis of public attitudes towards these anticipated innovations from over 11 million social media posts.

“The radar is serving as an initial tool with a goal of creating a joint language, and starting the broader societal and political debate around these emerging topics in relation to fundamental and existential questions,” Nanjira Sambuli, Kenyan policy analyst and advocacy strategist, told journalists at a press conference, ahead of the summit.

Patrick Aebischer, GESDA’s vice chairman, described the radar as a “new instrument for multilateralism”, which Swiss minister Ignazio Cassis says is needed as international relations over science and technology threaten to stiffen into a second Cold War.

“We need to build the global governance of the twenty-first century, which can only succeed if it is farsighted, evidence based and equitable,” he said.

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The new tool will be at the heart of discussions at the summit among leaders from different fields.

“We need to coordinate the complex relationships and interactions between scientists, politicians, citizens and entrepreneurs with agendas, mindsets, experiences, responsibilities that are very, very different,” said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, GESDA’s chairman.

The conference aims to feed concrete initiatives, which GESDA will develop over the coming year and present at a second summit in August 2022.

Quantum leaps. GESDA forecasts a torrent of 216 scientific breakthroughs in the next 25 years across its four areas of exploration: the quantum revolution and AI; human augmentation; eco-engineering and geo-engineering; and science and diplomacy.

Among these leaps are universal quantum computers and a quantum internet by 2025. Quantum technology is able to read complex behaviours of subatomic particles. Universal quantum computers will be able to process signals from every aspect of a subatomic particle’s behaviour. This will result in highly sophisticated calculations, including accurate simulations of chemical and biological reactions. A quantum internet will have quantum encryption, making data secure. But the shift to quantum infrastructure won’t happen all at once, and legacy technologies will need to contend with quantum hacking.

To get ahead of quantum challenges and develop cutting-edge applications, GESDA is partnering with XPRIZE, a US-based non-profit organisation that organises public competitions to forge solutions at the frontier of science and technology.

The two are putting together a competition for quantum innovation to be held next year, in collaboration with the World Food Programme, UN Habitat, and the World Health Organization. XPRIZE will soon move into Campus Biotech, GESDA’s neighbourhood, offering the partnership the benefits of proximity.

Small, and intending to stay so. The Geneva-based organisation is working to tackle the world’s biggest scientific developments with a core team of ten and has no plans to expand its manpower much. GESDA can best serve the world by remaining a small and neutral intermediary at the heart of its growing network, Brabeck-Letmathe said in response to a question from journalists.

“GESDA will not become a great international organisation with hundreds of people and administration and bureaucracy. Let’s not. We want to be a small, honest, independent broker between science and diplomacy, and policy.”