GESDA was established to explore how future science breakthroughs can most efficiently be translated into and used as tools for the benefit of humanity. GESDA interlinks the digital revolution with other disruptive fields of science and technology, and with the diplomatic world.
GESDA’s work is guided by three fundamental questions:
- Who are we, as humans? What does it mean to be human in the era of robots, gene editing, and augmented reality?
- How are we all going to live together? How can technologies reduce inequality and foster inclusive development?
- How can we ensure the well-being of humankind and the sustainable future of our planet? How can we supply the world’s population with the necessary food and energy and regenerate our planet?
GESDA brings together an outstanding community of academic, diplomacy, and impact leaders to reflect and act on how to use the future to build the present. Its work is structured around three flagship instruments:
- GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar®
This digital platform – updated continuously and released in paper copy on a yearly basis – maps impactful emerging topics currently researched in science laboratories across the world and anticipated breakthroughs at 5, 10, and 25 years. Curated by the academic community, it provides descriptions of over 300 breakthrough predictions relevant to the global community.
Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit accelerates the science diplomacy nexus. Bringing science to the table of multilateralism, it engages diplomacy leaders to examine the impact of future breakthroughs on people, society, and the planet, as well as their implications for future global governance and geopolitics.
- GESDA Solution Accelerator
GESDA’s instrument to co-construct science diplomacy solutions with relevant transdisciplinary and cross-community task forces. In 2022, GESDA has eight solutions pathways and four initiatives in the making. These propositions are communicated at the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit.
GESDA structures its anticipation, acceleration, and translation work across five thematic platforms addressing potential future science and technology advances, as well as their related challenges:
- Quantum revolution and advanced artificial intelligence (AI), with for instance the challenge of privacy.
- Human augmentation, 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.
- Knowledge foundations with for instance the challenge of the future of work and labour, including rising inequalities and inclusive growth.
From the end of 2022 onwards, the GESDA Board of Directors will choose and fund (in partnership with other foundations) a limited number of large-scale, high-impact solutions and 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 (UDHR).
- Contribute to inclusive human development by reducing poverty and inequality while increasing the number of developing and emerging economies, in line with Agenda 2030.
- 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
GESDA was created as a global independent foundation and a public partnership in 2019, for an initial start-up phase of three years. The founders – the Swiss Federal Council and the Canton of Geneva with the City of Geneva-decided in March 2022 to prolong the Foundation for 10 years.
The ultimate objective remains to strengthen the contribution of Switzerland to multilateralism as the host country of the UN in Geneva.
Advanced computational tools, such as AI and high-performance computing, are reshaping all fields of science.
GESDA’s specificity is that it focuses on ‘science anticipation’. Its ambition is to comprehend the future digital disruptions and their implications for other fields of science, geopolitics, and mankind.
GESDA’s headquarters are located at the Campus Biotech in Geneva.
Digital policy issues
In 2022, GESDA’S Science Breakthrough Radar considered 28 interdisciplinary and interrelated scientific emerging topics. In addition to the anticipated breakthrough, the Radar presents an overview of the sentiment and the actions of civil society on these topics.
Platform 1: Quantum Revolution & Advanced AI
Advanced artificial intelligence
AI, already a world-changing technology, is set to grow in power and influence. It is clear that our current systems realise only a small part of AI’s potential, and as it grows more powerful and flexible it will affect us ever more profoundly. Anticipating and directing how that growth will occur is a vital part of the research effort in this area: we must shape advanced AI to be reliable, transparent, and equitable, but that may require a deep reappraisal of how these technologies
The effort to process information in entirely novel ways using the unique properties of subatomic particles is making significant progress. Quantum technologies are already impacting sensing, imaging, and metrology. Quantum computing and communications are also drawing closer to meaningful real-world applications. The potential exists for quantum technologies to radically alter medicine, finance, and online commerce, and to accelerate scientific discovery.
Computing researchers are looking to harness biological innovations honed through millions of years of evolution. If they can achieve even a fraction of the energy efficiency and processing power of the human brain, for example, we will have unleashed an extraordinary new era of computing. Brain-inspired computing seeks to take neuroscience’s understanding of the brain’s architectures and processes and use them to create autonomous, low energy information processors that offer the potential for radical new computing applications.
Living matter uses more than just brains to process information. The biochemistry of cells, bacteria, and other biological systems and organisms is a form of information processing that has vast potential for technological exploitation. Biological computing seeks to harness, and sometimes re-engineer, biological information processing to perform tasks such as environmental sensing, pollution remediation, and medical diagnosis. These new thinking devices may be very different to today’s conventional computers, requiring us to rethink how we can use them to best effect.
The speedup of digital communications, combined with developments in hardware and software, means that we can now receive real-time data and sensory experiences that enhance our normal interaction with our environment. Such overlays of augmented reality are already being used to train people in virtual work environments and to improve certain leisure activities, such as online gaming. As technology progresses, the hardware such as glasses that provide a view of information about our surroundings and the objects within them will become ever more ubiquitous. Augmented reality is likely to change the nature of our daily interactions with other people and with our surroundings, and even the way we switch between the real world and virtual environments such as the metaverse.
Human intelligence is already remarkable. However, the potential to combine the intelligence of individuals with accumulated wisdom and experience, online repositories of learning, and the powers of technologies such as AI, offers the chance to move to a new level. The field of collective intelligence is truly multidisciplinary, involving psychology, economics, computer science, and a range of other fields. It is far from mature, but has enormous promise. If we can harness human capabilities, collective intelligence has the potential to help solve a wide range of societal challenges, from politics to business to conservation, in local and global organisations.
Platform 2: Human augmentation
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 learning 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 (e.g. 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 the enhancement of human decision-making on moral and ethical issues, with the risk of brain hacking via computational systems.
Human applications of genetic engineering
Genome editing is already improving diagnostics and treatments for cancer and potentially many other diseases of ageing. Such research into human applications of genetic engineering is also pointing the way to a future in which bodies can be engineered to be free of cancer, HIV, and other infectious diseases. Genome editing even promises to make such changes heritable, meaning future generations will not require preventive therapies. Small-molecule drugs and other interventions now in clinical trials promise to significantly reduce the burden of disease on society, radically altering what it means to age. Advances in AI and the availability of genetic data, speed up the discovery of new therapeutic approaches but also the identification of complex genetic pathways.
Lab research suggests that it is possible to expand consciousness beyond the limits imposed by human senses, standard cognitive capacity, and injury or disease. Such consciousness augmentation could help us better coexist with the species with which we share the planet, improve our understanding of how humans can educate themselves, and give us new ways to diagnose and assist people suffering from debilitating disorders of consciousness. Digital technologies, combined with advances in neuro-sciences, are key to providing a means to connect brain analysis with brain stimulation or providing virtual environments to expand consciousness.
Although innovations in medicine have been radically extending the human lifespan for more than a century now, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are largely preventable, but still end a significant number of lives unnecessarily early. However, a range of new treatment options are coming into view, and these future therapeutics could have a great deal to offer medical practitioners. Advances in information technology, biotechnology, and a basic understanding of how human biology operates are enabling the use of electrical signals, AI-driven data analysis, cell therapies, and even the mechanisms of the immune system to improve the maintenance of good health, the diagnosis of disease, and the results of medical interventions.
Platform 3: Eco-regeneration and geo-engineering
The burgeoning field of world simulation is experiencing rapid developments. The increasing convergence of big data, advanced computer modelling, and AI will allow us to model complex systems, from societies to whole ecosystems, with ever greater predictive power. This will prove an invaluable guide in policymaking.
Our relationships to the oceans must change. We urgently need to understand them better, and to help repair their ecosystems where possible. There are pathways opening up that will make this happen. We can deploy the emerging technology of autonomous sensors to gather relevant data, for example, and continue to explore the vast biodiversity of the ocean and the myriad cold adapted organisms rapidly disappearing from the planet’s retreating glaciers. As our understanding of their complex, interdependent networks grows, so will our ability to perform proper ocean stewardship and find solutions to the problems they are facing.
Although humanity has made great progress in reducing the impact of infectious disease, there is still plenty to do. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that new diseases are emerging all the time, and that our interconnectedness provide sample opportunity for them to spread quickly, with devastating results. The problem of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Zika remains unsolved, highlighting the importance of seeing disease as emerging from human actions in, and interactions with, our environment. Medical technologies, such as vaccines, are only part of the solution; we also need to use multidisciplinary research to garner a deeper understanding of the ways in which infectious diseases arise and emerge. Digital technologies provide the means to develop powerful monitoring and containment strategies.
Platform 4: Science and diplomacy
It is now almost impossible to separate diplomacy from the influence of science and technology. Computational modelling, analysis, and AI are set to play important roles in international relations, especially when it comes to interactions between groups of people. Researchers are already compiling vast databases of historical interactions between actors in various international forums. Mining these databases produces an instant picture of an actor’s past statements and positions and helps to find common ground in negotiations. These databases are the bedrock of science-based diplomacy, a strategy that is likely to become more powerful, more comprehensive, and more widely used. Indeed, negotiation engineering aims to depoliticise these discussions by automating certain aspects of the process.
Digital technologies and conflicts
The increasing power and availability of digital technologies are fundamentally changing the nature of conflict in the twenty-first century. The interactions of digital technology and conflict are an urgent subject of research. The war in Ukraine, for example, is being hailed as the first hybrid war, a concept long talked about in policy circles in which conventional battlefield tactics are combined with cyberattacks and information warfare to achieve military goals. Perhaps the most impactful use of digital technology in the Ukraine conflict has been the exploitation of commercial satellite imagery for military and propaganda purposes by both state and non-state actors. Surveillance technology is also rewriting the nature of modern conflicts, and there is growing concern about the increasing convergence of biosecurity and cybersecurity.
Much has been written about the potential of technologies like social media and data analytics to spread disinformation and polarise society, thus weakening democracy, but there is now a countervailing movement. A Summit for Democracy hosted by the USA in December 2021 highlighted these threats in an attempt to counter them, the White House Office of Science and Technology announced a new grand challenge competition designed to spur the development of democracy-affirming technologies. Further advances come from innovations in fact-checking websites and tools that have been designed to help people better assess the validity of information online; digital identity technologies, which are emerging as a critical tool for helping democracy transition into the digital age; and technological means to evade attempts at censorship.
Platform 5: Knowledge foundations
Complex system science
Our world is hugely susceptible to the powerful winds of change unleashed by economic, social, and political forces that interact in intricate feedback loops. In the past, scientists have struggled to understand and model these forces. But in recent years our ability to gather and process data has enabled computer models and simulations of our world on a wide variety of scales with increasing predictive power. While this approach is in its infancy, it raises the prospect of more stable economies, more fruitful and productive negotiations, and more peaceful societies.
Future of education
Much of the progress in all fields of research over the next quarter-century will depend on the knowledge we gain, exploit, and pass on to our children. But the need for innovations in education goes much wider. We need to find ways to exploit educational technology for individual, lifelong learning and we need to better understand how learning happens in the brain. Education is the lifeblood of humanity, and improving its delivery is central to all of our futures.
The global effort to make humanity’s existence sustainable, with societies, cities, and citizens that are resilient to inevitable change, is vital. Most countries’ and most global companies’ strategic futures now include policies that engender sustainable future economics. The move to renewable power has considerable momentum. Less well developed are attempts to create circular economies that exploit Earth’s resources while leaving its capital unchanged. The impact of intelligent machines on the way we work will also become a driver of social, economic, and political change.
Breakthroughs in our understanding of biology and our ability to manipulate it are now making it possible to redesign nature. Driven by breakthroughs in our ability to read and re-engineer the genetic code, synthetic biology is on the cusp of transforming agriculture, medicine, and manufacturing; a central driver for its inclusion as a new Radar topic. There are already around 400 scientifically feasible use cases for synthetic biology that could have a direct economic impact of $4 trillion. Schmidt Future recently released a report outlining how to build a new bioeconomy. Based on these advances, the convergence of advances in AI and in fundamental biology, combined with lowering costs in DNA synthesis will power this new revolution.
Future of meetings
Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit (annual event in October) – all sessions accessible online.
Science and Diplomacy Week (annual event in May) – most sessions accessible online.
GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar(provides a platform for online contributions).
GESDA regularly contributes to relevant global meetings across the world.
One of two annual board of directors’ meetings is held online.
Social media channels