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Geneva 'anticipator' pushes science diplomacy

A new Swiss foundation unveiled sweeping plans that include establishing a global science court, an international organization and an international treaty.

Geneva's Campus Biotech, part of Swiss Innovation Park and home to GESDA
Geneva's Campus Biotech, part of Swiss Innovation Park and home to GESDA (AN/J. Heilprin)

GENEVA (AN) — A new Swiss foundation for "anticipatory" science diplomacy unveiled sweeping plans on Tuesday that include establishing a global science court, an international organization on quantum technology and an international treaty for artificial intelligence.

The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator, or GESDA, calls itself the first global tool for diplomacy based on the anticipation of science.

It said the court or dispute settlement body could be used for the self-regulation of scientific disputes over ethics, privacy, governance and overall benefits to humanity — equivalent to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, the world's top tribunal for settling sports disputes.

It also proposed the creation of an international organization to guarantee safe access to and use of quantum infrastructures for communication and computing, like those related to strategic national and international security agendas.

Such an organization, it said, would be similar to the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN, and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.

And GESDA said it would push for an international agreement on the co-development, access and use of advanced AI models, plus the creation of another international organization to support and rule on those global governance standards. But that is not all.

There were four to five other huge proposals — such as a "Manhattan Project'' for research and development to accelerate the decarbonization of industrial processes over the next decades — put forward by the fledgling Swiss foundation, which began operating at the start of 2020.

After a year in which the world witnessed lightning-fast development of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chair of GESDA’s board of directors and emeritus chair of the Nestlé Group, said the foundation can play a key role by helping to quickly put new discoveries to good use.

“What GESDA has achieved so far really has exceeded my expectations,” Brabeck-Letmathe said in a statement emphasizing GESDA's search for paradigm-shifting solutions in the first half of the 21st century that also could provide a boost to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

“The world is experiencing breakthrough science and technological advances at an unprecedented speed," he said. "These discoveries will reshape how we view ourselves as humans, how we relate to each other in society and how we care for our environment. GESDA will play a crucial part in anticipating advances in frontier sciences to ensure we capture their potential for global well-being and inclusive development whilst safeguarding our collective welfare.”

A 'do tank' and think tank

GESDA says its purpose is to "use the future to build the present." It was set up with 6 million Swiss francs (US$6.4 million) from private donors, Swiss federal government, and the canton and city of Geneva, and now has a team of 100 leaders that include prominent scientists, senior diplomats, university and industry executives, philanthropists, and heads of international organizations and NGOs. Part of its raison d'être is to burnish Geneva's multilateral standing.

It has authored 11 "scientific anticipatory briefs" on a range of topics and, in December, it brought together 60 scientific experts, political and business leaders, and the general public to discuss some of the findings contained in those briefs, according to its first annual activity report covering 2019 and 2020.

Switzerland signaled the importance it places on the intersection of science and diplomacy with last month's reassignment of its ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexandre Fasel, to a new post as special envoy for science diplomacy.

The foundation also has scheduled its first annual summit from Oct. 7-9, when it expects to draw 300 participants to Geneva’s Campus Biotech, the global science hub where GESDA is headquartered not far from some of the city's other prominent multilateral fixtures such as the United Nations' European headquarters at the Palais des Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, which is not part of the U.N. system.

Among the issues to be debated, it said, are the quantum revolution and advanced artificial intelligence; human augmentation; eco-regeneration and geoengineering; and anticipatory science and diplomacy. The foundation is preparing to introduce a proprietary decision-making platform it calls “GESDA Breakthrough Radar” for prioritizing issues and anticipating solutions, based on feedback and the scale of potential benefits for the planet and humanity.

“Breakthrough technologies such as advanced artificial intelligence, genome editing, neuro-enhancement, decarbonization and computational diplomacy are set to dominate the global agenda in the coming decades,” said Patrick Aebischer, GESDA's vice chair and a former president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.

“GESDA will serve as a ‘think tank’ and as a ‘do tank’ by bridging different communities while ensuring that we can make the most of these anticipated scientific advances," he said. "With the Sustainable Development Goals in sight, and forthcoming global challenges, we must ensure we are ready to put governance frameworks in place without slowing down innovation which will improve people’s lives.”