Webinar “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly: Opportunities and Risks of Emerging Technologies”

The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

Webinar “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly: Opportunities and Risks of Emerging Technologies”

On 7 December 2021, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), with the support of the Didier and Martine Primat Foundation, launched the Polymath Initiative as part of the GCSP’s Global Fellowship Initiative.

With a view to promote and increase transversal thinking within the field of new technologies, the Polymath Initiative seeks to bridge the gap between policy makers and the scientific and technology community. It was publicly presented to an online audience during a webinar panel discussion followed by a Q&A session.

We need people who are really good at understanding technology, but at the same time people who understand policy making as well as the broader impact that these technologies have on society”, said Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, Head of Global and Emerging Risks at the GCSP, who moderated the panel.

In line with this assessment and sharing the same vision, the Didier and Martine Primat Foundation funded three fellowship positions of the Polymath Initiative in 1) artificial intelligence (AI), currently held by Dr Sandra Scott-Hayward, Senior Lecturer at the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Queen’s University Belfast, 2) neurotechnology, held by Dr Ricardo Chavarriaga, Head of CLAIRE Switzerland, and 3) synthetic biology, held by Dr Kevin Esvelt, Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab in Boston. All three took part in the webinar discussion as panelists.

Successively, each panelist presented the ins and outs of their respective field of expertise, focusing not only on the good side of these new technologies, but also on their potential malicious use in terms of impact on society and the disruption that they could generate. AI for instance can help optimize our management of sustainable resources or improve the diagnosis and development of preventive measures in the health sphere, while neurotechnology has proven to be effective on reducing symptoms of Parkinson disease through deep brain simulation. Last but not least, synthetic biology was definitely decisive in speeding the COVID-19 vaccine development by turning genetic sequence data from a novel virus into a vaccine candidate in a matter of days. This is the Good. But at the same time, these very technologies have shown how good models can be easily misused in the hands of malicious actors. Open-source models of AI are also available to attackers, the direct-to-consumer sector of neurotechnology is not well regulated and some derived products of neurotech can be easily replicated, not to mention the potential spillover effects of synthetic biology in scientific virus research. This is the Bad. When it comes to the Ugly, we face the threat of all negative effects of these new technologies pushed to their extreme.

We are at a point where we cannot afford not to take into account the knock-on effect and impact on society of our disciplines”, said Dr Sandra Scott-Hayward in a joint call of all three panelists for a greater awareness and reaching to policy makers in the field of emerging technologies.