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GESDA's best pick from the press, web and science journals, in relation to GESDA's thematic platforms

30 October-06 November 2020

A GESDA product curated by Olivier Dessibourg

Humanity, now more than ever, is facing global challenges (especially with regards to the Covid-19 crisis), putting people and the planet under stress and in great uncertainty. Simultaneously, the world is experiencing breakthroughs in science and technology at an unprecedented pace, which are sometimes hard to grasp. Anticipation, therefore, is key to build the future with the aim of early and fully exploiting this scientific potential for the well-being and inclusive development of all. The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator was founded in Geneva in 2019 to tackle this issue.

GESDA's ambition is to first anticipate and identify these cutting-edge advances in science and technology throughout various domains (Quantum revolution & advanced AI, Human augmentation, Ecoregeneration and Geoengineering, Science and Diplomacy). Based on this scientific outlook, it will, with its Diplomacy community, translate potential leaps in science and tech into tools that can bring effective and socially-inclusive solutions to emerging challenges. Most importantly, this process will be achieved not only by scientists or diplomats, but will include actors of various professional origins and mindsets (from philanthropy, industry, citizens, to youth).


> Can lab-grown brains become conscious? // 27.10.2020, Nature
A handful of experiments are raising questions about whether clumps of cells and disembodied brains could be sentient, and how scientists would know if they were.

(©Fabio Buonocore, for Nature)


> The Future of genomics, 2020 and beyond: a strategic vision // October 2020, NIH
“The cost of sequencing has fallen more than a million-fold, extending the reach of this powerful technology far beyond academic labs”, writes STATnews. “In response to the ethical, legal, and social implications of genomic advances, including systemic injustices and biases perpetuated over decades, the National Human Genome Research Institute just issued a strategic vision. It emphasizes the importance of data control, privacy, and consent and urges better representation of marginalized cultures and populations in both genomic studies and the genomics workforce.”

Detailed and commented in this Perspective article in NatureStrategic vision for improving human health at The Forefront of Genomics 

> Mapping the ethics of human genomic technologies // 06.10.2020, EU SIENNA project
This extensive ethical analysis of human genetics and genomics has identified ethical, legal, and social issues both relating to emerging technologies within the next 5-10 years:

  • Characterization of human enhancement technologies remain a challenge.  

  • Both advocates and critics in the debate rely heavily on multi-factorial speculations about potential scenarios that may develop.  

  • One similarity that stood out in the 11 country studies was that nearly all of them had academics investigating ethical, legal and social issues of cognitive enhancement. The many differences between countries could be explained by difficulties classifying the field and its subfields.

More info on the SIENNA website.

Reactions to the National Academies/Royal Society Report on heritable human genome editing // 20.10.2020, The CRISPR Journal
Some three dozen experts from the fields of genome editing, medicine, bioethics, law, and related fields offer their candid reactions to the report, highlighting areas of support, omissions, disagreements, and priorities moving forward.



Controlling deforestation and wildlife trade could prevent pandemics // 29.10.2020, NewScientist
Future pandemics could be prevented if unsustainable practices like deforestation and the industrial-scale wildlife trade are halted, according to a global biodiversity report. The cost of doing so would be paid back many times over, simply because we wouldn’t have to go through another pandemic, according to a new IPBES report.

Based on this report by IPBES: Escaping the 'era of pandemics': Experts warn worse crises to come; offer options to reduce risk



> Lifting the smokescreen of science diplomacy: comparing the political instrumentation of science and innovation centres // 30.10.2020, Nature
This interesting article on science diplomacy discusses the ‘political instrumentation of science and innovation centres’ and takes the SwissNex network as a case study. It also discusses the evolution of the science diplomacy narrative in Swiss and German policy documents.

Stéphane Decoutère (Secretary General)

"Dieu et la Silicon Valley", Eric Salobir (Buchet-Chastel/Libella, 2020)
Immortality, AI, robotics seen through the prism of spirituality and morality by a Dominican geek familiar with both the Vatican and the Bay Area.
> "Charting Pathways for Inclusive Growth – From Paralysis to Preparation", Melinda Gates, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Strive Masiyiwa (University Oxford, UK, 2018)
A handbook for citizens, governments, technologists and entrepreneurs willing to leapfrog to inclusive development through disruptive innovation such as online education or the booming, space, telecom & online payment services in Africa and other emerging economies.
«Anthropocene Geopolitics: Globalization, Security, Sustainability», Simon Dalby (University of Ottawa Press, 2020)
A call to renew geopolitical thinking in face of global challenges at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that we live in an interconnected world that knows no borders.


Platform 1: Quantum revolution and advanced AI


> A quantum tango between magnons and phonons // 26.10.2020, Physics
A nanopatterned magnetic structure features an unprecedently strong coupling between lattice vibrations and quantized spin waves, which could lead to novel ways of manipulating quantum information.

Quantentechnologie in der Schweiz: Considerations and recommendations by the Swiss Science Council SSC (WHITE PAPER) // 2020, SSC
Full document here

Artificial intelligence

> Calculating where artificial intelligence can do business // 25.10.2020, Financial Times
Hype around the GPT-3 language model underlines why leaders must know the right questions to ask.

> Facebook's Chief AI Scientist Yann LeCun says people have "unrealistic expectations" about the capabilities of GPT-3 // 27.10.2020, Facebook
Based on “Doctor GPT-3: hype or reality?” (27.10.2020, Nabla)

The next generation of artificial intelligence // 12.10.2020, Forbes

AI experts discuss the possibility of another AI winter // 22.10.2020, RE-WORK

If a robot is conscious, is it OK to turn it off? The moral implications of building true AIs // 28.10.2020, Singularity Hub

AI has resulted in “ethical issues” for 90% of businesses // 01.10.2020, Forbes

Vers un cadre européen pour l’intelligence artificielle? (OP-ED de Damien Cottier) // 27.10.2020, 

AI opens new avenues for smart cities // 26.10.2020, Science|Business


Platform 2: Human augmentation


> Map the ‘magnificently complicated’ brain // 19.10.2020, Nature
Artificial intelligence and improved microscopy make it feasible to map the nervous system at ever-higher resolution.
Related article: A connectome and analysis of the adult Drosophila central brain (03.09.2020, eLife)

A step closer to mapping the rodent brain // 26.10.2020, EPFL press release
Based on this article in Hippocampus: Data‐driven integration of hippocampal CA1 synaptic physiology in silico

Controlling monkey brains with light could get easier thanks to open data project // 28.10.2020, Science

A new way to plug a human brain into a computer: via veins // 29.10.2020, WIRED

Tiny brain implants hold big promise for immobilized patients // 28.10.2020, Wall Street Journal

How giving robots a hybrid, human-like ‘brain’ can make them smarter // 26.10.2020, Singularity Hub

Performance vs. competence in human – machine comparisons (PERSPECTIVE) // 13.10.2020, PNAS

Brain-computer interfaces and the future of neurotechnology governance // September 2020, OECD Innovation Blog



Africa’s people must be able to write their own genomics agenda (EDITORIAL) // 28.10.2020, Nature

Kara Swisher and Jennifer Doudna on CRISPR and its possibilities (PODCAST) // 22.10.2020, New York Times 

Lab tests show risks of using CRISPR gene editing on embryos // 29.10.2020, STAT/AP

Scientists use clues in the human genome to discover new inflammatory syndrome // 27.10.2020, NIH press release

Exome sequencing and characterization of 49,960 individuals in the UK Biobank // 29.10.2020, Nature

CRISPR weapon spread by bacterial sex could destroy deadly superbugs // 26.10.2020, NewScientist

CRISPR targets climate change // 27.10.2020,

Longevity & health

Achieving healthy human longevity: A global grand challenge (EDITORIAL) // 21.10.2020, Science Translational Medicine

The painstaking pace of bioelectronic interfaces // October 2020, Nature Biomedical Engineering

Digital health, drug resistant pathogens & pandemic preparedness: Keynote topics at World Health Summit // 27.10.2020, Health Policy Watch

Training the innate immune system to thwart cancer could open door to a new therapy // 29.10.2020, STAT+

As STAT turns 5, a look back at science and medicine’s biggest headlines and controversies // 26.10.2020, STATnews

(©Mike Reddy for STAT)

Platform 3: Eco-regeneration and geoengineering


Status of the SPARC physics basis // August 2020, J. Plasma Physics
This special issue provides a snapshot of the physics basis for SPARC, a compact, high-field, deuterium-tritium burning tokamak, currently under design by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

UK's spherical nuclear fusion reactor tests new heat-reducing exhaust // 29.10.2020, NewScientist

Green power to draw $11 trillion investment by 2050 // 27.10.2020, Bloomberg

Super-charged: how Australia's biggest renewables project will change the energy game (OP-ED) // 28.10.2020, UNSW press release


Method can upcycle plastic into useful molecules // 26.10.2020, Futurity
Based on this Science article: Creating value from plastic waste
Related article in Nature Catalysis: Microwave-initiated catalytic deconstruction of plastic waste into hydrogen and high-value carbons

The second decade of synthetic biology: 2010–2020 // 14.10.2020, Nature Communications

Climate & environment

> Multi-agency report highlights the current and future state of the climate in Africa // 26.10.2020, WMO press release
And this related article in GenevaSolutions: ‘Biggest polluters must be main contributors’ say experts on tackling Africa climate change

Europe’s Green Deal offshores environmental damage to other nations // 26.10.2020, Nature

South Korea follows Japan and China in carbon neutral pledge // 28.10.2020, Carbon Brief

Climate change: Technology no silver bullet // 25.10.2020, BBC

Towards a global-scale soil climate mitigation strategy // 27.10.2020, Nature Communications

A fifth of countries worldwide at risk from ecosystem collapse as biodiversity declines, reveals pioneering Swiss Re index // 23.09.2020, Swiss Re press release
About this report: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: A business case for re/insurance

Biobank to house 800 coral species so we can restore reefs in future // 28.10.2020, NewScientist

Shedding light on the evidence blind spots confounding the multiple objectives of SDG 2 // October 2020, Nature Plants

Global priority areas for ecosystem restoration // 28.10.2020, Nature


NASA announced new evidence of water ice on the moon, although the discovery is unlikely to have a near-term effect on its lunar exploration plans // 27.10.2020, SpaceNews

Twenty years of the International Space Station – but was it worth it? // 25.10.2020, The Guardian

NASA, European Space Agency formalize Artemis Gateway partnership // 27.10.2020, NASA press release

ESA press release (aussi en français)

> Deep Learning Algorithms Helping to Clear Space Junk from our Skies // 30.10.2020, EPFL Press release

The hell of humans in heaven – Debating the risks of space technology and habitation // 27.10.2020,


> U.S. funds new fleet of probes to explore ocean biogeochemistry // 30.10.2020, Science

Les majors du pétrole face à leurs engagements climatiques // 13.10.2020, Le Monde

How the United States handed China its rare Earth monopoly // 27.10.2020, Foreign Policy

(©Patent Maniac)

Platform 4: Science and Diplomacy

Insights from Commissioner Mariya Gabriel “Towards science diplomacy in the European Union” // 29.10.2020, S4D4C

How policymakers can improve crisis planning // November issue, Foreign Affairs

The norms around science and politics are cracking // 29.10.2020, Axios

The coming global technology fracture // September 2020, Project Syndicate

Mark Zuckerberg just told Congress to upend the internet // 29.10.2020, The Verge
Facebook is putting its weight behind changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a foundational internet law.

The use and abuse of the phrase “global public good” // 28.09.2020, Global Policy

COVID-19 and the cost of vaccine nationalism // 29.10.2020, RAND Europe press release
Nationalistic behaviour by governments may exclude some countries from gaining access to COVID-19 vaccines and cost the global economy up to $1.2 trillion a year in GDP, according to a new study from the not-for-profit research organisation RAND Europe.


> Exclusive: A look inside the last days of Mauro Ferrari at the European Research Council // 29.10.2020, Science|Business
This mission of the ERC, of “bottom-up” research driven by a scientist’s own instincts vs. “top-down” research prompted by a funder’s policy goals, reverberates across the science world. While some funders, such as the ERC, by law focus on investigator-driven research, others take a broader view. For instance, on October 20, the Wellcome Trust in the UK – the largest charitable research funding body in Europe – announced a new strategy that, while continuing “discovery” grants, will also encourage research on three specific health problems: infectious diseases, global warming and mental health. “Science alone is not enough. It needs support from many areas of research and innovation,” the new strategy states. 

Covid-inspired digitalization in Africa // 23.10.2020, Africanews.en

Cities reboot: Urban life in the age of COVID-19 // 27.10.2020, Thomson Reuters

Xavier Timbeau : « Le récit de la décroissance ne dit pas qui se prive et qui disparaît » // Septembre 2020, Alternatives économiques

5 startup theses that will transform the 2020s // 27.10.2020, TechCrunch

La crise du multilatéralisme: une chance? (OP-ED) // 25.10.2020, Le Temps

The Great Reset // November 2020, TIME magazine special edition, in partnership with the WEF

(©Time Magazine)


The pandemic has catapulted science to the forefront of policy-making // 28.10.2020, ESMH
Interview with Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Special Advisor to the President of the European Commission on the response to the COVID-19. (©Wikipedia)

Gavi Board Chair Okonjo-Iweala is recommended as next WTO Director-General // 28.10.2020, Health Policy Watch
But as the US came out in favor of the Republic of Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee, stalling the final consensus-building process, WTO officials said that a final decision will have to go before the full 164-member General Council on November 9. (Photo: DR)

> COVID-19 and multilateralism: Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis talks to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay // 28.10.2020,
The respective heads of the FDFA and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization discussed the impact of the pandemic crisis on multilateralism and UNESCO's strategic preparations in response to global challenges(© Keystone, Gaëtan Bally)

(Screenshot Twitter)


> Social media influences our political behaviour and puts pressure on our democracies, new report finds // 27.10.2020, EU press release

Open Science- Who is left behind? // 23.10.2020, London School of Economics blog

Statistical illiteracy isn't a niche problem. During a pandemic, it can be fatal (OP-ED by Carlo Rovelli) // 26.10.2020, The Guardian


> Swiss Digital Days // 1-3 November, online and offline, organized by Digital Switzerland
With more than 300 free events, 90 partners and more than 20 locations across the country, the Swiss Digital Days unite like-minded digital enthusiasts, newcomers, industry experts and businesses to foster the development of ideas. This year, they pose a question for all participants. What future do we want? We must all collaborate and debate to understand and plan for digital change for the Switzerland of tomorrow.

The art of Maths // 2-6 November, online, organized by the H. Dudley Wright Foundation and University of Geneva
Maths. For some, a stimulating discipline, an exciting mental game, for others, a complex, opaque and difficult world. But whatever our perception or view might be, mathematics is fascinating. As a fundamental discipline at the interface of natural sciences, philosophy and the arts, mathematics deserves its place in the Wright Colloquia for science, with five very prestigious mathematicians presenting their work. 

Moderation: Olivier Dessibourg, Executive Director Science Communication and Outreach at  GESDA

THE LAST WORD: "Happy Halloween!!"

> This neural network turns you into a Zombie // 28.10.2020, Futurism
A new website uses a generative adversarial network (GAN), a type of artificial intelligence algorithm, to zombify your selfies.

Forward Forward
Have a very nice and fruitful week! :-)
Copyright ©  2020, All rights reserved for the selection. All rights reserved by the respective media for articles reproduction.
Selection of an article in this press review doesn't mean endorsement by GESDA.

Mailing address:
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