Alexandre Fasel, diplomat: “We must prepare for technological upheavals”

Science and technology are advancing at the speed of light, with the potential to transform the world. For Alexandre Fasel, Swiss Ambassador for Science Diplomacy, the international community must anticipate these changes and direct technological upheavals towards the common good. The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), supported by Switzerland, is, according to him, the way to achieve this.

Geneva Solutions: What role for science diplomacy in the next 20 years?

Alexander Fasel: The era of scientific disciplines – physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, etc. – is over. They are all intertwined in what we call the convergence of sciences. Think of biosciences, neurosciences, nanosciences and infosciences: they are now part of an integrated science system. This opens a huge field of scientific works and discoveries, which leads to an acceleration of technology. Artificial intelligence, human augmentation, geo-engineering and other advances are already impacting us and will eventually change our societies, and therefore the way they are governed. As an international community, we must be able to see what is coming, understand its impact and deal with it in the best way possible by coming together and creating a common goal. This is the logic of anticipatory scientific diplomacy.

How will GESDA help us prepare for such a future?

We asked GESDA to develop a methodology based on anticipation by bringing together all the stakeholders of the international community, from scientists and technologists to diplomats and political decision-makers, from the private sector and philanthropy to citizens. We need to know what is going on in the labs, what the next scientific breakthroughs will be and what technologies will result from them. Then we need to consider how the acceleration of this progress will happen and impact us, and how we need to deal with it.

Diplomatic relations are at an all-time low due to the war in Ukraine, which could hamper future cooperation between states. Does GESDA also take these events into account?

Yes, but at a more advanced stage. Anticipatory science diplomacy always begins with the anticipation of scientific breakthroughs. This in itself is a fact of life and one of the driving factors of international governance. The geopolitical element is another factor but does not prevent humanity from advancing. It will happen one way or another. So, how to create a feeling of working for a common goal without being prisoners of geostrategic interests? In conversations organized by GESDA, it may be easier to create convergence than in formal negotiations.

Can anticipatory science diplomacy transcend current divisions?

This convergence of science and acceleration of technology is part of the changing geopolitical landscape. Science and technology are indeed used by individual states as tools for power projection and strategic autonomy. At the same time, we will not achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals without science and technology. We must therefore exploit their advantages, while understanding their impacts in order to contain, control and regulate sensitive aspects.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web as a shared information repository for scientists at CERN, it led to the democratization of the internet, which is a wonderful thing. But did we imagine in 1989 the impact it would have on democracy, did we foresee that social media would not only facilitate democratic developments but also undermine democratic processes in liberal states?

CERN ended its cooperation with Russia due to the war. Was this the right approach?

At CERN, we have seen the tensions between the approach that science should remain open for the benefit of all and that science can also be an instrument in the geopolitical toolbox. Switzerland’s policy is based on open science, led by scientists and not by the government. But we are not naive. We must protect our scientific capital and our intellectual property. The position we have taken at CERN has led to the compromise of allowing Russian scientists who are already in Geneva to continue working here.

Isn’t it difficult to convince countries to join GESDA?

Diplomats are mainly focused on the problems of the moment. GESDA will not resolve the situation in the Donbass. Its role is to alert the diplomatic community to what is looming on the horizon, but to which we must pay attention without delay.

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Alexandre Fasel, diplomat: “We must prepare for technological upheavals”

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