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Three shifts for improving the governance of emerging technologies

Basil Mahfouz11 June 2022

Without a coordinated global response, emerging technologies could quickly transform our world into a dystopia. By 2050, the lack of climate action may push mankind towards experimenting with planetary systems via geoengineering, lethal autonomous weapon systems could be deciding who lives and who doesn’t, while neuro-technologies will challenge the definition of what it means to be human.

To understand how to manage the societal impact of these technologies, on 16 May 2022, I joined 29 other specialists representing 21 countries at the Science Diplomacy Week Immersion Programme, a forum co-organised by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

The discussions highlighted that effectively governing frontier technologies requires three fundamental shifts across international science diplomacy: (1) adopting a proactive approach towards solving challenges, (2) leveraging cutting-edge computational tools, and (3) systemically scaling access to scientific knowledge.

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Moving on from Haldane: what are the challenges to steering STI for social and economic goals?

joanna.chataway10 February 2022

If anyone wants an overview of current S&T policy in the UK at the moment, you could do a lot worse than listening in to a recent discussion hosted by the Foundation of Science and Technology. Panellists were Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Government Scientific Advisor and National Technology Adviser, Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, Naomi Weir, Programme Director, Innovation at the Confederation of British Industry and Professor James Wlisdon, Director of Research on Research, University of Sheffield. A fantastic lineup and a conversation that touched on many complexities of science, technology and innovation policy.  The importance of engineering policy was mentioned as part of the overall picture but much less was said about this, which is a pity[1].

Female lab researcher

Photo by Julia Koblitz on Unsplash

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Proposal for a ‘Net Zero What Works Centre’

Siobhan Pipa29 October 2021

From Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng

The legal requirement for the UK to achieve Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 presents society with a wide-ranging and demanding set of challenges whose solutions require holistic and cohesive systems thinking across all sectors of activity. Social, technical, political and policy considerations must be taken together and solutions evolved that are driven by need, and which are applicable and acceptable for the whole of UK society. The November 2021 COP 26 meeting to be hosted by the UK, throws all this into sharp focus and suggests that government will wish to clearly demonstrate methods and pathways by which the 2050 objectives can be achieved. A Net Zero What Works Centre (NZWWC) may be an innovative and effective approach to accelerating and focusing coherent action.

Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

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Is a total ban of plastic bags good and inclusive? Lessons from Rwanda

katerynatsybenko24 September 2021

In June 2021, Ukraine adopted a law to ban plastic bags. The ban will be implemented in stages: in December 2021, bags up to 50 microns thick will be banned; on March 2022, bags 15 microns thick will be banned. Only very small thin bags for transporting fish, meat, ice will be allowed but for a limited period of time. Starting from January 1 2023, only biodegradable bags will be allowed. Similar bans have been imposed in other countries, such as Rwanda and the UK, and in the EU. Radical policies to ban plastic bags may improve environmental sustainability, but there can be unintended consequences. They should be anticipated and carefully planned for.

plastic bags in different colours at lanfill

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

The new Ukrainian law stipulates fines for using plastic bags: 1700-8500 UAH (45-215GBP, while 150GBP is a minimum salary) from December 2021, and 8500-34000 UAH (215-850 GBP) from March 2022.

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Doing science advice well can enhance the soft power of a nation or city

arthurpetersen19 March 2021

The topic of ‘science advice’ – broadly defined here as practices involving individuals, organisations and structures that mobilise natural and social scientific and engineering knowledge into public decision-making – has been studied from many different angles in UCL STEaPP. Over the past seven years, UCL STEaPP has led two high-impact workshops and several research projects dedicated to charting the phenomenon, studying the activities, actors and institutions involved.

Entrance to Tottenham Court Road building

Tottenham Court Road, where one of the STEaPP workshops on science advice was held

A whole array of findings have been arrived at and summarised in this period, and I have dedicated an earlier blog nearly four years ago to what we can learn from our and others’ research for the capacities for dealing with complex and uncertain evidence. More recently, I addressed the interconnections between science, technology and ‘soft power’ – with the latter term referring to the ability to shape the preferences of others not through use of force or payments but by subtler means, which are often hard to pin down – giving the examples of how investments in water and space engineering are contributing to soft power for the Netherlands the United Arab Emirates, respectively.

In this blog, a few of the results that have been obtained are briefly reviewed, mainly with an eye to a new research angle that is of increasing interest to me and others in the department: How can doing science advice well, in a way that benefits societies, contribute to the soft power of a nation or city?

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