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Emerging Technologies: A Role for Science Diplomacy

A screenshot from the March 16th Science & Diplomacy event
From top left, clockwise: Maria Elena Bottazzi, Christopher A. Ford, Andre Xuereb, and Amanda Buch. | Credit: AAAS

In February 2022, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science and Diplomacy published a special issue of Science & Diplomacy that dives into the growing intersection of emerging technologies and diplomacy. The pieces within the issue review the current landscape, reflecting individual experiences and offering an expanding definition of emerging technologies while suggesting roles for science diplomacy.

Following the publication, the Center for Science and Diplomacy hosted a virtual event on March 16th that featured four authors who wrote pieces for the issue. The event provided an opportunity to foster discussion about the role of science diplomacy in responding to the challenges and opportunities posed by emerging technologies.

Dr. Kim Montgomery, director of international affairs and science diplomacy at AAAS and executive editor of Science & Diplomacy, served as the moderator of the event. “We launched this issue because the world is experiencing scientific and technological advances that will affect all aspects of our lives,” she said, explaining the impetus behind putting together the special issue. “These advances could offer solutions to national and global challenges and could offer new tools for engagement.”

Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, the Associate Dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, spoke about her piece that argued that both emerging and traditional technologies must be deployed in order to assure equitable global access to vaccines. She offered a framework for ensuring that everyone across the planet can utilize vaccines.

“Honestly, it’s a combination of multiple factors…it’s not only of course developing scientific interventions that would be safe, effective, of low cost, but building and strengthening the capacity of being able to produce them in many areas all over the world,” she said.

Dr. Christopher Ashley Ford, Distinguished Policy Advisor at MITRE Labs and a former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation, talk about his article that discussed ways for the National Science Foundation to better support science and technology diplomacy.

“While our innovation model still does work in some areas, I worry that it’s tending to fall short in some others, such as in chronic underfunding of what I’ve heard called the sort of ‘valley of death,’ the kind of middle ground in the technology life cycle between basic research on the one hand and late-stage commercialization on the other,” he warned, arguing that this is a real shortfall that should be addressed. “Now we used to do all this much better in the United States than we do today.”

The third panelist was André Xuereb, the Ambassador of Malta for Digital Affairs and the Head of the Department of Physics at the University of Malta. He discussed his article on quantum diplomacy and how countries like Malta can advance the cause of cybersecurity.

“Our cybersecurity systems are, in a sense, flawed. The methods that hold our information secure are actually breakable,” he told the attendees. “The assumption we make is that our adversaries don’t have enough computational power to break into…these systems. But this is an assumption that has to be revised every so often because computers are constantly advancing, everyone is constantly getting smarter and better at doing these things.”

The fourth and final panelist was Dr. Amanda Buch, a neuroscientist and postdoctoral fellow at Weill Cornell Medicine. Her article discussed how artificial intelligence and human augmentation could impact diplomacy.

“Overall, AI with human augmentation can help to surface meaning from a deluge of data, can help policymakers to coordinate shared objectives and prevent crises,” she explained, citing examples of, for instance, how AI in satellite imaging can help provide information about global conflicts and emergent crises.

Montgomery engaged in a conversation with the panelists based on questions raised in the editorial she co-wrote with Science & Diplomacy’s editor-in-chief, Bill Colglazier, including whether structures are in place to provide decisionmakers with appropriate scientific advice on these innovations. Afterwards, panelists answered questions from the audience, which were focused on the tremendous opportunities and potential threats posed by emerging technologies, the need for connections between the diplomatic and the business sectors, and how to more effectively build bridges between the S&T and policy and diplomatic communities. 

To watch a recording of the event, click here.

To read the entire special issue, click here.