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1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy
1Quantum Revolution& Advanced AI2HumanAugmentation3Eco-Regeneration& Geo-Engineering4Science& Diplomacy1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.43.54.14.24.34.44.5HIGHEST ANTICIPATIONPOTENTIALAdvancedArtificial IntelligenceQuantumTechnologiesBrain-inspiredComputingBiologicalComputingCognitiveEnhancementHuman Applications of Genetic EngineeringRadical HealthExtensionConsciousnessAugmentation DecarbonisationWorldSimulationFuture FoodSystemsSpaceResourcesOceanStewardshipComplex Systems forSocial EnhancementScience-basedDiplomacyInnovationsin EducationSustainableEconomicsCollaborativeScience Diplomacy

Appendices:

Methodology

The overarching goal for this report is to provide a constantly updated view on the societal debates related to fundamental questions about people, society and the planet; selected anticipated scientific areas (Why does this matter?); what the academic community is working on that will have an impact in the future (What is happening in the labs?); and the implications for multilateralism and society (So what can we do about it?). The report should become a global reference and useful tool at the service of multilateralism in order to identify and implement solutions. This section introduces the methodology for the Debates and Trends sections of the report.

Debates - Why does this matter

GESDA recognised the fundamental implications of anticipated science and technology advances and decided to frame GESDA's action under three essential questions:

  1. Who are we? What does it mean to be human at the age of robots, gene editing and augmented reality?
  2. How are we going to live together? Which deployment of technology can help reduce inequality and foster inclusive development and well-being?
  3. How can we assure mankind’s well-being with the sustainable health of our planet earth? How can we supply the world population the necessary food and energy and regenerate our planet?

Two workshops with scholars from philosophy, social sciences, the humanities and the arts took place in July 2021 to give a first understanding and tools to take on the three questions. Those workshops were extended with selected interviews. Participants to the discussion included:

Monique Canto-Sperber

Former Director of the École Normale SupérieureRépublique des Savoirs

Gabriele Dürbeck

Professor for Literature and Cultural StudiesUniversität Vechta

Marius Dorobantu

Theological AnthropologyVrije Universiteit Amsterdam

John Dryzek

Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global GovernanceUniversity of Canberra

Mark Hunyadi

Professor for Moral, Social and Political PhilosophyUniversité Catholique de Louvain

John R. McNeill

Professor for Environmental HistoryGeorgetown University

Eric Salobir

PresidentOPTIC Network

Wendell Wallach

ScholarYale University Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioethics

The interactions will continue between successive versions of the Breakthrough Radar, leading towards a philosophical compass providing guidance to GESDA on these critical questions.


Taking the pulse of society

In order to listen to the opinions of citizens globally about the four scientific frontier issues and the three core questions, the AI-based research and trend sensing tool “Deep View” has been used to capture and systematise the opinions and discussions. Deep View takes unstructured information and uses AI to mimic human comprehension and detect hidden patterns and interrelations. It applies Natural Language Processing algorithms on complex data sets composed of over 500,000 curated media sources and social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Amazon reviews.

The insights were derived following a five-step iterative process with multiple quality checks :

  1. Specifying the search terms based on the GESDA taxonomy
  2. Searching the Moreover, LexisNexis Social Media data and searches for matches in articles/ posts and selecting a set of the most relevant articles/posts based on term frequency, inverse document frequency and term prominence within documents.
  3. Analysing articles by increasing relevance to identify key words to filter-out and the prominence of terms within documents
  4. Cloud Analysis: Out of the set of relevant and unique articles/posts the system selects up to 15,000 articles/posts to visualize based on the interconnectedness of ideas.
  5. Additional analyses conducted on sentiment, time series, traction to enrich insights. Sentiment takes into consideration semantic nuances including grammar and word strength (e.g. hate>dislike)

The framing of the information displayed in the report has been accompanied by a small advisory group composed of representatives from International Organization, Civil Society and Citizens Science:

Anne-Marie Buzatu

COO ICT4Peace

Thomas Davin

Director, Office of InnovationUNICEF

Nicola Forster

PresidentSwiss Society for the Common Good

Gabriel Pictet

Lead, Research Evidence and AnalyticsIFRC

Valentine von Toggenburg-Bulliard

Global ShaperWorld Economic Forum

The process above has been adapted for the social media and news analysis on the three questions. Given their open and philosophical nature as well as their broad scope, additional steps have been taken. Using the taxonomy/key words approach would have resulted in considering more than 70 million posts, with much “noise” (irrelevant data). Therefore, building on the insights provided by the ‘philosophical compass’ and the most relevant posts, we defined 5 to 8 recurring narratives for each question. We analysed then the prevalence of the concepts among different demographic groups.


GESDA created a methodology to harness the expertise of the members of its Academic Community in assessing the relative importance of key scientific emerging topics and their impact on people, society and the planet.

Important definitions

GESDA defines a scientific emerging topic as an area at the boundaries of human knowledge for which future science and technology breakthroughs can be anticipated in the timeframe relevant to GESDA (see definition of breakthrough below). Those scientific emerging topics are areas where we expect developments with strong future impacts on the three fundamental GESDA questions about people, society, and the planet, and hence for which science anticipation is essential.

Within a scientific emerging topic, specific scientific breakthroughs are characterised by having a strong scientific momentum in the 5, 10 and 25 year time-frames, combined with a high potential impact on people, society and planet. Thus, these science breakthroughs constitute the core of GESDA’s mapping of scientific emerging topics at 5, 10 and 25 years, as described in the Scientific Anticipatory Briefs published on GESDA’s website.

Engaging leaders and selecting topics to be assessed - GESDA Academic Moderators

During 2020, GESDA brought together an academic community of 68 international experts and conducted 9 workshops and over 22 interviews with named scientists. The goal of these discussions was to identify a set of emerging scientific topics that, in the eyes of the community, were critical to anticipate.

The output of these discussions was twofold. First, a range of “Scientific Anticipatory Briefs” that will be published on GESDA’s website and in dedicated science journals. Second, a “long list” of topics that the GESDA community and GESDA’s Academic Moderators and board agreed deserved structured and systematic engagement.

Engaging wider experts and validating topics to be assessed - GESDA workshop series

During February to May 2021, GESDA organised a series of 25 workshops with 134 scientific experts focused on the long list of topics. Each workshop convened leading experts in each topic. Via facilitated discussion, the GESDA team narrowed down the scope of each topic, identified relevant sub-topics and potential breakthroughs, and identified potential impacts of these over 5, 10 and 25 year timeframes.

A key insight revealed by the workshops and now integrated into the methodology going forward was that discussing topics in general tended to overlook the nuance and importance of specific breakthroughs within those topics. Hence, a critical output of the workshop series was the identification of four related research areas per topic, that together represented sub-domains of significance that are likely to drive progress in the overarching topic.

The full set of topics and related research areas can be found in the trends explorer, via the link below.

Trends Explorer

The GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar is made up of 18 scientific emerging topics and related sub-fields, across four broad frontier areas. These are collated below for quick access into the report.

Engaging the broad scientific community in a structured assessment of topics - the GESDA survey design

Building on the workshops, GESDA decided to use a survey instrument to assess each of the topics along four dimensions:

  1. The expected time to maturity,
  2. The expected transformational effect across science and industries
  3. The current state of awareness among stakeholders and,
  4. possible impact on people, society and planet

The survey consists of six questions to assess those four dimensions. As a set, the survey invites respondents to assess four research areas within the topic as to its timing, level of convergence, level of awareness, potential pervasiveness and disruptiveness. A final question asked respondents to assess the existential impact for individuals, society and the environment for the topic as a whole. The research team made the following assumptions and designed the survey accordingly.

  1. Expected time to maturity: The timing of significant advancements within a research field is an important factor in whether and how much to be concerned about it. GESDA focuses on advances that are not about to be deployed now but will be significant in the coming 25 years.

  2. Expected transformational effect: This dimension combines three indicators, namely:

    a. Convergence: Our hypothesis is that topics which systematically interface with others will have the greatest impact on humanity and society. For instance, the convergence among the bio-, nano-, and cogno-sciences has advanced research in these fields at an extraordinary pace and sped the application of this research. In the same vein, discoveries at the convergence between the natural and human sciences will have a strong transformational effect on society.

    b. Presence: The more likely that a research area will result in pervasive advancements across industries, countries and communities, the higher its transformational effect.

    c. Disruptiveness: The more likely that a research area will result in disruption across industries, countries and communities, the more important it is to anticipate today.

  3. Awareness: The less widely discussed or considered a potentially important research domain is (beyond researchers, technologists and policy-makers focused on that specific area), the more important it may be to anticipate.

  4. Existential impact: The more likely that the topic as a whole could a) change what it means to be human, b) change how we interact in society, and/or c) affect the sustainability of the planet, the more important it is to anticipate.

The GESDA survey response

Between April and July 2021, GESDA reached out to 3,700 experts in their fields, from over 80 countries. GESDA collaborated closely with the open science publisher Frontiers to identify members of their research community. The experts have been selected based on following criteria:

  • Excellence in research, defined as H-index, citation rate and publication record)
  • Scientific expertise in GESDA’s scientific emerging topics
  • Geographical coverage to the extent possible

Out of this expert pool, 440 scientists from 53 countries responded to the survey, which corresponds to a response rate of around 12%. Further, 103 participated in more than 30 workshops and interviews on discussions around the scientific emerging topics and the 5, 10 and 25 years breakthrough predictions.

The following maps and table show the country of host institutions of participating scientists in the survey, workshop series and interviews. The map does not show their country of origin, with for example many African, Asian and South American researchers established in US and European institutions

Contributors to the Science Breakthrough Radar through survey, workshops and interviews

Europe

CountryContacted / Responded
United Kingdom460 / 35
Germany214 / 26
France149 / 20
Switzerland130 / 49
Italy108 / 10
Netherlands98 / 14
Spain83 / 13
Denmark49 / 1
Sweden47 / 9
Austria46 / 7
Belgium35 / 3
Norway35 / 7
Ireland22 / 2
Portugal18 / 3
Finland10 / 1
Poland9 / 3
Czech Rep.8 / 1
Greece6 / 1
Hungary6 / 0
Cyprus5 / 1
Romania5 / 0
Lithuania2 / 0
Luxembourg2 / 0
Serbia2 / 0
Slovakia2 / 0
Estonia2 / 2
Total1553 / 208

North America

CountryContacted / Responded
United States1349 / 104
Canada148 / 21
Mexico10 / 2
Costa Rica2 / 1
Dominican Republic2 / 2
Puerto Rico1 / 0
Total1512 / 127

South America

CountryContacted / Responded
Brazil14 / 7
Chile7 / 1
Argentina2 / 0
Colombia2 / 1
Venezuela2 / 0
Panama1 / 1
Total28 / 11

Russia, Asia & Oceania

CountryContacted / Responded
Australia189 / 15
China98 / 9
Japan58 / 7
India43 / 11
South Korea24 / 2
New Zealand20 / 4
Russia16 / 3
Singapore16 / 9
Malaysia10 / 1
Hong Kong8 / 1
Taiwan7 / 1
Fiji3 / 1
Bangladesh2 / 0
Indonesia2 / 0
Macau2 / 0
Pakistan4 / 4
Azerbaijan1 / 0
Nepal1 / 0
Philippines4 / 4
Sri Lanka1 / 0
Thailand1 / 1
Total505 / 77

Africa & Middle East

CountryContacted / Responded
Israel34 / 2
South Africa25 / 5
Saudi Arabia9 / 0
Kenya6 / 1
Turkey6 / 2
Nigeria5 / 1
Iran4 / 0
United Arab Emirates3 / 1
Benin2 / 0
Egypt2 / 0
Ghana2 / 1
Mali2 / 0
Ethiopia1 / 0
Morocco1 / 1
Réunion1 / 0
Rwanda1 / 0
Tunisia1 / 0
Zambia1 / 0
Lebanon1 / 0
Qatar1 / 0
Kuwait1 / 1
Cameroon1 / 1
Total108 / 16

Survey analysis

Responses to the survey were combined to create a single score representing “anticipation potential” using the following approach:

  1. Responses were analysed topic by topic
  2. Each question in the topic rendered a numerical value. The individual scores are taken as the average of each question from all valid responses.
  3. The timing score was normalised from a year figure to a score between 1 and 10. Both the timing and awareness scores were inverted to capture the fact that closer timing and lower awareness imply a greater need for anticipation
  4. The scores for convergence presence and disruptiveness were averaged to create a “transformational effect" score by topic
  5. The scores for timing, transformational effect and awareness were averaged to create a “sub-factor” for each topic.
  6. The scores for existential impact across the human, social and environmental domains were averaged to create an "existential impact" score by topic.
  7. The sub factor and existential impact scores were combined with a 75% - 25 % weighting to create a single “anticipation potential” score for each topic.
  8. Analysis was performed to test the robustness of relative results when changing the weighting of scores.

Methodological limitations

This methodology was designed to be rigorous within a range of constraints.

First, the selection of topics to be assessed was made inductively by a small set of GESDA’s academic community. As a result, this set of topics is biased towards the research inclinations, worldviews and concerns of the participating experts.

Second, the data gathered through the workshops and survey are not meant to be representative of any defined set of experts in any given field. Rather, GESDA's work on anticipation seeks to add value by surfacing a diversity of reactions and opinions. Hence, GESDA cast a wide net for respondents, without seeking to control specific representative ratios.

Third, the experts participating in GESDA's workshops and completing its survey tend to be senior scientists based in Europe or North America. While significant efforts were made to include gender and geographically diverse voices in workshops, the majority of survey respondents are experienced researchers based in Europe and Northern America. This biased can be explained by the selected topics, which are at the frontiers of science where developments happen only in the most advanced laboratories, and reflects one reality of science, as reflected by the H-index rankings, citations and publication rates (see for example the ranking provided by SCImago based on the Scopus database of publication and displayed in the table below).

Top 20 Countries Ranked Per H-Index

RankCountryH-index
1United States2577
2United Kingdom1618
3Germany1429
4Canada1299
5France1286
6Italy1135
7Netherlands1133
8Japan1118
9Australia1115
10Switzerland1085
11China1010
12Spain1010
13Sweden974
14Belgium886
15Denmark843
16Israel786
17South Korea762
18Austria740
19Finland711
20Norway699

Fourth, the data shows significant variance in response to the timing question for a limited number of topics. Also, the pace of scientific and technological advancement greatly varies between fields with, for example, very quick and dynamic evolutions in the area of gene-editing, while space exploration requires decades of planning before any major breakthroughs occur.


Contributors

For a list of scientific moderators and global experts consulted through workshops, interviews or written contributions, refer to the link below:

Contributor Profiles

Over 500 scientists have contributed to the identification and descriptions of science trends and breakthrough predictions at 5, 10 and 25 years.