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:
- Who are we? What does it mean to be human at the age of robots, gene editing and augmented reality?
- How are we going to live together? Which deployment of technology can help reduce inequality and foster inclusive development and well-being?
- 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:
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 :
- Specifying the search terms based on the GESDA taxonomy
- 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.
- Analysing articles by increasing relevance to identify key words to filter-out and the prominence of terms within documents
- 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.
- 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:
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.
Trends – What is cooking in the labs
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.
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.
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:
- The expected time to maturity,
- The expected transformational effect across science and industries
- The current state of awareness among stakeholders and,
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|Country||Contacted / Responded|
|United Kingdom||460 / 35|
|Germany||214 / 26|
|France||149 / 20|
|Switzerland||130 / 49|
|Italy||108 / 10|
|Netherlands||98 / 14|
|Spain||83 / 13|
|Denmark||49 / 1|
|Sweden||47 / 9|
|Austria||46 / 7|
|Belgium||35 / 3|
|Norway||35 / 7|
|Ireland||22 / 2|
|Portugal||18 / 3|
|Finland||10 / 1|
|Poland||9 / 3|
|Czech Rep.||8 / 1|
|Greece||6 / 1|
|Hungary||6 / 0|
|Cyprus||5 / 1|
|Romania||5 / 0|
|Lithuania||2 / 0|
|Luxembourg||2 / 0|
|Serbia||2 / 0|
|Slovakia||2 / 0|
|Estonia||2 / 2|
|Total||1553 / 208|
|Country||Contacted / Responded|
|United States||1349 / 104|
|Canada||148 / 21|
|Mexico||10 / 2|
|Costa Rica||2 / 1|
|Dominican Republic||2 / 2|
|Puerto Rico||1 / 0|
|Total||1512 / 127|
|Country||Contacted / Responded|
|Brazil||14 / 7|
|Chile||7 / 1|
|Argentina||2 / 0|
|Colombia||2 / 1|
|Venezuela||2 / 0|
|Panama||1 / 1|
|Total||28 / 11|
Russia, Asia & Oceania
|Country||Contacted / Responded|
|Australia||189 / 15|
|China||98 / 9|
|Japan||58 / 7|
|India||43 / 11|
|South Korea||24 / 2|
|New Zealand||20 / 4|
|Russia||16 / 3|
|Singapore||16 / 9|
|Malaysia||10 / 1|
|Hong Kong||8 / 1|
|Taiwan||7 / 1|
|Fiji||3 / 1|
|Bangladesh||2 / 0|
|Indonesia||2 / 0|
|Macau||2 / 0|
|Pakistan||4 / 4|
|Azerbaijan||1 / 0|
|Nepal||1 / 0|
|Philippines||4 / 4|
|Sri Lanka||1 / 0|
|Thailand||1 / 1|
|Total||505 / 77|
Africa & Middle East
|Country||Contacted / Responded|
|Israel||34 / 2|
|South Africa||25 / 5|
|Saudi Arabia||9 / 0|
|Kenya||6 / 1|
|Turkey||6 / 2|
|Nigeria||5 / 1|
|Iran||4 / 0|
|United Arab Emirates||3 / 1|
|Benin||2 / 0|
|Egypt||2 / 0|
|Ghana||2 / 1|
|Mali||2 / 0|
|Ethiopia||1 / 0|
|Morocco||1 / 1|
|Réunion||1 / 0|
|Rwanda||1 / 0|
|Tunisia||1 / 0|
|Zambia||1 / 0|
|Lebanon||1 / 0|
|Qatar||1 / 0|
|Kuwait||1 / 1|
|Cameroon||1 / 1|
|Total||108 / 16|
Responses to the survey were combined to create a single score representing “anticipation potential” using the following approach:
- Responses were analysed topic by topic
- Each question in the topic rendered a numerical value. The individual scores are taken as the average of each question from all valid responses.
- 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
- The scores for convergence presence and disruptiveness were averaged to create a “transformational effect" score by topic
- The scores for timing, transformational effect and awareness were averaged to create a “sub-factor” for each topic.
- The scores for existential impact across the human, social and environmental domains were averaged to create an "existential impact" score by topic.
- The sub factor and existential impact scores were combined with a 75% - 25 % weighting to create a single “anticipation potential” score for each topic.
- Analysis was performed to test the robustness of relative results when changing the weighting of scores.
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
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.
For a list of scientific moderators and global experts consulted through workshops, interviews or written contributions, refer to the link below:
Over 500 scientists have contributed to the identification and descriptions of science trends and breakthrough predictions at 5, 10 and 25 years.