The Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA) is a Swiss independent private non-for-profit Foundation, established as a global Public Private Partnership by the Swiss and Geneva governments in 2019.
GESDA’s mission is to develop an instrument of anticipation and action to provide solutions to current and future technological challenges, turn them into opportunities and widen the circle of beneficiaries of advances in science and technology.
Beyond a think-tank, GESDA is also a do-tank. GESDA is committed to ideate and design Solution Ideas for effective multilateralism with its science diplomacy community. GESDA then incubates and implements the most globally relevant and transformative of these Solution Ideas with its partners.
GESDA does not aim to host and manage the initiatives beyond an initial incubation phase. Its goal is to hand over the initiatives with proven viability which are ready to be fully deployed, so that implementation partners with the institutional capacity and the operational means can build them at scale. This includes securing the funding of the first years of operation of the initiative.
From a Think-Tank to a Do-tank: GESDA’s Anticipatory Situation Room (ASR) methodology
Quantum technologies is the most advanced in the Anticipatory Situation Room pipeline.
The related solution idea — the Open Quantum Institute (OQI) — reached the incubation phase in 2023.
From the 42 emerging scientific topics covered by GESDAs Science Breakthrough Radar, Quantum computing has been identified by GESDA’s Academic and Diplomacy Forum as a technology with great transformative capability requiring a science and diplomacy mobilisation to ensure global access and benefits.
The main considerations justifying the selection of Quantum Computing as a priority domain for GESDA are:
If the unprecedented computational speed-ups enabled by quantum computing are directed towards the right issues — such as materials science, chemistry, energy, or logistics — the technology could enable scientific and technological breakthroughs that could transform the lives of millions.
Since quantum computers are hugely expensive and hard to build, ensuring broad access to them is difficult. Until now, their development has been concentrated in a handful of nations and large multinational corporations, with a risk of widening the digital divide.
Little work has been done to investigate how quantum computing could help accomplish the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, on challenges related to climate, food security or health. Quantum computing could reveal many such benefits if sufficient resources were dedicated to exploring use cases that have so far been neglected due to the lack of an obvious business case.
Based on these considerations, GESDA set up a Task Force on Quantum Computing to imagine a science diplomacy solution tackling these global challenges. This international multistakeholder group, composed of academic researchers, diplomats, and industry leaders both from corporates and start-ups, worked until October 2022 when their proposal of an Open Quantum Institute was made public.
Located in Geneva, the OQI is intended as a novel multilateral and multistakeholder anticipatory science diplomacy instrument, with the following objectives:
- Accelerating the exploration of use cases of quantum computing geared towards the achievement of the SDGs and other beneficial applications for humanity, linking industry and academic researchers and developers to SDG experts and UN organizations
- Widening the circle of beneficiaries and users of quantum technologies by providing global, inclusive and equitable access to a pool of public and private computers and simulators available via the Cloud
- Levelling the playing field by developing the capacity building instruments for all bright minds across the world to contribute to the development of the technology, notably those in currently underserved geographies
- Providing a neutral forum for diplomatic discussions to frame the future quantum computing multilateral governance enabling the technology to be leveraged for the SDGs
Once at full speed, the OQI with its partners aims to deliver a pipeline of disruptive innovations enabled by quantum computing.
The OQI proposal unveiled at GESDA’s summit in 2022 gained significant traction in the quantum community and with diplomacy stakeholders, as illustrated in the table of supporting partners. The Summit enabled gathering comments on a Solution Idea from all GESDA communities: academic, diplomatic, impact and citizens. A further call for such comments followed, feeding the final evaluation by the quantum task force.
GESDA’s Board of Directors decided early in 2023 to fund and incubate the OQI, with a 2024 launch target to be followed by a pilot implementation phase that runs until December 2026. GESDA's objective with the incubation phase is to hand over an initiative with the best chances of success to a strong operating partner, which is already on the move, can demonstrate positive initial results and has sustainable governance in place.
During the incubation, OQI stakeholders from all four communities were engaged with the process, helping to shape the progress, status, results and offering of the OQI initiative. While the GESDA OQI Team managed OQI's incubation progress, a group of senior advisors formed the OQI Incubation Advisory Board which lead the strategic work within the different work packages.
Members of the Advisory Board are listed below:
Alberto Anfossi, Secretary General, Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo Anousheh Ansari, CEO, XPRIZE Foundation Özge Aydoğan, Director, SDG Lab Stéphane Decoutère, Secretary General of the Board, GESDA Stéphane Duguin, Chief Executive Officer, CyberPeace Institute Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, outgoing GESDA Diplomacy Forum Chair, former Swiss Special Representative for Science Diplomacy, Swiss State Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Rosario Fazio, Head of the Condensed Matter and Statistical Physics Section, International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) Anna Fontcuberta i Morral, Associate Vice President for Centers and Platforms, EPFL Cornelius Hempel, Group head, ETHZ-PSI Quantum Computing Hub Sana Odeh, Professor, New York University, Curator NYU Abu Dhabi Quantum Hackathon Barry Sanders, Scientific Director, Quantum City Urbasi Sinha , Professor, Quantum Information and Computing Lab, Light and Matter Physics group, Raman Research Institute Matthias Troyer, Technical Fellow and Corporate Vice President, Microsoft
The incubation plan set deliverables for the OQI community to achieve by October 2023 (see table). These deliverables constitute the “minimum viable product” (MVP) for the OQI to test its offering with future users, learn by doing and improve its methods of action.
The outcomes of the seven incubation phase work packages are laid out below:
1. “Go To” place for quantum SDG use cases
OQI aspires to become the hub for robust scientific and translational knowledge on the applications of quantum computing conducive to the SDGs (and their future succeeding framework).
In this early stage of technology development, it is still speculative whether quantum computing will deliver a clear advantage over conventional computing. The function of the OQI as a knowledge hub will counteract hype effects, create a sound basis for confirming where there is real potential of quantum computing to progress towards the SDGs. It will also de-risk the investment for such applications and establish an equitable multilateral governance of the field.
The OQI will achieve this through:
1) an OQI-coordinated pipeline of collaborative SDG use case projects involving each at least one academic, one industry and one Intergovernmental organisation partner. The OQI will thus curate and support the initial exploration of a vast scope of application domains with impact on the SDGs, aiming to provide scientific evidence of potential benefits of quantum computing. This will prepare the ground to inspire new stakeholders (R&D-ers, UN orgs, NGOs) and form a growing community of best practices to take over the exploration and solve these problems. 2) a joint GESDA-XPRIZE “Quantum for SDGs” Contest, for a global bottom-up generation of additional use cases 3) scientific and impact validation of use cases submitted by quantum stakeholders willing to showcase their commitment to the SDGs.
SDG use cases During the incubation, outlines for use cases were developed. Each of them consisted of a description of proposed quantum computing solutions in terms of:
- the problem and its context (including specification who is impacted, clarification on relevance and why does the use case matter to look at it); - the existing (classical) computational approaches to the problem and their bottlenecks;
the potential quantum computing solution (type of algorithms, methods that will be used, steps to achieve the proposed project, expected benefits over classical approaches (e.g. accuracy);
- the societal impact, in terms of SDGs and addressed challenges. All outlines are complemented by a resource assessment for a proof of concept and a description of the team.
Applications of quantum computing outlined during the incubation focused on SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and SDG 13 (climate action). Below are examples of use cases that the OQI partners are working on:</p>
- Food security: Quantum computing-based optimisation of the food supply chain, in particular in the route planning of food delivery in underserved regions impacted by climate change or other crises (SDG2).
Team: Ernst & Young, ForeQuast and potentially Oxford, FAO
- Food production: Quantum computing-based optimisation solution to produce more nutritious food locally in less land, taking into account key components in food and environmental parameters (SDG 2)
Team: EPFL, National Institute for Theoretical and Computational Sciences (NITheCS), The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
- Antimicrobial resistance: Quantum computing solution to improve current AI models and predict quicker and more accurately patterns of resistance and identifying new chemical compounds with low resistance on more targeted bacteria. (SDG 3)
Team: University of Copenhagen, Alphanosos, GARD-P
- Medical imaging: Quantum machine learning solution to improve accuracy of imaging and early diagnosis of diseases (SDG 3)
Team: Raman Research Institute (RRI), CERN, Cleveland Clinic
- Renewable resources: Quantum computing simulation to design new catalyst to break down lignin in order to turn waste products into fuel alternatives (SDG7)
Team: Microsoft, ETH Zurich, UN Habitat
- Carbon reduction: Quantum Computing simulation to improve catalysis process responsible for the fixation of carbon on the surface of materials, and thus reducing CO2 in the atmosphere (SDG13)
Team: ETH Zurich, EPFL, UNFCCC
- Biodiversity: Quantum computing simulation to predict the impact of climate change on biodiversity, improve current models and processing more complex biological and environmental data (also relevant for SDG 14 and SDG 15)
Team: University of Sherbrooke
Other topics currently in discussion include: tackling antibiotics in wastewater, eco-friendly fertiliser production, optimisation of vaccine distribution, genomics, novel batteries, photocatalysis, and agri-tech.|
2. Pool of quantum computers
OQI will provide access to a broad pool of quantum computers, representative of all geographies and technical modalities (superconducting, trapped ions, photonic, neutral atoms, annealing so far). It is essential that this capacity is state-of-the-art and it should be accompanied by other mechanisms (simulators, strict selection process, onboarding and mentoring etc.) to ensure effective use of the resources granted by the partners.
During the incubation, the adequacy of the initial pool of computers was re-assessed. The assessment confirmed the need to include simulators and emulators in the pool and new partners were approached for this purpose. The commitment of these partners is being confirmed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) where they confirm how much resources they are willing to grant to OQI, and other above-mentioned modalities of support they can provide.
List of partners involved in the OQI:
Alpine Quantum Technologies (AQT)
IQM Quantum Computers
Oxford Quantum Circuits (OQC)
3. User empowerment for educational capacity
OQI has two priority target groups for its educational offering: 1) researchers, developers and entrepreneurs of quantum underserved geographies and 2) diplomats.
For the first group, OQI aims to equip researchers, developers and entrepreneurs of quantum under-served geographies with the capacity to first submit ideas of use cases leveraging quantum computing for the challenges that concern them. In a second step, the OQI educational offering should provide efficient training to enable them to participate in the teams addressing the use cases. This way, OQI should become a source of best practices on how to involve players from quantum underserved regions.
The offering to diplomats is aimed at providing solid understanding of the state of quantum computing, its impact on economies and populations and its geopolitical ramifications. These are conditions to enable informed policy making at a multilateral level.
During the incubation, the first group was addressed by a partnership with New York University Abu Dhabi for a “quantum for social good”. GESDA’s role in the partnership was centered in anchoring the 2023 edition into the SDG framework by involving its UN and OQI science diplomacy community. GESDA also supported participants from its target geographies to attend. In total 14 teams of 8 to 10 members were formed, each mixing students of world leading quantum academic institutions and of quantum underserved geographies.
For the diplomats, the incubation enabled the completion of a beta version of an online role play anticipating the geopolitics of quantum technologies. Resource constraints limited the development of the game to its introduction but feedback on the tool was positive. The next phase of the development involves simulation of scenarios.
4. Multilateral governance of quantum for SDGs
Diplomatic engagement is necessary to ensure the future multilateral governance enables quantum computing to be leveraged for the SDGs. During the incubation, OQI held a series of meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries to raise awareness and inform on quantum computing itself and the state-of-the-play of the multilateral governance relevant for quantum computing.
Themes addressed with diplomatic and multilateral stakeholders included clarity on SDG potentials, digital divide, security and dual-use, standardisation initiatives, environmental impact, human agency for example. This work led to the publication of an Intelligence Report launched at the GESDA Summit 2023.
At the time of the publication of this report, OQI was the only forum where countries, with or without quantum capacity, have an equal voice on how the technology could be governed in the future.
The discussions confirmed the importance to reflect on the potential impact of these technologies before they are built or as soon as possible during their development (for example by understanding where is the potential dual use, and/or including core principles by design e.g., human rights). For a lot of the themes addressed, enforcing regulation is premature in the current stage of the technology but anticipation is necessary for human agency to be fostered.
During the incubation, OQI also continued to bridge the foreign affairs approaches with those of industry, research and innovation ministries, as well as those focused on SDG/ development aid. In the future, the themes could be addressed with formal diplomatic processes as a result of the discussions informally started within the OQI.
5. Strong OQI governance
The objective of the incubation was to set up a governance framework of the OQI that allows the initiative to gain the necessary speed, critical mass and institutional stability to make an impact, while ensuring that its values (inclusivity, global scope, focus on humanity benefiting aims) are respected. OQI governance must also guarantee its independence from specific national or corporate agenda. In particular, the OQI as a novel science diplomacy instrument must have:
- the legitimacy to manage common goods internationally
- the capacity to engage in public-private partnerships
- mechanisms to ensure the active participation of the countries with less quantum capabilities
- the structure to ensure the effectiveness of implementation (time to delivery, global network and programmes, governance and oversight processes etc.)
Based on the above criteria, an evaluation of three alternative scenarios was conducted during the incubation. The most suitable was considered to be the sister/daughter affiliated organisation of an existing UN organisation that has relevant competence. Implementation partners were consequently approached to test their interest in hosting the OQI. At the time of release of this incubation report, GESDA is about to finalise discussions with the prospective implementation partner.
Based on first responses, hypotheses for the governance bodies of the OQI were defined and prospective members contacted to pre-confirm their willingness to engage in such bodies.
Finally, the incubation also clarified key organisational procedures and workflows, to be reconfirmed by the implementation partner in due course (e.g. selection criteria; open criteria; mechanisms to grant resources in particular).
6. OQI financial sustainability
During the incubation phase, GESDA has approached a variety of prospective funding partners from philanthropy, industry and finance. At the time of release of this incubation report, GESDA is about to finalise the negotiations with a prospective funding partner to secure the resources needed to finance the incubation (2023) and pilot implementation phase of OQI (2024-2025-2026). This funding will enable an independent progressive ramp-up during the pilot phase.
7. Supportive stakeholder engagement
From October 2022 to October 2023, the OQI engaged over 130 experts in the 5 continents to pilot OQI's future offerings and to build a best-in class governance and a science and technology knowledge hub.
During the incubation, the OQI followed an engagement strategy which clustered external stakeholders by their level of participation (informative, consultative or collaborative) to guide their contribution towards the four objectives, as follows:
- UN Organisations and NGOs, quantum algorithmic scientists and classical computer scientists from academia and industry, as well as domain experts and engineers were among the most actively engaged stakeholders as they co-created outlines for potential quantum computing use cases (collaborative participation through multi-stakeholder teams to develop SDG use cases of quantum computing)
- Tech providers, private companies, entrepreneurs, and philanthropy were included in decision making and planning process of the OQI pilot. With the information, opinions, and ideas they provide, they had an impact on the shape and content of the OQI initiative (consultative participation to make quantum hardware available through the cloud).
- Leading quantum education providers were engaged in partnership exploration to further develop the offering and geographical outreach of OQI.
- Nation state representatives examined questions such as technology access, relevant applications for the SDGs, standardisation initiatives, security and oversight considerations through inputs of experts from industry or relevant international organizations. (WIPO, ISO).
Next steps and perspectives for GESDA
The incubation demonstrated the feasibility of the implementation plan. All of the milestones initially set were either reached or recalibrated for operational reasons, with no significant consequences on the objectives assigned for 2026. Constructive feedback from users has been gathered to enhance the initiative’s chances of success. The incubation saw increased support of the quantum community for the initiative which confirmed the uniqueness of its value proposition.
OQI is already globally relevant, and the partnerships reaffirmed in action during the incubation will give it even more critical mass to gain the impact it was designed to achieve. Key to the value proposition are the synergies between the OQI 3 pillars: inclusive access to use the technology, focus on the applications conducive to the SDG, and global diplomacy as enabling condition.
The incubation conducted in 2023 provides a strong basis for the next phase of the implementation of OQI: the gradual handover to a partner for a pilot implementation phase of 3 years (2024-2025-2026). During this phase GESDA will remain involved to guarantee the continuity of the project as co-chair of the future OQI Advisory Committee. It will also play a coordination role with the funding partner of OQI. Finally, GESDA will contribute to the diplomatic workstream as part of its anticipatory science diplomacy roadmap.
As GESDA’s pipeline of solution ideas expands, the incubation approach will be refined to include lessons learnt from this first incubation.