Using science of the future: Join the conversation

06 July 2022

Dear colleagues and students

We are facing global challenges which place people and the planet under stress and uncertainty. Locally, the Durban floods of April, water crisis in Gqeberha and loadshedding are some examples of challenges putting own nation under immense strain. At the same time, breakthroughs in science and technology are happening at an extraordinary pace: just last month South African-born entrepreneur and businessman Elon Musk announced he would be unveiling Tesla’s artificial intelligence (AI) humanoid in September 2022. Yet I have found that the impact of these scientific breakthroughs are not always evident.

To bridge our understanding of how science might shape our future, how we can use these predicted futures to shape the present, and how to ensure that decisions and discussions include voices of the African youth, the Geneva Science Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA), of which I am a board member, has invited me to host a series of virtual engagements with thought leaders from the continent and elsewhere, on “Using the science of the future to shape your present”.

GESDA is a Geneva-based ‘think and do tank’; its mission is to anticipate, accelerate and translate into concrete actions the use of emerging science-driven topics. Using, among other tools, the GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar®, they aim to anticipate scientific breakthroughs, and to ensure that we use the predicted advances to improve well-being and promote inclusive development.

It is critical to get our youth engaging on such issues; it is a matter of intergenerational justice. Because they will inherit the future, they must be involved in shaping how science should be used to affect it.

The voices of Africa's youth must be included because they can work to mitigate emerging and longstanding inequalities. We need diverse voices and ideas to ensure we get the best thinking from every part of our society and corner of the world. We need their fresh perspectives in these dialogues and debates.

This was recognised by GESDA and led to the creation of the Youth Anticipation Initiative, which I will lead through these conversations. It is also part of my vision for the University of Cape Town (UCT) to ensure that we are a future-orientated university that creates leaders who tackle social injustices.

The sessions will be livestreamed on social media over four Sundays in July. Each session will address the four areas of the GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar®, and will take place as follows:

  1. Sunday 10 July, 16:00–17:00 SAST: Quantum Revolution & Advanced AI
  2. Sunday 17 July, 16:00–17:00 SAST: Human Augmentation
  3. Sunday 24 July, 16:00–17:00 SAST: Eco-regeneration & Geoengineering
  4. Sunday 31 July, 16:00–17:00 SAST: Science & Diplomacy

I invite all UCT students and young researchers to join me online on Facebook and Twitter for what will be critical and thought-provoking conversations on how we can shape a better future for all of us.

Further details, such as speakers for each of the sessions, will be announced weekly via the university’s communication channels and social media platforms.

Competition and prize

As part of these sessions, and to enhance the sharing of knowledge, we will be running a competition. During the sessions we will announce a challenge that invites participants to submit ideas about how you can use the future to shape our present, based on any of the topics we cover in the sessions. You will be asked to submit your ideas in early August. For details on the length of the submission, due date and where to submit, make sure not to miss the sessions.

The prize is an all-expenses paid trip to attend the GESDA Summit 2022, a global summit of thought leaders on these topics. The summit will take place in Geneva, Switzerland from 12–14 October 2022. The Summit will bring together academics, politicians, diplomats, executives, and investors from around the world to participate in a series of plenary and parallel sessions of rich and engaged discussions.

I look forward to seeing many of you online from this Sunday. As Pema Chödrön said “The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment”. Let us seize this moment.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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