Research

Lord Rees looks ahead to 2050 global challenges in IPR Public Lecture

Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society, Lord Martin Rees, will use tonight’s sell-out Institute for Policy Research (IPR) Public Lecture to set out a vision on why the worlds of science and public policy must better integrate when it comes to tackling future global challenges.

Two weeks after Lord John Kerr, author of Article 50, delivered the last IPR Public Lecture focused on the immediate policy concerns posed by Brexit, Lord Rees will cast further ahead to the opportunities and threats that lie on the horizon in 2050 and beyond.

In his lecture he will explore how rapidly advancing technologies, notably in AI, geo-engineering and biotech, bring with them great hopes but also great fears and specific threats ‘more diverse and intractable’ than ever before.

Writing today in the Times Higher Education, ahead of his lecture in Bath, Lord Rees explains: ‘Advances in technology, hugely beneficial though they are, render us vulnerable in new ways.

‘Our interconnected world depends on elaborate networks, from power transmission and international finance to air traffic control and just-in-time delivery. Unless these are highly resilient, their manifest benefits could be outweighed by catastrophic (albeit rare) breakdowns cascading through the system.’

Separating fact from science fiction

To mitigate some of the risks, Lord Rees will urge for a greater focus on embedding science within public policy. As founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risks at the University of Cambridge, he will call for a renewed collaboration between policy professionals and scientists to establish and assess the probability and credibility of the risks we face.

Drawing on the example from the States of the JASON group, founded in the 1960s with support from the Pentagon to advise government on science related to national security, Lord Rees writes: ‘The challenge is to assemble a group of really top-ranked scientists who enjoy cross-disciplinary discourse.’

For their ‘convening power’ and highly international make-up, universities are the ideal place for such thinking to take place, he suggests.

He concludes in today’s THE article: ‘Even if we reduced these risks by only a tiny percentage, the stakes are so high that we’ll have earned our keep. A wise mantra is that the unfamiliar is not the same as the improbable.’

Lord Rees is a cosmologist and space scientist. His research interests include galaxy formation, active galactic nuclei, black holes, gamma-ray bursts, as well as more speculative aspects of cosmology. He is based in Cambridge where he has been Director of the Institute of Astronomy, a Research Professor, and Master of Trinity College.

He was appointed to the House of Lords in 2005 and served as President of the Royal Society from 2005-10.

Tonight’s lecture will be recorded and available to watch after the event via the IPR website. To follow discussions online see @uniofbathipr .

** Tonight’s lecture is a sell-out ticket only event, but will be recorded and available to watch as an online lecture podcast shortly after the event via the IPR website. **

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