Monthly archives: October 2017

  • One place that social epistemologists tracking contemporary manifestations of the ‘two cultures’ problem can still find rich material is the encounter between the biological scientists and the ‘security community’.  And one of the most recent sites for this encounter is the security implications of genome editing.  This was the subject of an international workshop last week organised by the Inter Academy Partnership, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, the German National Academy for Sciences (Leopoldina), and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and hosted by the Volkswagen Foundation.

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  • The recently published Lancet Commission on stem cells and regenerative medicine is a very welcome and timely contribution to an important public debate on the extraordinary promise and, at the same time, real moral dangers in the clinical use of new biotechnologies.

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  • There have been some interesting developments around the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence (AI) in recent days. First we read that Google’s DeepMind has set up an Ethics and Society research unit, with the rationale that “AI can be of extraordinary benefit to the world, but only if held to the highest ethical standards. Technology is not value neutral, and technologists must take responsibility for the ethical and social impact of their work. …. We are committed to deep research into ethical and social questions, the inclusion of many voices, and ongoing critical reflection.” The unit has a number of Fellows (‘independent advisors’), including Oxford’s Nick Bostrom, to “help provide oversight, critical feedback and guidance for our research strategy and work program”.

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  • Last month I spoke at the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) annual conference in Jerusalem about genome editing, bioethics and human rights. My invitation came via the Bioethics Committee of the Council of Europe, of which I was a member until the end of 2016, although my talk offered a personal perspective and not that of the Committee.  The Council of Europe is the body responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and (among other things) the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine; formed in 1947 and therefore predating the communities that became the European Union, the Council of Europe has 47 members (whereas the EU has 28 – all too soon to be 27), encompassing states from Ireland and Portugal in the west and Iceland in the north to Russia and Azerbaijan in the East and Cyprus in the south.  My contribution was part of a ‘science and society’ session at the conference.  In an otherwise rather technical event, the session was well attended and – judging from the discussion – the audience was very thoughtfully engaged with the issues.  The following picks out some of the points from my presentation and was previously posted to the FEBS Network.

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