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Image: Académie des Sciences
In preparation for the 45th G7 Summit, to be held in Biarritz from 24 to 26 August 2019, the science academies of the member countries have submitted three joint statements to their respective governments to alert them to what they see as the most pressing current scientific issues: „Science and trust“, „Artificial intelligence and society“, and „Citizen science in the Internet age“.
This year, the French Académie des Sciences proposes to focus on three themes with strong implications for society: Science and trust, Artificial intelligence and society, and Citizen science in the age of the Internet.
Science and trust
In an era marked by technological development and a growing need for innovation, society needs to be able to have complete trust in science – especially in a context in which the public is exposed to questionable sources of information. Cultivating a dialogue of trust between the public, politicians and the scientific arena is vital if science is to fulfil its role of advising, warning and guiding both individual choices and political decisions when it comes to subjects with considerable scientific content. In this respect, the academies recommend promoting science teaching from a very early age so as to give pupils a critical approach and the ability to reason, carry out scientific experiments and understand both the benefits of science and the world around them. The statement by the academies highlights the need for the scientific community to guarantee that fundamental principles in the areas of ethics, integrity and responsibility are applied in the practice of research.
Artificial intelligence and society
Progress in artificial intelligence (AI) has already produced remarkable results, including voice recognition, image classification, autonomous vehicles and decision support systems, which have benefited our societies in many fields. This rapid development indicates that AI is a technology with the potential to engender fundamental changes in our daily lives. The seven academies highlight the potential economic advantages of AI, and note in this respect the need to manage it wisely and to prepare for the changes it is set to bring about, especially in the area of employment, to make sure that its benefits can be enjoyed by society as a whole. They stress that AI systems and data must be reliable, safe and secure. Personal data must not be made available to third parties without permission. A series of measures are needed to develop explainable AI systems, to familiarize younger generations with AI, and to design and develop interdisciplinary research that will maximise the benefits of AI for society. The academies also recommend a public policy debate on the application of AI to lethal autonomous weapons, which they suggest could be examined by the relevant UN bodies.
Citizen science in the Internet age
Citizen science refers to research carried out by citizens who are not professional scientists. There are two main components to this notion: participatory research, and science outside traditional settings. The former involves people with no advanced scientific training taking part, as amateurs, in research projects, especially those requiring field data collection. The latter involves people with a solid scientific background, who conduct their work outside professional research settings. The emergence of new communication technologies and the democratisation of knowledge have given considerable momentum to citizen science. The seven academies encourage these two types of research, which they consider should be supported by specific funding. They recommend promoting the joint development of citizen science and laboratory research and emphasize the need to validate the results obtained and to make sure that the essential criteria of honesty, reliability and ethics are systematically applied. They stress that a significant effort is required in terms of education and training so as to encourage younger generations to be involved in scientific activities, whether in a professional or citizen framework, in the best possible conditions. They call for the introduction of measures to ensure that citizen science does not deviate from regulations in the areas of ethics and safety.