You may recall that in our December issue we discussed the difficulties that scientists – be they from the natural or social sciences – all too often have in engaging with policy makers. At the same time, scientific findings can have methodological weaknesses that are particularly evident in the onset of crises. One example from social science and its impacts on policy makers’ perspectives concerns the gathering and use of data.
In a world in which the types, dimensions and dynamics of crisis threats are most likely to increase in complexity and impact, it is more than probable that a critical challenge will be compiling data that will be situationally sensitive to prepare for and respond to them.
Data matters, and yet, as noted in a recent OECD event that explored the integrity of scientific findings, ‘What gets counted, counts!’ In other words, even with the seeming objectivity of the sciences and very much including the social sciences, the possibility that swathes of potentially vulnerable or affected peoples are not included or fall out of essential analyses had become increasingly evident. This was certainly the case when it came to the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, there are solutions emerging to address these weaknesses, many linked to Artificial Intelligence. We would like to point to one that has considerable potential, namely, Cyber-Physical Infrastructure (CPI), developed by the Robotics Growth Partnership.
Now, the CPI was not developed to produce sensitive and inclusive data. Rather, it was developed to find new solutions for solving problems in sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and logistics. Its relevance for those concerned with data sensitivity and inclusivity, however, begins with its flexible, interactive processes that brings together virtual and physical infrastructures on an ongoing basis for dealing with complex problems.
The CPI is based upon networked interactions between AI and humans on an-ongoing basis. It is not locked into any particular system or framework, but grows spontaneously and organically rather than being the result of a fixed, time-bound plan. No single sectoral specialist determines the nature and objectives of ‘the product’, but rather researchers, private sector engineers and society, more generally, take the lead in on-going networks.
Blending the virtual and the physical enables design and experiment quickly and safely in the virtual world before operating in the real world. It enables richer visualisation and understanding during operations leading to better maintenance, fewer failures, less down time and less risk.
The components in this new infrastructure are the robotics and smart machines increasingly all around us; synthetic environments and digital twins for design, monitoring and training; artificial intelligence to understand sensor data and make safe action decisions; semantic maps to visualise and navigate complex systems; communication networks such as 5G to federate all at speed with high bandwidth and local connectivity; and living labs as the safe test zones to pivot from applied research to new product and services.
We believe that the CPI’s construct and operations would be of considerable relevance to scientific communities which in so many ways are essential for determining the data and evidence that the humanitarian community should and will have to reply upon. For that reason we are providing a copy of the Cyber-Physical Infrastructure: Empowering innovation, people, robots and smart machines to enhance prosperity, resilience, sustainability and security.
Before closing, the HF Team wants to say that it is impossible to ignore the horrific events and tragedies occurring now in the Ukraine, and the challenges that they pose for concerned humanitarians – those in and out of the conventional humanitarian sector. The complexities and potential consequences that may ensue will in so many ways transform the global system. That said, let’s hope that the UN Secretary-General’s implementation of the first stage of the UN’s Our Common Agenda in February will bring a new and more positive understanding of the world in which we live.
As the Secretary-General duly noted:
We are at an inflection point in history. Humanity faces a stark and urgent choice: breakdown or breakthrough. The choices we make — or fail to make — today could result in further breakdown and a future of perpetual crises, or a breakthrough to a better, more sustainable, peaceful future for our people and planet.
In so many ways, that choice is all of ours.