Technology as Discussed at Ditchley: An Analysis
A key aspect of all technology conferences is the recognition that technology can bring many benefits, which we want to harness but that this must be balanced with the mitigation of the negative effects that technological advances can have. The need for education and re-education as well as international co-operation is a recurring theme.
Since the 1960s, vast strides have been made in this field with the potential to drastically transform societies. DNA profiling was invented and developed, gaining a prominent role in police work, the first genetically altered organism – a tomato - was approved for sale in the US and many more followed, with more alterations being made to different organisms, the first clone of a mammal was produced, the human genome was sequenced and CRISPR, a method of editing genes, was developed. Ditchley held its first conference on genetic science in 1995 titled ‘Advances in genetic science: issues for public policy’ and the 2000s and 2010s both saw one conference in which genetic engineering is the major topic of discussion, though it is referenced in other conferences relating to technology as well.
The conference held in the wake of the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, ‘Biogenetics: The Impact of Advances on Politics and Society (2004)’, discussed the ethical, medical and economic questions raised by our increasing ability to modify plant and animal life. It was recognised that such advances question the very role and nature of human existence – should we alter the very nature of the human species? The possible consequences may be severe, creating inequalities between those who can afford to alter the genes of their children and those who cannot as well as between generations. The concern about inequalities emerging is also raised in the conference ‘The intersection of machine learning and genetic engineering: what should be our check list for society and state as we blast off? (2019)’. Further concerns include the consequences of storing people’s genetic information and the questions this raises about privacy as well as insurance. If it is known that someone possesses genes predisposing them to certain conditions, this could create a class of ‘uninsurables’. Similarly, there is a worry of what governments would be able to do with the knowledge of individuals’ DNA sequences, such as their predispositions for certain behaviour.
Key takeaways from these conferences include that advances in science should be allowed to continue as a general rule, unless there are strong grounds that harm would occur from such research. The potential for good is also widely recognised, with recommendations being made to focus research on the areas where the public want advance, such as in the field of oncology. The thought is raised that the cost of inaction may be significant, not just the cost of action.
There have been many advances in space exploration since the 1960s, encouraged in the beginning by the space race between the USA and Russia to achieve superior spaceflight capability. The first stage of space exploration involved putting satellites into orbit and exploring their uses in communications, weather observation, monitoring military information and surveying. The next stage involved crewed space flight, first achieved by Vostok 1 in 1961. The third stage was the lunar programs, at first focussed on approaching the moon and surveying its surface, then landing on the moon spacecraft and finally manned spacecraft on the moon, with the Apollo moon landing occurring in 1969. The fourth stage of space exploration looks beyond the earth and moon to planetary exploration. The Space Shuttle of 1981 and the Hubble Telescope of 1990 were part of this stage. More recently, the first landing on the far side of the moon was achieved as well as the first photograph of a black hole, both in 2015.
Ditchley held a conference on space exploration in 1988, focussing on the financial questions, such as what prudent investments in future technologies are, the possibility of commercial space exploration and generally who should pay for such programs. It held the conference ‘The Future of the Aerospace Industry (2006)’ but this was more focussed on air travel than space. It seems space exploration drifted from being a pressing and engaging issue since the 1990s. It has, however, recently returned to the agenda, with a conference on the topic being held in 2020.
The harnessing of nuclear energy was the major power innovation of recent history, though most key advances in this field came before the founding of Ditchley in the 1960s. The prominence of the use of nuclear power grew in the 1960s and 70s, for example, with France launching a huge nuclear power program in response to the oil crisis, wanting its energy supply to be less dependent on the oil production of other nations. However, the industry suffered decline and stagnation since the late 1970s to the early 2000s. Part of this may be attributed to the Chernobyl disaster, revealing the dangers and risks associated with nuclear power plants. There has been somewhat of a revival, with the recognition that electricity demand worldwide is projected to increase rapidly, and emerging economies grow, the uptake of nuclear power in Asia, the recognition of the importance of energy security and the need do decrease reliance on oil producing nations for energy and finally the increasingly prominent threat of climate change requiring nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, which nuclear power would help to ensure.
Ditchley held conferences on nuclear power in 1980, 1999 and 2016. ‘Nuclear energy: safety, development and alternative strategies (1980)’ addressed concerns of the safety of nuclear power, as did ‘The management and repercussions of nuclear power (1999)’. The conference ‘Nuclear energy: the future or the past? (2016)’ however, focussed on the future prospects of nuclear power, recognising that climate change, rising energy demands and the desire for less dependence provides conditions favourable to an increase in nuclear power production. However, members of the conference, while optimistic about the future prospects of the industry, recognised the many challenges facing it. Concerns about safety in the light of Chernobyl and Fukushima mean that the political climate regarding nuclear energy is uncertain. This poses problems in attaining the capital needed to expand nuclear energy production, as investors worry about its viability without active government support. Most of the momentum lies with renewable energy and this is what many Western governments actively support.
The other historical trend in the theme of energy has been the movement away from fossil fuels as sources of energy, due to their contribution to climate change. The first solar power station opened in France in 1967 and the first windfarm opened in the US in 1980. Ditchley held the conference ‘The future of hydrocarbons as a global energy source’ (2011) exploring how to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, recognising that usage would not fall because of a lack of availability, so regulation is needed.
Shale oil and gas exploration and energy production from these sources began to grow rapidly, especially in North America, since 2011. Ditchley held a conference on this subject in 2014 titled ‘The shale energy revolution and geopolitics’, exploring the consequences of the growth in exploration and energy production from shale oil and gas. There is a recognition that this development is in its early stages, with some expected benefits, such as decreased emissions from power generation as use of fossil fuels falls and the downward pressure on gas prices as availability increases, which could be beneficial for international peace, relieving tensions over oil sources.
The digital revolution refers to the shift from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital technology. It is characterised by the development of computers, microprocessors, digital phones and the internet. The origins of this revolution began after the end of the second world war, with the rise of personal computer coming in the 1970s and 80s, the internet emerging in the 1990s and smart phones and social media dominating technological advance since the mid 2000s. Today, the internet, smartphones, social media, search platforms and finance and trading platforms set the stage for further rapid innovation in machine learning, genetic engineering, empirical computation, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, robotics and fintech, amongst other technologies.
These technological advances have had profound effects on societies and discussion of the consequences of these digital advances has dominated Ditchley technology conferences since the 1990s. Artificial Intelligence and the Internet have been key technologies discussed, with concerns about the security and privacy implications of digital technologies dominating these discussions.
- The Internet and Security
Many Ditchley conferences centred on the idea that one of the risks emerging with the continued use of the internet is that, while the interconnectedness it produced was a strength, it exposed the world to weaknesses in the form of cyber-attacks. The conference ‘Cyber Security; finding international responses’ (2011) discussed how, to enjoy the benefits of the internet while mitigating the risks, cyber security must be developed. The earliest conference on cyber security at Ditchley was held in 1996 and it has been one of the most common topics across not only conferences on digital technology, but in the whole theme of technology. The conference ‘The future of policing in the digital age’ (2018) for example, discussed the serious challenges to policing that technology, and the globalisation is has caused, has enabled. The increasingly cross-border nature of crime, the proliferation of data and cyber threats from amateurs as well as state actors are examples of these challenges and law enforcement is struggling to cope with them. The conference ‘How do we make the Internet safer, without destroying its vitality?’ (2018) recognised that cybercrime is eclipsing all other forms of crime in terms of economic value and that cyber warfare and digital age information warfare are becoming central to state power. Cybercrime was a key talking point in the e-Commerce conference in 2000 and the need to build cyber deterrence was still a key subject in 2020 in a conference on technology, society and the state.
This persistence of this topic in Ditchley conferences reflects the persistence of the issue of cybercrime. Notable mentions include how, in 1988, the Morris Worm, the first recognised worm to affect the world’s cyber infrastructure, spread through computers largely in the US, replicating itself and slowing approximately 6,000 computers down to the point where they are unusable. In 2002, by targeting the thirteen existing domain name system root servers, a DDoS attack assaulted the internet for 1 hour. Most users were unaffected, but it could have shut down the whole internet if it had gone on for longer. In 2012 a Russian firm discovered a worldwide cyber-attack dubbed ‘Red October’ operating since at least 2007. The virus collected information from government embassies, research firms, military installations, energy providers, etc. More recently, in 2018, 340 million records of personal information about individuals were leaked by Exactis, a marketing firm in Florida.
Some recommendations and key takeaways from conferences of this topic include that a general digital literacy in the police must be improved, international networks to enable data sharing between law enforcement agencies is needed and there should be openness to private sector innovations to maintain current technology. There also needs to be a correct balance between a right to identity and a right to anonymity on the internet, since some traceability is required to counter crime, but privacy is also a consideration. It should be recognised that security concerns involve not only the dark web but also the ability to amplify the digital voices of certain individuals on social media through botnets. While a multinational and unified response is desirable, trying to agree on a grand global strategy may be the enemy of progress. Security is likely to be more improved by making incremental steps in a wide range of areas.
- The Internet and Privacy
Closely linked to security is the concern over privacy, as leaks of private information such as that of Exactis in 2018 show. This tied to big data innovations. The conference ‘Managing the digital revolution: can governments keep up?’ (2014) considers how authoritarian governments can use big data to control and oppress its citizens, as well as the questions about the data democratic governments should and should not be allowed know, use and hold. The issue of privacy is also raised in the conference ‘The digital economy: power and accountability in the private sector’ (2015), where a key idea was a call for a new social contract between companies, governments and citizens to define what are acceptable practices regarding data. Informed consent and greater control for consumers over their own data is part of the answer. Both ‘The long-term impact of the Internet’ (2007) and ‘Technology, society and the state: how can we remain competitive, and true to our values, as the technological revolution unfolds and accelerates?’ (2020) as well as others recognise the importance of education in building citizens’ capacities for modern living by ensuring people adapt to new technologies.
- The Global Internet
One of the implications of threats to cyber security and privacy is that they increase the likelihood of the global internet fracturing (sometimes referred to as ‘internet balkanisation’) along commercial and geographic boundaries. This would reduce connectivity, which is one of the benefits of the internet that we should wish to maintain. Governments are increasingly asserting their sovereignty, wanting to impose their laws on the digital realm and some big IT companies are building their own digital territories. China is a prominent example, using a firewall to prevent its citizens from accessing certain websites and online services, however, it is not alone in its censorship. In the second half of 2009, for example, the Brazilian government sent nearly 300 content removal requests to Google, while the German government sent almost 200. The conference ‘Will we still have a single global internet in 2025?’ (2016) mentions how initiatives like the German data sovereignty law may also end up fracturing the Internet in the intended defence of privacy.
Conferences mentioning this issue, such as ‘The digital economy: power and accountability in the private sector’ (2015), express the idea that tackling security and privacy concerns is key to preventing the internet from fracturing. Better arrangements between the law enforcements of different countries in tackling cross-border cybercrime could reduce the calls for data repatriation and sovereignty
- Artificial Intelligence
AI is the other key technology that commands discussions on technology. Automated driving, natural language processing and quantum computing are key current areas in which AI is furthering rapid advances. The key conference on this topic was ‘Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: how do we make sure technology serves the open society?’ (2017), the same year The AlphaGo artificial intelligence (AI) program became the best Go player in the world, beating the best human player and later, through machine learning, being able to beat that previous version of itself. It discussed the deep uncertainty about the effects of AI in the future even though there was agreement that AI will be one of the major factors shaping the future of humanity and human societies. Key ideas included how AI may become a defining capability of state power, giving rise to AI nationalism. The focus on privacy and regulation could hinder technological advancement as it limits the data available to innovators, so where the trade-off between advancement and privacy lies is important. AI nationalism may be avoided if an internationalist model of open data is pursued and this could also accelerate development, but at a further cost to privacy. The conference ‘The intersection of machine learning and genetic engineering: what should be our check list for society and state as we blast off?’ (2019), echoing many conferences in the call for regulation at the multinational level as well as referring to the privacy versus advancement issue.
- Digital Technology and Modern Deterrence
AI is also leading weapons development, as was mentioned in the 2017 conference on AI. The conferences ‘Modern deterrence: what does the combination of nuclear, BCW, cyber and AI mean for the evolution of western deterrence against state and non-state actors?’ (2018) and ‘The future of strategic stability: how must modern deterrence evolve as landmark treaties expire and new weapons and technologies and doctrines are developed?’ (2019) discussed modern deterrence in the light of contemporary technological advances in detail.
These conferences occurred against a backdrop of new threats emerging from conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, cyber and information warfare, from both state and non-state actors. Information-gathering technologies, non-nuclear strike systems, drones, AI, dual-use weapons were mentioned. Russia and China were seen as key threats. The conferences discussed how the Cold War legacy of arms control treaties and conventions were insufficient against these new threats. There was some talk of a digital Geneva convention to set out the acceptable limits of AI warfare.
Innovation and Manufacturing
Conferences on in the general field of industrial production, manufacturing have made constant appearances throughout the decades, with two conferences being held on automation in the 1960s, one on industrial transformation in the 1980s, one on industrial production in the 1990s and one on manufacturing in 2016. ‘21st century manufacturing, the jobs, workers and technology for a new era’ (2016) discussed how manufacturing was changing in the context of the digital revolution, with AI, autonomous vehicles, advanced materials and blockchain transforming the work in this sector. It countered some misleading assumptions about manufacturing, such as it being an old industry when it is in fact at the technological frontier. It also drew attention to China no longer being a low wage manufacturing economy, given its policy of investing in AI and automation. A mismatch of skills in the sector is expected, with retraining needed to mitigate this.
Technological advance is often viewed as synonymous with innovation, given how technological advance is a major form of innovation in that it creates new methods and products that are usually in some way more productive. Its importance is due to the role it plays in the economic health of developed societies. The conferences ‘Putting science, government, business and innovation together’ (2012) and ‘Innovation: the driving force in business?’ (2008) discuss how innovation can be encouraged, with some ideas for what the favourable conditions for innovation are including valuing education, learning and independent thinking, encouraging risk-taking, tolerating failure, celebrating entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers as well as artists and championing diversity. Infrastructure, the tax and regulation climate, educational facilities, business motivation and a mood of welcoming globalisation and open exchange are necessary to promote such favourable conditions. The conference ‘Public Policy and Priorities for Science and Technology’ (2009) adds that flexible funding, incentive-producing tax structure, encouraging clusters, national laboratories permeable to universities and mission-oriented, not prescriptive government programmes also promote innovation.
Timeline of Advances in Technology:
1960: The first laser is created. They have societal and warfare applications e.g., targeting missiles.
1961: Vostok 1 achieves the first crewed spaceflight.
1962: The LED (Light Emitting Diode) is invented.
1963: Insulin Pumps, which make controlling glucose levels easier and eliminate the need for several insulin injections per day, are created.
The first geosynchronous communications satellite is launched.
Satellites are now used for TV, radio, telephones and the internet.
1964: IBM releases the first mass-produced computer operating system called OS/360. IBM at this point controls 70% of the computer market worldwide.
Kevlar, a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibre with many applications from bicycle tyres to bulletproof vests, is invented.
May 1965: Ditchley Event on automation and trade unions.
July 1965: Ditchley Event on automation.
1967: The world’s first solar power station opens in France. The first ATM is opened by Barclays.
November 1967: Ditchley Event on the economic effects of the technological revolution.
1969:The Apollo Moon Landing. Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the moon.
ARPANET is deployed by several US universities. It is an early precursor to the internet, allowing these universities to communicate and share computer resources.
1970: Corning Glass announces that it has created a glass fibre so clear it can communicate pulses of light.Transmitting sound and image data is to transform the communications industry. The pocket calculator is invented.
1971: The first commercial CT scanner is invented. They produce detailed cross-sectional images of the body. The first CT scan was used to investigate a suspected tumour.
The first email is sent. The first space station, Salyut 1, is launched.
NASDAQ, the world’s first digital stock exchange, is established.
1972: The first video game console called Magnavox Odyssey is released. Pong, one of the first commercial video game, is released and rapidly gains popularity.
The sale of colour TV sets surpassed the sale of black and white sets.
1974: The first bar-coded products arrive at stores in the US.Scanners use laser technology to read the codes.
The beginnings of a wave of personal computers becoming available to the public.
France launches a huge nuclear power program in response to the oil crisis.
1975: Bill Gates and Paul Ellen establish Microsoft to write computer software. Their first software contributes to the production of the personal computer Altair 8800.
1976: Cray Research introduced the first supercomputer, which can perform operations at the rate of 240 million calculations per second.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak found Apple and design the Apple I computer.
November 1976: Ditchley Event on regulating technological advance in public health.
1977: Apple II is showcased, offering colour graphics.
January 1977: Ditchley Event on TV.
March 1977: Ditchley Event on regulating technological advance in feeding the world.
June 1977: Ditchley Event on regulating technological advance in energy production.
1978: James Mitchell demonstrated perhaps the earliest monochromatic flat panel LED television display.
June 1979: Ditchley Event on microelectronics.
1980: There are 1 million computers in use worldwide.
The Sony Walkman, a portable cassette player allowing users to listen to music on the move, is invented.
The first windfarm opens.
11 July 1980: Ditchley Event on biology.
November 1980: Ditchley Event on nuclear energy.
1981: NASA successfully launches and lands the Space Shuttle, its first reusable aircraft. It can launch, retrieve and repair satellites and acts as a laboratory.
The first IBM personal computer is introduced.
1982: TIME Magazine nominates the personal computer as ‘machine of the year’, the first non-human ever nominated.
The first artificial heart is implanted and keeps the recipient alive for 112 days.
ABBA become the first artists to have an album produced on a CD.
Israel uses unmanned aircraft (drones) to gain victory over the Syrian Air Force with minimal losses.
February 1982: Ditchley Event on telecommunications technology.
1984: The first commercially available mobile phone, the DynaTAC 8000X, is launched, costing $4000 and with a battery life of 30 minutes.
A DNA profiling process is first developed.
1985: The first genetically altered organism is approved for sale in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System is launched.
April 1986: Ditchley Event on planning and resource allocation in science and technology.
September 1986: Ditchley Event on the future of NATO in the light of technological advances.
January 1987: Ditchley Event on reconciling freedom of information with protection of the public interest.
November 1987: Ditchley Event on high technology, industrial transformation and economic interdependence.
1988: The Morris Worm, the first recognised worms to affect the world’s cyber infrastructure, spreads through computer largely in the US, replicating itself and slowing computers down to the point where they are unusable.
March 1988: Ditchley Event on space exploration
1989: The number of fax machines in use worldwide doubles to 2.5 million.
100 million computers are in use worldwide
July 1989: Ditchley Event developments in science.
1990: Tim Berners-Lee invents hypertext, the principal idea that leads to the invention of the World Wide Web.
The Hubble Telescope is deployed. It is key to furthering our understanding of space.
May 1990: Ditchley Event technological advances.
1992: Commercial dial-up internet becomes available to the public.
The first text message is sent.
1993: A patient receives the first bionic limb. A cap containing micro-sensors detecting brain impulses sent to the missing limb is worn to control it.
19-21 November 1993: Ditchley Event on public service broadcasting
1994: IBM develops the first smartphone.
The first generation of Bluetooth is developed, a form of data communication between devices over short distances.
The PlayStation is launched.
1995: DVD is invented, allowing higher storage capacity in a compact form.
Amazon and eBay are launched. 38 million households in the US have at least one personal computer.
7-9 April 1995: Ditchley Event on genetic science.
1996: Dolly the Sheep is cloned. It is the first clone of a mammal.
According to a paper published in the IBM Systems Journal, digital storage becomes more cost effective for storing data than paper.
26-28 April 1996: Ditchley Event on cyber security.
1997: Wi-Fi becomes publicly available.
IBM’s AI ‘Deep Blue’ defeats Gary Kasparov in chess.
The US tests its first anti-satellite laser.
1998: UK transition date to digital terrestrial services, all land-based TV broadcasting stations had to convert from analog to digital by this date. Digital broadcasting meant extra frequencies on the radio spectrum, better quality viewing and lower broadcasting costs. Paypal is launched.
29-31 May 1998: Ditchley Event on cyber security.
6-8 November 1998: Ditchley Event on governance in the information age.
3-5 December 1999: Ditchley Event on nuclear power.
2000: Broadband is introduced in the UK, providing much faster internet speed.
60% of US Households have a computer.
Predator drones are introduced in the US military.
1-3 December 2000: Ditchley Event on e-commerce.
2001: Apple releases the iPod, the most popular MP3 player in history.
Wikipedia is launched.
Xbox is launched.
The UK transition date from analog to digital satellite services.
2002: A high energy laser is used to shoot down artillery fire for the first time.
2003: The human genome is sequenced. The total cost of the project is $2.7 billion.
Skype is launched, allowing people around the world to connect via video.
7-9 November 2003: Ditchley Event on science and technology policy.
2004: Facebook is launched.
Google, the web browser, has more than 8 million web pages indexed on the web.
12-14 March 2004: Ditchley Event on biogenetics.
2005: YouTube, the first video sharing site, is launched.
Sale of digital cameras surpasses sale of film cameras.
2006: Twitter, the micro-blogging site, is launched.
iTunes downloads its billionth file.
10-12 March 2006: Ditchley Event on the aerospace industry.
2007: Apple releases the iPhone, a smartphone popularising the touchscreen.
Netflix begins offering online video streaming.
Estonian government networks were cyber attacked by unknown foreign intruders, following the country’s spat with Russia over a war memorial.
1-3 June 2007: Ditchley Event on the internet.
2008: Blockchain is invented.
16-18 May 2008: Ditchley Event on innovation.
12 July 2008: Ditchley Event on the future of science.
2009: Commercial introduction of 3D printers.
Facebook becomes the largest social networking site.
Bitcoin network comes into existence.
2010: Apple introduces the iPad, starting a revolution in tablet computing.
There are 4.7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in existence around the world.
2011: Twitter experiences 200 million tweets per day.
There are more than 600,000 iPhone/iPad apps and 400,000 Android apps available. More than 5.6 million iPhone apps are downloaded daily.
The number of Facebook users exceeds 800 million.
Shale oil and gas production begins to grow rapidly in North America.
29 September – 1 October 2011: Ditchley Event on cyber security.
21-23 October 2011: Ditchley Event on the future of hydrocarbons.
2012: CRISPR-Cas9, a method for editing genes, is developed.
Google begins test-driving driverless cars.
A Russian firm discovered a worldwide cyber-attack dubbed ‘Red October’ operating since at least 2007. The virus collected information from government embassies, research firms, military installations, energy providers, etc.
28-30 June 2012: Ditchley Event on science, government and business.
2014: A 3D printer is used for the first ever skull transplant.
20-22 March 2014: Ditchley Event on the digital revolution and governance.
22-24 May 2014: Ditchley Event on shale energy.
2015: Many major TV producers announce they will from now on only produce Smart TVs, TVs with integrated Internet and Wed 2.0 features, for middle and high-end TVs.
NASA displays the world’s first fully operational quantum computer.
The 1000 Genomes Project, where researchers aimed to sequence the genomes of a large number of people from different ethnic groups, was finished. It began in 2008.
10-12 December 2015: Ditchley Event on the digital economy.
2016: The virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, becomes available to consumers.
28-30 January 2016: Ditchley Event on nuclear energy
17-19 November 2016: Ditchley Event the global internet.
8-10 December 2016: Ditchley Event on 21st century manufacturing.
2017: The AlphaGo artificial intelligence (AI) program became the best Go player in the world, beating the best human player and later, through machine learning, being able to beat that previous version of itself.
16-18 March 2017: Ditchley Event on Trump, Brexit and Technology.
8-10 December 2017: Ditchley Event on machine learning and AI.
25-27 January 2018: Ditchley Event on policing in the digital age.
7-9 June 2018: Ditchley Event on the internet.
6-8 December 2018: Ditchley Event modern deterrence.
2019: South Korea becomes the first country to adopt 5G on a large scale.
First moon landing on the far side of the moon.
First direct photograph of a black hole.
7-9 February 2019: Ditchley Event on machine learning and genetic engineering.
13-15 September 2019: Ditchley Event on modern deterrence.
20-22 February 2020: Ditchley Event on the technological revolution.
Summary of Ditchley Technology Events
May 1965: The impact of automation and technological change on trade union interests and policies.
July 1965: The social and economic consequences of automation.
November 1967: The impact on national economies and international economic relations of the technological revolution.
November 1976: The regulation of technological advance: public health.
January 1977: Television and its effects on public behaviour.
March 1977: The regulation of technological advance: feeding the world.
June 1977: The regulation of technological advance: energy production.
June 1979: The international implications of the development of microelectronics.
11 July 1980: On the Usefulness of Biological Science. *
November 1980: Nuclear energy: safety, development and alternative strategies.
February 1982: The international implications of new telecommunications technology. *
April 1986: How should planning and resource allocation be managed in the fields of science and technology?
September 1986: The defence of the West: the future of NATO in an era of emerging technologies and diverging interested.
January 1987: Reconciling freedom of information with protection of the public interest in the modern democratic process.
November 1987: End of century tasks: coping with high technology, industrial transformation and economic interdependence.
March 1988: Space exploration: scientific luxury, commercial enterprise or prudent investment in the technologies of the future? Who should pay?
July 1989: The pace and complexity of developments in science: social, economic and environmental implications for policymakers.
May 1990: Obstacles to the translation of scientific and technological advances into industrial production and economic wealth.
19-21 November 1993: The future of public service broadcasting.
7-9 April 1995: Advances in genetic science: issues for public policy.
26-28 April 1996: Security in cyberspace: challenges for society.
29-31 May 1998: The international regulation of cyberspace.
6-8 November 1998: Governance in the information age.
3-5 December 1999: The management and repercussions of nuclear power.
1-3 December 2000: Ditchley Event - e-Commerce: its effect on business and government.
- Chair: Ms Mary A Tolan. In Association with Andersen Consulting.
- E-Commerce has diffused so rapidly on a global scale with profound effects and with relatively modest capital costs. It is a real revolution.
- Key question: What are the key considerations relating to e-commerce?
- Key ideas emerging: High tech companies providing e-Commerce infrastructure have emerged as winners. There has been an extraordinary reduction in the cost of electronic data transmission. The speed of e-commerce has assisted its spread. It has also facilitated certain sorts of crime, such as fraud. Government should absorb e-culture into its internal working and develop new ways of relating to its citizens using it. Privacy is a fundamental issue and ensuring privacy is key to building trust. Jurisdiction is another prominent issue, with the internet cutting across borders. The difficulties of tax and consumer protection were raised.
7-9 November 2003: Public Policy and Priorities for Science and Technology.
- Chair: Professor Sir David King
- Key question: What is the role of government in science and technology?
- Key ideas emerging: Science and technology projects usually have a long time scale. It is a problem for governments to plan and finance such long-term research, given the comparatively short terms of politicians. 3% of GDP being dedicated to research and development is considered best practice, but usually it is not the amount, but the projected return on investment of projects that matters. Big companies no longer invest in scientific research, rather product development. Links between industry and universities should be improved. The notion of national science should be rejected, since science is by nature international and collaboration is a positive feature. Flexible funding, incentive-producing tax structure, encouraging clusters, national laboratories permeable to universities and mission-oriented, not prescriptive government programmes are recommended. Well-trained people are also key - this requires more uptake of science subjects in school and university and the current decline is worrying.
12-14 March 2004: Biogenetics: The Impact of Advances on Politics and Society.
- Chair: Professor Ronnie Dworkin.
- The sequencing of the human genome raises ethical, medical and economic questions. Our increasing ability to modify both plant as well as animal life has serious implications.
- Key question: What are the key issues raised by advances in biogenetics?
- Key ideas emerging: Robust and flexible institutions are needed to mediate between science, politics and the public. Freedom to research and use technology should be presumed and only restricted when strong grounds show that harm would arise from their use, since there are costs to activity as well as inactivity. Care should be taken as genetics has the potential to poison the world’s crops or alter the human species. It could increase the difference between rich and poor and create intergenerational issues. Themes of consent and choice are prominent in discussion. There are also troubling questions with regards to insurance and the implications of a government recording and storing citizens’ genetic information.
10-12 March 2006: The Future of the Aerospace Industry.
- Chair: Sir Richard Evans CBE
- The global context is rapidly changing, there are increasing numbers of air travellers, fuel costs are rising, environmental concerns are prominent and there are new requirements of national security. This presents large scale and unpredictable challenges to the industry. Adaptation and modernisation are needed.
- Key question: How does the aerospace industry need to change, given current changes?
- Key ideas emerging: Defence and home security budgets should be unified under a national security framework, given the changing defence requirements under the pressure of terrorism and other asymmetrical threats. Governments and the industry should establish a clearer and more consistent dialogue about the future of the sector. Education and training need to reverse the trend away from skills in this industry. Open skies and open commerce would be good for the industry in the long-term. Export controls need to be monitored to ensure a level playing field. Climate change means the industry must contribute to reducing carbon emissions.
1-3 June 2007: The Long-Term Impact of the Internet.
- Chair: Mr Tim Gardam.
- The internet is accelerating globalisation but illuminating the failure of politics to globalise. While offering both promise and peril, the promise is stronger. It is changing politics, society and business in unpredictable ways and is now part of the world’s critical infrastructure.
- Key question: What will the impact of the internet be on society, politics and business?
- Key ideas emerging: Governments must be imaginative and active to retain enough capacity, compared to non-governmental areas, to retain authority. Regulation should seek to protect citizens against abuses, not control the internet. Changing communication patterns as a result of the internet call for a new democratic etiquette. Business models will increasingly gravitate towards collaboration. Education is key to build capacities for modern living.
16-18 May 2008: Innovation: the driving force in business?
- Chair: Mr Richard Lambert
- Innovation is vital for the economic health of developed societies in a competitive, rapidly changing world.
- Key questions: How important is a culture of innovation? How can governments promote innovation?
- Key ideas emerging: An economy has to have the flexibility to adapt to external factors to be innovative. Infrastructure, the tax and regulation climate, educational facilities, business motivation and a mood of welcoming globalisation and open exchange are necessary to promote innovation. The most important role of government is to promote a long-term vision of openness, adaptability and positive response to global change. Research funding in sensible areas and setting ambitious educational standards should accompany this. Clusters can be helpful.
12 July 2008: The Next Half-Century: A Scientist's Hopes and Fears.
- Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture XLIV. By Lord Rees of Ludlow.
- He is optimistic, expecting huge economic and social advances, especially in Asia, but recognises the new challenges and vulnerabilities that will emerge and will need to be addressed. Energy and climate, natural resources and population, vulnerabilities such as infectious diseases, and those brought on by technological advances in cyber, bio and nanotechnology are key issues he discusses.
29 September – 1 October 2011: Cyber Security; finding international responses.
- Chair: Professor Sir David Omand GCB. In partnership with the EastWest Institute.
- The internet is a positive transformational development. The aim is to preserve the opportunities it offers while protecting against misuse. Interconnectedness is a strength, but it exposes us to cyber-attacks. Fragmentation of the internet is a real possibility and should be avoided, and action is needed to reduce vulnerabilities.
- Key question: How can we continue to enjoy the benefits of the internet while reducing it vulnerabilities?
- Key ideas emerging: We need to protect the integrity of the internet itself, protect the ability of people to operate in it and stop those trying to abuse it. Trying to agree on a grand global strategy could be the enemy of progress due to the difficulties of negotiating such a thing or capturing all the issues. Incremental steps in a wide range of areas, taken together, will improve security and reduce vulnerabilities far more successfully. Neither governments nor the private sector can solve these issues – both are needed to play a role.
21-23 October 2011: The future of hydrocarbons as a global energy source.
- Chair: John Manley PC. In partnership with Canadian Ditchley.
- For the foreseeable future, there is no shortage of oil or gas, so if usage is to decline, it will not be due to availability. There are concerns about the expensive infrastructure needed for the mobility of hydrocarbons as well as the lack of oil and gas engineers in the new generation. Demand is likely to rise due to emerging economies and population increases and dependency will be hard to change in response to environmental concerns.
- Key question: How can we reduce hydrocarbon dependency?
- Key ideas emerging: Reducing dependency requires market and regulatory solutions, with regulation supplying incentives for innovation. Shale gas is changing the picture. The overall aim is to combine affordable and secure energy supplies with the sustainability needed for the survival of the planet. A global policy framework is desirable, or at least more international cooperation. Carbon capture and storage are one way forward, but this is not being sufficiently pursued. In the absence of a dramatic new crisis, politicians are reluctant to make hard choices and have a realistic public policy debate.
28-30 June 2012: Putting science, government, business and innovation together.
- Chair: Sir Keith O’Nions
- The definition of innovation is elusive; it can be just as much about processes as about products and social and economic innovation is just as important as commercial.
- Key questions: How can innovation be encouraged? What is the role of governments in this?
- Key ideas emerging: Leadership, speed, flexibility and openness to ideas are key for companies to be innovative. Research and development capacity is generally a minimum criterion. Countries strong at encouraging innovation have the right pressures, incentives, institutions and values. Favourable conditions include valuing education, learning and independent thinking, encouraging risk-taking, tolerating failure, celebrating entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers as well as artists and championing diversity. The role of government is crucial their ability to create favourable conditions. They can pick sectors on which to focus support. Supporting universities and science, as well as partnerships between research institutions, business and government, is important.
20-22 March 2014: Managing the digital revolution: can governments keep up?
- Chair: Mr Mike Bracken CBE
- Digital and technological change is predicted to continue to accelerate, but governments are struggling to keep up. Security, privacy and the regulation of major tech companies are important themes, especially surrounding big data innovations.
- Key questions: how are governments coping with the digital revolution and how can they do better?
- Key ideas emerging: Technology should amplify human nature rather than fundamentally change us. Technology is a force for good and individual empowerment, but the digital divide remains, and authoritarian governments can use it to suppress dissent. More of the new generation at home with technology should play a part in the heart of government. A change of culture to one that is more agile and more readily accepts the possibility of failure is needed in government to make commissioning rapid experiments and pilots the norm, perhaps through partnerships with private and voluntary sectors and using open-source approaches. Governments are generally coping well with the area of security. This raises concerns about privacy.
22-24 May 2014: The shale energy revolution and geopolitics.
- Chair: Professor Nick Butler.
- The widespread availability of shale gas and tight oil has disruptive effects. The shale revolution, if it is truly a revolution, is at an early stage with exploration and production largely confined to North America. Questions remain about reserves elsewhere and their extraction.
- Key questions: What will be the consequences of the ‘shale revolution’?
- Key ideas emerging: the negative consequences of fracking are overall exaggerated, but concerns do need to be addressed. The possible effects on the global energy market include downward pressure on gas prices, a displacement of coal and perhaps oil by gas. The effect on renewables and climate change policy is unclear, but it could undermine environmental policy efforts. The consequences have generally been good for the US, reducing emissions from power generation, and the availability of cheap energy should be good for the global economy and international peace. It changes the traditional balance of power between oil producers and consumers, with the US emerging as a winner and traditional oil producers losing.
10-12 December 2015: The digital economy: power and accountability in the private sector.
- Chair: Ms Nuala O’Connor. Conference held in association with Vodafone.
- Responsible and innovative use of big data usage could bring many benefits to consumers. However, malware, hacking and other cybercrime present risks to security and consumers’ privacy. Big companies are generally aware of their responsibilities regarding privacy and security and are keen to (appear to) be ethical in their approaches. This is not necessarily true for smaller companies.
- Key question: How can private sector companies manage advances in data, harnessing potential benefits while balancing privacy and security concerns?
- Key ideas emerging: Companies cannot police themselves, so government intervention is needed. Education on data risks is needed, as well as a new social contract between companies, governments and citizens to define what are acceptable practices regarding data. There is much scope for independent review boards to monitor privacy and ethical behaviour. New transnational institutions are needed to avoid the fragmentation of the internet. Informed consent and greater control for consumers over their own data is part of the answer.
28-30 January 2016: Nuclear energy: the future or the past?
- Chair: Lady Judge CBE
- The world will need more electricity in the future and the problem of climate change must be addressed, yet nuclear power’s share of global power production is falling, though it is successful in many Asian countries e.g. Korea. The momentum is with renewables and gas, due to the problems associated with nuclear power.
- Key question: What are the prospects for nuclear energy?
- Key ideas emerging: The capital needed to finance new nuclear plants is an issue – investors worry about costs and the uncertain political and regulatory environment. It is not clear whether it is commercially viable in markets where the negative externalities of other energy sources are not priced in. Public subsidies largely go to renewables. Safety is a major concern following Fukushima, though many fears are exaggerated. The risks cannot be designed away so the most important safety factor is human, meaning a safety culture is essential. There are also problems with nuclear waste. There is local opposition to deep underground burial, though it might start to be put in place in Finland and France. Nuclear proliferation remains a concern. There are serious challenges, but many remained optimistic.
17-19 November 2016: Will we still have a single global internet in 2025?
- Chair: Mr John Higgins CBE
- The Internet is ubiquitous. The digital economy is increasingly the economy. Authoritarian governments increasingly want to bring the Internet under control and keep data at home. At the other end of the spectrum, initiatives like the German data sovereignty law may also end up fracturing the Internet in the intended defence of privacy. The new fragmented Internet may fail to live up to its early promise of global connectivity.
- Key question: What is needed for a global internet to endure?
- Key ideas emerging: We should argue for digital rights of individuals and aim for a minimum of a decentralised general-purpose network as well as better arrangements between the law enforcements of different countries in tackling cross-border cybercrime could reduce the calls for data repatriation and sovereignty. Improving cyber security is essential. Digital literacy of citizens should be improved.
8-10 December 2016: 21st century manufacturing, the jobs, workers and technology for a new era.
- Chair: Ms Linda Hasenfratz
- There are many signs that the technological revolution is about to enter a new phase, continuing the transformation of manufacturing. AI, autonomous vehicles, advanced materials and blockchain could significantly change the broader economy and labour market.
- Key question: How do we take advantage of advance in manufacturing while mitigating negative effects?
- Key ideas emerging: While the number of people in manufacturing in western societies has fallen, it remains the backbone of the modern economy and many other jobs are structured around it, e.g. design, marketing and logistics. China is also no longer a low wage manufacturing economy; it is modernising its factories, is the world’s largest purchaser of industrial robots, it has a policy to increase wages to develop an internal consumer market and is investing in AI and other automation. It is hard to shake the reputation of manufacturing as being an old industry, but it is in fact at the technological frontier. There is likely to be a mismatch of skills in manufacturing and re-training is needed to mitigate this. The importance of data will make cyber security critical.
16-18 March 2017: Ditchley Event - Which way is West and is the West still best? What do President Trump, Brexit and the technological revolution mean for the future of the West?
- Chair: Mr Peter Thiel
- Western societies and politics are divided, as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump illustrate. China is rising to its full potential and technological progress is accelerating.
- Key question: What is the future of ‘the West’ given Brexit, the election of Trump and technological progress?
- Key ideas emerging: No-one from the West in the conference wanted to live in Russia or China, but a new narrative is needed to express what is good about the West and for what it stands. We should be transparent over the fact that globalisation creates winners and losers, it does not mean ‘westernisation’. Governments need to prepare people for the changes to jobs and work. UBI (Universal Basic Income) may not be the answer, the shift in work requires education and re-education. Better cyber security is crucial to technology-dominated societies, as are better transport links and planning to mitigate the effects of the economy being concentrated in cities.
8-10 December 2017: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: how do we make sure technology serves the open society?
- Chair: Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt
- Relatively little work has been done on the impact of AI on societies, governments and the relations between states, and between states and companies. The impact on the economy and work should also be considered.
- Key question: What are the future implications of AI?
- Key ideas emerging: There is radical uncertainty about the effects of AI in the future but there was also little doubt that AI will be one of the major factors shaping the future of humanity and human societies. AI may become a defining capability of state power, meaning population size and geographical area are no longer as important. However, smaller countries face more challenges due to smaller markets and pools of data available to them. Focus on privacy and regulation could hinder technological advancement as it limits the data available to innovators, so where the trade-off lies is important. AI nationalism may be avoided if an internationalist model of open data is pursued, this could also accelerate development, but at a further cost to privacy. AI is important for weapons development. Its possibilities may call for a digital Geneva convention to set out the acceptable limits of AI warfare. It is unclear whether AI will make power more concentrated or more diffused. AI is generally expected to disrupt work and cause short-term hardship, but its ultimate effects are predicted to be positive. A more radical overhaul of jobs by AI cannot be ruled out, however.
25-27 January 2018: The future of policing in the digital age.
- Chair: Commissioner Cressida Dick
- While traditional crime still has a terrible impact on individuals and communities, policing faces serious challenges from the impact of technology and the globalisation that it has enabled. This includes the increasingly cross-border nature of crime, the proliferation of data and cyber threats from amateurs as well as state actors.
- Key question: How does policing need to change to keep up with the challenges posed by new technologies?
- Key ideas emerging: A conversation between the public and police is necessary to move forward. General digital literacy in the police, international networks to enable data sharing between law enforcement agencies, openness to private sector innovations to maintain current technology and co-operation with major technology companies need to increase.
7-9 June 2018: How do we make the Internet safer, without destroying its vitality?
- Chair: Dr Vinton Cerf
- The Internet has become essential to modern life, but cybercrime is eclipsing all other forms of crime in terms of economic value. Cyber warfare and digital age information warfare are becoming central to state power.
- Key question: How can progress be made on cyber security while preserving the value of the internet to human connection, the economy and innovation?
- Key ideas emerging: There needs to be a balance between a right to identity and a right to anonymity on the internet. Different degrees of anonymity on the internet for different purposes may be appropriate, some traceability is required to counter crime. It is a mistake to focus too single-mindedly on the Dark Web, there are threats to security due to unfettered access to information to social media and the ability to amplify the digital voices of certain individuals through botnets. Internationally recognised certification of devices for strong encryption and basic safety and security should be considered. There may be an expanded role for router and firewalls to protect devices in a home.
6-8 December 2018: Modern deterrence: what does the combination of nuclear, BCW, cyber and AI mean for the evolution of western deterrence against state and non-state actors?
- Chair: Sir Richard Mottram GCB
- Concern is growing among NATO members the current form of deterrence does not fit newly emerging threats, both technological and political. The US and its allies face major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, and cyber threats, and violent non-state actors, that have resulted from technological developments. Consider information gathering technologies, non-nuclear strike systems, drones, AI, dual-use weapons and the sufficiency of the 2% of GDP defence budget.
- Key questions: What are the challenges to deterrence? What strategy is best to combine the old approach to deterrence with the new technological possibilities of cyber and AI?
7-9 February 2019: The intersection of machine learning and genetic engineering: what should be our check list for society and state as we blast off?
- Chair: James Arroyo OBE
- The intersection of machine learning and genetic engineering is speeding up development of new technologies and new applications. This creates opportunities, such as advances in medicine and our understanding of health, as well as ethical challenges, such as the potential for new inequalities. Human and computer interaction, uses in plants and agriculture, uses in warfare and the implications for security are examples but healthcare and the implications of embryo selection dominate discussion.
- Key question: What next for machine learning and genetic engineering?
- Key ideas emerging: Establishing norms and values according to which advances should be made requires a deeper understanding of the potential consequences of advancements. Regulation at a multinational level should be explored. Allowing the use of anonymised data could help in this sphere. Innovation should be focused on where the public wants change e.g. oncology. Note that this is a security issue as well as a healthcare issue.
13-15 September 2019: The future of strategic stability: how must modern deterrence evolve as landmark treaties expire and new weapons and technologies and doctrines are developed?
- In partnership with American Ditchley.
- The Cold War legacy of arms control treaties and conventions is either breaking down or shortly about to expire. The digitisation of economies and infrastructure has turned cyber and information warfare into powerful new weapons. Russia is investing in new weapons, e.g. hypersonic missiles, as well as weaponizing information warfare and cyber. China is making major investments to match the US as a technological power.
- Key questions: how to ensure the effectiveness of modern deterrence given the continued threat from Russia, the rise of China, the development of cyber, information warfare, AI and bioengineering. What is the role of middleweight powers such as the UK and France in this?
- Key ideas emerging: governments will need to invest in AI and cyber defence talent and capabilities and in explaining the purpose to data scientists whose motivations are often not linked to defence and intelligence but to social benefits. An increase in national approaches to conflict preparation signalled some anti-global sentiment. And yet, nations are vulnerable to cyber attack and to misinformation attacks which erode the foundations of democracy.
20-22 February 2020: Technology, society and the state: how can we remain competitive, and true to our values, as the technological revolution unfolds and accelerates?
- Chair: Julie Brill.
- The internet, smartphone, social media, search platforms and finance and trading platforms set the stage for further rapid innovation in machine learning, genetic engineering, empirical computation, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, robotics and fintech, amongst other technologies.
- Key question: How to support innovation and reap its benefits while mitigating and avoiding negative effects?
- Key ideas emerging: We need to revive multinational institutions, build cyber deterrence, promote education and lifelong learning to ensure people adapt to new technologies, especially in the field of AI, develop national, transparent strategies for management of public and government data and ask ourselves where the balance between the right to identity and the right to anonymity lies. Any changes must have climate change in the forefront of thinking.