Altius Conference on Global Futures
August 29-31, 2014

Diana Philip from Strategic Foresight Group participated in the Altius Annual Conference held at Balliol College of Oxford University from the 29th-31st August 2014. The conference was designed to encourage a cross sectoral debate on the future of certain important topics in the field of Philosophy, the Social Sciences and Science and technology. It explored crucial changes taking place in these disciplines in the next 20-50 years as well as its impact on human affairs.

The conference saw a confluence of senior practitioners as well as about 30 young entrepreneurs, academicians, civil servants, journalists, lawyers, foreign policy experts and others.  Each panel at the conference had eminent personalities such as Diego Hidalgo, Founder of Club De Madrid, Sean Cleary, Strategic Advisor to the World Economic Forum, Jose Mario Beneyto, Popular Party’s Spokesman on Foreign Affairs  in the Spanish Parliament, Paul Révay, European Director of the Trilateral Commission, Peteris Zilgalvis, Head of health and well-being unit of the European Commission, Robert Cooper, Special Advisor at the European Commission, Dr. Anders Sandberg, futurist and transhumanist and many more.

The conference was a venue for intense discussions on issues such as the emergence of global norms, nature of global governance and institutions, future of democracy and civil society, transhumanism, data intelligence and privacy.

Could there be an agreement on certain normative parameters that will help in the adoption of norms that are common to all and are of a global reach? The cultural sensitivity as well as the political will required in this context was discussed. When speaking of a global order for the future, its significance with respected to environmental protection was also examined.

Dr. Sandberg described the concept of transhumanism along with the fear associated with advancements in biotechnology.  While risks maybe real, however advancements needn’t be curbed was the message imparted. Human nature is changeable hence could adapt to a future which we have mostly relegated to science fiction. A liberal democracy which was adept at dealing with people with different mental capacities would be needed in such a future.

Mr. Beneyto touched upon the future of transatlantic relations and called for a philosophical enquiry into the relationship between China and Europe. Engaging in the process of universality which would addresses differences would be a right step towards a better future. In the context of Spain, he said that the obstacles that he saw for the future of the country were the recovery of trust which was certainly more difficult than the recovery of its economic capacities.

On the future of global governance Mr. Hidlago gave an interesting presentation where he spoke about the nature of global bodies such as the United Nations. While he felt that the body had its flaws and had been unable to effectively manage conflicts, it was still indispensable for the world at present. Nevertheless, a complete overhaul of the UN is perhaps what may be suggested for the future; however the new body that comes in its place will certainly gain and build upon the work of its predecessor.

The role of data in today’s world, the issue of privacy and its implications in the future was also discussed at the conference. There are only about 90 countries in the world which have some form of laws on data protection and there are only about four regional instruments governing the same. However, they are mostly concentrated Europe. As for new tools of more effective government policies, there was an interesting presentation by Mr. Zilgalvis on the use of data intelligence in the health care system. While, this is mostly Europe centric, there are measures taken for its spread in other parts of the world as well.  

There were a multitude of other issues that were touched upon at the Conference such as the crisis in Ukraine, economic development and its impact on technological advancements, the future of biological engineering, as well as the future of civil society where Mr. Révay discussed the formation of the Trilateral Commission, a body formed in 1973 by private citizens of Japan, Europe, US and Canada to foster collaboration between these industrialized nations in an era where communication and cooperation was lacking.