SIENNA final conference: 10 – 12 March

The SIENNA Project is holding its final (online) conference on Ethics, Human Rights & Emerging Technologies.

Various project members and a host of professors from various fields will present and discuss results and proposals for the ethical management of new and emerging technologies. The conference has four parts that can be attended separately. The programme is now available for all sessions, and they are all individually free to attend!

Here is just a little taster, all times are CET:

10 March
14:00-17:00 Human Genetics and Genomics: Ethical, legal and human rights challenges

11 March
09:30-12:30 Human Enhancement: Ethical, legal and human rights challenges
13:30-17:30 Artificial Intelligence and Robotics: Ethical, legal and human rights challenges

12 March
13:00-17:00 Governance of emerging technologies: incorporating ethics and human rights

Two panel discussions might be of particular interest to Technology Bloggers readers:

On Thursday 11 March at 11:40, future strategies for human enhancement, ethics and human rights features the following interesting array of speakers.

Lesley-Ann Daly, CyborgNest
Christopher Coenen, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Marc Roux, President of  the Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog
Yana Toom, Member of European Parliament, STOA member.

While later in the afternoon (at 16:40) a panel will discuss strategies for future ethical and human rights challenges of AI and robotics, and it also includes some really interesting names:

Cornelia Kutterer, Senior Director on Microsoft’s European Government Affairs team in Brussels
Patrick Breyer, Member of European Parliament, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
Clara Neppel, Senior Director of the IEEE European office
Vidushi Marda, Article 19 and Carnegie India

Have a look at the full programme, or go to the conference website landing page to register. It’s free!

A Breathalyzer that can Detect COVID-19

In the Netherlands, the Dutch health authorities are using a breathalyzer machine called the SprioNose to help detect COVID-19 cases. The machine works rather like an alcohol test in that it detects traces of the virus in the breath blown into the machine.

The health department state that in 70% of cases tested, the rapid test can determine with certainty that they are not infected with the coronavirus. For the remaining 30%, the results are not conclusive. If the breath test does not provide a definite negative result, the person will be given another test to find out if they are infected with coronavirus with the common PCR test.

The results only take a couple of minutes, and the screening capability means that many people can avoid the invasive nose swab and the related procedures for analysis, saving a few red noses and a lot of medical testing resources.

The SpiroNose technology was developed by the company Breathomix. The Leiden University Medical Centre and GGD Amsterdam (the health department) have thoroughly tested the SpiroNose at coronavirus test locations. At the moment, some 600 breath tests can take place every day in Amsterdam, but this will quickly increase to more than 2,500 breath tests per day. Moving forward, the rapid breath test will also be used in the rest of the Netherlands.

Bring it on I say!

COVID-19 Vaccinations. A Call for Cooperation

Pharmaceutical Production Plants

Arguing In Europe

This week here in Europe we have seen an argument develop within and beyond the EU about COVID-19 vaccines. The EU has accused AstraZeneca of not fulfilling its contractual obligations to the block, as it has not (or cannot) provide the block with the amount of vaccines it promised.

The British press have started to suggest the EU are going to stop the vaccines getting to the UK, with part of the problem being that according to the International Federation of Vaccine Manufacturers, about 76% of major vaccination manufacturing capability lies in Europe, most within the EU.

Now the EU is threatening to block exports from factories in the block until they have their vaccines that they say they have been promised.

This will not only affect the British, who I think are the target for this proposal, but I can only presume many parts of the world. And vaccine availability was anyway (to say the least) unevenly distributed.

To what degree can this be seen as a technological problem? Or an open science problem? From the technological perspective I think the answer is plain to see. The path chosen to get out of the COVID pandemic is what we in my world call a technological fix, in this case a vaccine that has been developed using cutting edge technology in a very short time. As a previous post explained, these vaccines use synthetic biology techniques, read more here.

A Ray of Hope

Each company can only produce so much of the final product. But in another breakthrough, this week a competitor has decided to start producing AstraZeneca’s vaccines for them in one of their facilities. A breakthrough! Cooperation!

If Sanofi (the French manufacturer that is going to join in) then why can’t others? And not only in Europe obviously. Across the globe.

The European concentration of production and wealth leads to massive discrepancy in availability across the world. According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, data shows that rich nations representing just 14 percent of the world’s population have bought up 53 percent of all the most promising COVID-19 vaccines so far.

The alliance says that nearly 70 countries will only be able to vaccinate one in 10 people against COVID-19 next year unless urgent action is taken by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to make sure enough doses are produced.

So it appears to me that this kind of technological fix benefits some people more than others. But I ask myself if this has to be the case. Couldn’t other facilities be pressed into action across the globe to use spare capacity to produce more vaccines? Couldn’t this be done in the name of humanity rather than profit?

Cooperation in a time of crisis?