24 October 2013

Free exchange of information can avert technological threats


To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Niels Bohr’s atomic theory, the University of Copenhagen is hosting a conference on December 4-6 entitled, "An Open World". International scholars and decision makers will attend the conference, and speakers will debate the free exchange of information in the light of Bohr's idea of a world order based on openness. The ambition of the conference is to pen a joint letter to the United Nations with specific recommendations on openness as a means to cope with scientific and technological challenges.

In the video Professor and Chairman of the Organizing Committee Ole Wæver presents the conference.

”Groundbreaking scientific and technological discoveries are constantly pushing the limits of politics and society. That’s why it’s important that we discuss the best ways to handle new challenges and create the most productive interplay between politics and science. Given this ambition, Niels Bohr’s thoughts on free exchange of information are still relevant,” says Professor and chairman of the event committee, Ole Wæver, University of Copenhagen.

The inspiration for the conference is a letter that the Nobel prize-winning physicist wrote to the UN in 1950. In the letter Bohr discusses the development of the atomic bomb and argues that openness with regards to research and technology could prevent a destructive arms race driven by mistrust and fear. Bohr believed that we should collaborate in order to make the most of our productive opportunities.

“Using Bohr’s letter as inspiration, the main speakers at the conference will send a new open letter to the UN containing recommendations on how to mitigate international challenges with openness and the free exchange of information. The goal of the conference and the letter to the UN is to spur a debate about openness. Unlike Bohr, we will send a common message with specific recommendations,” Wæver says.

Drones and the internet – technological opportunities and threats

Wæver points out that technology often develops faster than international decision-making:

Unmanned drones can be an efficient way to fight terrorists, but the use of robots in warfare leads to other challenges. Photo: Colourbox.dk

“Military drone technology, for example, has provided us with a very tempting way to fight terrorists, given that it costs less than regular warfare and is less dangerous for soldiers. From a broader perspective one could imagine a world where many powers engage in unilateral operations in other countries. There is a striking similarity with the situation in 1945, when the US alone possessed the atomic bomb. Bohr predicted how dangerous the nuclear balance of terror would become while also seeing the alternative potential in the technology as a source of co-operation. In the present-day perspective, we need to think carefully about how to regulate and manage the use of unmanned vehicles.”

In addition to the military challenges, the conference is also focussing on risks and opportunities that science and technology present for global health, the internet, innovation and the economy. At the conference, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will discuss how technologies like the internet have enabled the sharing of information at a hitherto unmatched scale.

”New developments raise questions about the internet’s potential as the infrastructure for global openness. For example, when internet giants such as Facebook create closed spaces, when patent laws limit other people’s use of ideas and, not least, when intelligence agencies like NSA make everyone feel unsafe on the internet. The fight over the internet will therefore be a central topic in the conference’s analysis of the present state of openness,” Wæver says.


A number of prominent international scholars and experts will speak and participate at the conference. They will discuss contemporary opportunities and risks associated with openness in science, technology and society. Speakers include:

  • Jimmy Wales, founder and spokesperson of Wikipedia
  • Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO
  • Susan Crawford, President Barack Obama’s former advisor for science and technology
  • Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director of CERN
  • Sir Nigel Shadbolt, co-founder and chairman of the Open Data Institute
  • Wael Ghonim, cyber activist who played a central role in the Egyptian revolution
  • Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian specialising in nuclear weapons
  • Dennis Meadows, professor and co-author of the revolutionary book ’Limits to Growth’
  • Abdallah Daar, surgeon and professor of public health particular focussed on global health issues


Professor Ole Wæver
Centre for Advanced Security Theory
Phone: +45 2617 4077

Press relations
Mads Christoffersen
Phone: +45 2221 4849