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Disruption & Trust: DNA, Ethics and Regulations

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Three presentations explore the importance of trust in the digital society. Hyunjun Park, co-founder of CEO of Californian startup Catalog, describes how data can be stored in the form of synthetic DNA. UC Berkeley researcher Jodi Halpern examines the importance of ethics in the digital economy. Marietje Schaake of Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center take a look at regulation and innovation.

Park explains how his team is building a platform to store digital data in synthetic DNA. While the technology is not yet economically viable, Catalog believes in its potential: DNA has a much higher information density than current, digital storage technologies – and it’s stable for hundreds of years, meaning when data is archived it can last forever.

Jodi Halpern, professor of bioethics at UC Berkeley, poses an important question to the audience at the beginning of her talk, “What are our blindspots as experts?” To get to the bottom of this, she traces back the tradition of ethics up until utilitarianism when it was a tradition of duties and rights and explains the importance of noticing “conflicts of obligations” within ethics today.

“So long as we have a leadership role in society, we do have to think about the aggregate benefit and aggregate harm, and maximize the benefits for the future collective” Halpern says. “We have to retain utilitarian axis, but we must have a more complex view of ethics.”

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, went on stage to make the case for principles that we don’t want to disrupt. “I believe that regulation should not stifle innovation but we should be very careful not to put innovation in a higher order of significance than democracy”, she argues with regard to the importance of governance. “It is perfectly legitimate to democratic governments to adopt regulation to adjust to the changes that technology bring.”

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