Science, AI, and securing a sustainable future


Stefan Brunnhuber is a medical director, chief medical officer and professor in Germany, and takes an evolutionary, human-centric approach to economics and psychology and looks towards a sustainable future in a new way.

In this exciting interview, we find out more about Brunnhuber’s concept of an artificial intelligence-driven ‘third culture’; science and politics; the UN Sustainable development Goals; and the power of trans-disciplinary thinking.

Read more in Research Outreach

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Hello, I’m Todd and welcome to ResearchPod!

As a Member of the Club of Rome, and on the Board of Trustees of the World Academy of Arts and Science, Stefan Brunnhuber is involved in new financial engineering approaches to fund, hedge, and manage our United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

A medical director, chief medical officer and professor in Germany, Brunnhuber takes an evolutionary, human-centric approach to economics and psychology and looks towards a sustainable future in a new way.

In this exciting interview with our sister company, Research Outreach, we find out more about Brunnhuber’s concept of an artificial intelligence-driven ‘third culture’; science and politics; the UN Sustainable development Goals; and the power of trans-disciplinary thinking.

First of all, I was very lucky to be able to study in tandem both socioeconomics and medicine, and then specialized as a psychiatrist and then further in finance and political science. And at the same time, I had very wise mentors, supervisors, and supporters to do all that. meaning I had the chance to better understand the individual psyche, you know, through my clinical training as a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst. I basically got trained as a Jungian psychoanalyst. On the other side, I was also able to get a deeper understanding of the systems approach, you know, of macro sociology, etc. And, you know, the main thing I learned is that any systems approach, any sociological, societal approach, is not a second psychology. Meaning sociology, systems theory, and societal aspects basically add another complexity to our reality, which cannot be fully reduced to individual behavioral patterns. It’s kind of an emergent, as we say in science, an emergent structure.

Could I ask as well, with that background, how has that informed your attitude towards some of today’s biggest global challenges?

I mean, in specific, what I learned is that science in general, right, is not seeking for truth. Science is basically able to unleash curiosity to better understand the world. to solve a problem. Science is basically ambivalent from the very beginning. Once one problem is solved, there’s a new question arising. You know, look at the invention of antibiotics. Once we had the antibiotics, we suddenly realized there’s resistance to antibiotics causing additional problems. Once we invented the cars, we saw that people are dying on the roads. As soon as we invented market mechanism, we realized they create externality. So each time science is able to invent or discover something, it can solve one problem, but basically adds another to it. and ask new questions. On the other side, policy and politics is different. You know, politics is more about making decisions under pressure, time pressure. Politics is more about reconciling opposites, being involved in the power game, right? And from that perspective, I think something, as we often say, like global governments, governance doesn’t exist. We don’t have global governance. We have basically a web without a weaver, where different political systems conflicting with each other, trying to solve problems. And what I learned in the interface between science and politics is that we are now, first of all, in this new systems clash between open societies on one side and digital autocracies on the other, trying to come up with better solutions for the future. And the second thing I learned is that we need more science-approved, science-informed political decisions for a better future.

Yeah, and off the back of that, sort of reconciling opposites, as you put it, how does that relate to your idea of the third culture and emerging technologies like AI, big data, and robotics?

Yeah, this is a fascinating current topic at the moment. We’re learning, if you look at it from a historical perspective, with the first renaissance, we started to come up with two major cultures. It’s humanities on one side and basic science on the other. And they further differentiated over the last 300, 400 years. And they provided a lot of valid specialized information, wisdom, and knowledge. But the knowledge and the wisdom they’re providing was basically fractured. It was basically fragmented, siloed. And what we can now witness at the beginning of the 21st century, that beyond this gap of humanities and science, there’s a third culture emerging. And I think this third culture is basically AI, big data, and everything around digitization that is able not only to to enhance findings in humanity and not only to enhance findings in science, but basically reconcile and bring them together towards a larger whole, towards more wisdom, towards more integral knowledge and towards more wholesome wisdom.

And how do you see that changing sort of the human experience as this sort of conflict begins to reconcile itself?

Yeah, you know, in the Renaissance, humans were put in the center of the cosmos. You know, later in the 19th century, we were learning through Charles Darwin that humans are on top of an evolutionary ladder. But what we now have to learn basically is that we humans as a species are incomplete. We’re never fully adapted to reality, unlike other species. And there’s always a gap. And this gap can be filled by AI, big data, and this new technology is arising that basically is going to surpass our IQ and our capacities to perceive the world in all respects. And then we end up not being in the center of the universe. We not end up being on top of the ladder, but we end up being a string player. A string player able to resonate with unlimited forms of parallel universes and worlds of living being and plants next to us to better understand, to explore what they’re doing, enabled by AI and partly also surpassed by AI.

And using the analogy of a string player in the cosmos, I quite like it.

You like that analogy? I do, yeah. I think it’s really nice. It’s a nice feature, isn’t it? Yeah, yeah. It resonates with us humans to some extent.

Yeah. And using analogies in general to translate perhaps quite complex information, do you find that a useful tool in your career?

Yeah. I mean, what I learned is in order to grasp complex structures, you first have to learn to speak like a journalist. Second, you have to basically expose your idea to your secretary. If your secretary is not getting it, there’s something wrong with you, not with the secretary, right? The third thing what I learned is do not expose your ideas to conventional conferences too often because most of new ideas get not enhanced, but rather killed there, right? And third, I think it’s important to test your ideas across discipline, not with your friends, but kindly with your enemies. And if you take these four things into account, you have a good chance that your idea is shaping up or becoming valid in one way or another.

And can you think of, because there’s some really useful, almost tips, I suppose, for how to sort of get your ideas across, but can you think of an example of when you may have found it quite challenging? even with like using analogies and examples and things.

The most challenging part is for me in medicine, when the transition happens between conventional medicine and integral medicine, which basically considers complementary medicine and naturopathy in one way. And the second big challenge I’m facing on a societal level is new ideas in finance and financial engineering. Both fields are extremely conservative. are extremely backward bound, they’re not yet open for new narratives, new thinking, though both of them are relevant and important agents and stakeholders for the future.

Going back to finance, a lot of your involvement with the new economic theory working the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Would you be able to tell me a bit more about your work on that project?

For me, this is the most exciting and thrilling thing I am involved in at the moment. We’re learning that the UN SDGs has a very, very high political consensus. 98% of the world population are agreeing with this kind of a future roadmap. On the other side, we’re also witnessing that this doesn’t come for free, which means it will there will be costs involved. There will be a price tag associated to it. And the price tag associated to the UN SDGs is basically about five to seven additional trillion US dollars every year of the next 15 to 20 years. And the question for us as a working group was finding out where does the money come from? Should we simply go to tax the rich or go into austerity or restructure debts or transfer money from A to B? Or do we have to come up with a new way of engineering, financial engineering, to enable that? And I think we did. Our working group was very successful in providing a very powerful narrative, a very powerful calculation, and very powerful argument that this additional liquidity has to come from additional digital currencies. And one of the most prominent Features to do so are so-called central bank digital currencies or central bank currency swaps or green quantitative easing or name it, but it adds an additional way of looking at the link between finance and sustainability. You know, over the last 50 years, we’ve been looking on governance. We’ve been looking on lifestyle changes, mindset, technology, demographic changes to basically fence in or grasp the complexity of the picture. But we overlook the dynamic of the international theory monitors completely. And over the last 50 years, finance was driving sustainability. It’s actually the opposite. Sustainability is driving finance. And if we make that mind shift, we’re basically able to discover almost unlimited forms of financial engineering, hedging instruments, private-public partnership, forms of debt relief, special drawing rights, green quantitative easing, dozens of them. We’ve all been outlining that in our publications. And suddenly, the future becomes an opportunity and not a curse, becomes a chance and not a failure. And suddenly, if we switch around this narrative from finance driving sustainability to sustainability finance, the future is becoming super exciting. Just one more figure for this recording. Compared to other changes, like the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, or the EU enlargement in the 90s and around the millennium, or the German reunification, the amount of money we reap now for the transformation of our society is roughly eight to ten times higher than anything in the past. And for this 8 to 10 times additional money, we need new financials.

Would you say that you’re quite optimistic in that respect about the future?

Yeah, basically I am, you know, because humans always use their vision, their mind, their potential in order to grow, to develop, to evolve, to adapt. to move forward. And if you take it from there, that we have all the potentials within us, we can change the world.

How much of a role would you say that interdisciplinary working, for example, in your working group, how is that sort of structured and how have you sort of brought your own unique stance on?

On one side, you know, interdisciplinarity as a term is a no-brainer, right? Everybody wants interdisciplinarity. But if you look closer, you still end up with this two-culture gap of humanity and science, whether you differentiate it or not. So what we need here is, on one side, new technology that is able to serve as an integrator between the two forms of interdisciplinarity. On the other side, my experience is we need much more transdisciplinarity, meaning this is where science basically hits the road, where science is proved with reality. And if you take this into account, I think we start making wise political decisions which are science approved, and this is where we have to move forward.

A moment ago, I think you talked about some of the history of science and evolution and changing our role as humans, I suppose. In terms of science itself, because that’s from my background in the history of science, that’s sort of a 19th century invention, I guess the word scientist. Prior to that, you’d have like natural philosophers and a different sort of understanding of science in general. Do you think that science sort of, as we know it, is changing around us?

It is fundamentally changing. And this is why my new book, The Third Culture, and also the Research Pod series, with you are coming out demonstrating after three, 400 years, we are entering a second renaissance where science is fundamentally changing, becoming a fundamental role in political decision-making, in understanding the world within us and outside of us, surpassing human capacity. And here, this third culture beyond humanities and science is absolutely key to achieve all that.

And could I just finally ask about, I think I was just really wondering about any sort of upcoming projects you might have in mind for this year?

The next couple of steps from a scientific perspective is for me the upcoming debate on the new Bretton Wood 2.0. So revising, upgrading and greening the Bretton Wood process of the international monetary system. The other part with regard to finance I’m involved in is I’m basically, it sounds a little bit kind of over the edge, but I’m confronting you with it. I’m going to write a general theory. I’m able to provide a general theory like Keynes did 100 years ago on financing our global commons. on money and sustainable development for the 21st century, right? And I’m trying to feed these ideas into my work and my activities at the Governmental Federal Council on Finance in Germany here. and at the Club of Rome, UN, wherever it’s requested. This is one side. On the other side, because we’re referring to medicine and psychology, I’m head of department of a hospital chain here, and we are also transforming. We’re transforming now towards one of the first hospitals in Germany, which are going to integrate Ayurvedic medicine in our basic medical interventions. So these are the two major topics I’m involved in, theoretically and practically.

I find it quite interesting that you talk about bringing a lot of disparate ideas and disciplines and things together. And I was wondering, With all of that, you could call it complexity, what advice would you give to upcoming people interested in financial engineering, as you put it earlier?

In one sentence, you have to think out of the box. You have to consider complexity as a new normal, and you have to understand that the system itself is fundamentally uncertain and unstable. in one cent, or give me a three-hour lecture series. And out-of-the-box approaches is the only way to transform our economy from A to B. If A is what we’re doing right now with fossil energy, and let’s say B is renewable, is a more inclusive, regenerative, circular economy, the shift from A to B is not a linear process. The shift from A to B is not a foreseeable future. It requires non-linear complex technologies like AI and requires out-of-the-box thinking on an individual and societal level.

Thank you.

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