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In this Nesta talks to… Jason Matheny was in conversation with Nesta’s Laurie Smith to discuss the role of emerging technologies and the potential consequences of and ethics behind using them.

As the CEO of the RAND Corporation, Jason’s interest in existential risks and emerging technologies has led him to become increasingly concerned about the potential risks this poses. One specific concern is the lack of governance in synthetic biology. Due to the pandemic policymakers' have been focused on COVID-19, making it easier to synthesise dangerous viruses. Therefore, Jason emphasised the need for policymakers to keep up with technological advancements and proposed building institutional capacity within government to understand and address this. Bringing attention to future risks can be challenging, given the short-term focus of policymakers. Therefore, creating specialised policy teams that identify and address long-term risks alongside proactive planning would help to mitigate potential risks associated with emerging technologies.

Regarding generative AI models like ChatGPT, Jason doesn't see them as posing an existential risk currently but acknowledges that these tools could facilitate the creation of cyber and bioweapons in the future. To mitigate risks, Jason advocates for good governance, adaptable policies and the development of expertise at the intersection of technology and policy.

Laurie and Jason also touched on the risks to democratic governance posed by social media platforms and information bubbles. Jason highlighted the importance of addressing political polarisation and promoting a sense of shared responsibility within democracies as a way to overcome this. They further explored the impact of generative AI on democracy and truth, agreeing that while AI models can provide positive effects for society, such as facilitating self-education, there are concerns about the potential for misinformation and manipulation. 

As we live in a time of rapid technological change, the risks of privacy, security, democracy and truth are ever growing. Therefore, practices like foresight and superforecasting can prevent us from sleepwalking into technological and social catastrophe.

The opinions expressed in this event recording are those of the speaker. For more information, view our full statement on external contributors.



Jason Matheny


Jason Matheny (he/him) is president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organisation that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. Prior to becoming RAND's president and CEO in July 2022, he led White House policy on technology and national security at the National Security Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Matheny has served on many nonpartisan boards and committees, including the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, to which he was appointed by Congress in 2018.


Laurie Smith


Laurie leads on strategic foresight for Nesta. He oversees much of the organisation's research into emerging trends, novel technologies and promising interventions. Prior to joining Nesta he worked at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, where he most recently led on emerging technologies and futures. Previously he worked at the Academy of Medical Sciences on policy around medical science, public health and international health.