"My appointment will strengthen ties between the ICRC and EPFL"

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Edouard Bugnion has been elected to the International Committee of the Red Cross
Edouard Bugnion has been elected to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). © Murielle Gerber/EPFL

Edouard Bugnion, EPFL’s Vice President for Information Systems, has been elected to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This means that he will serve on the ICRC Assembly - the equivalent of a company’s board of directors - where he will bring his expertise in digital technologies to bear.

How were you selected to join the ICRC Assembly?
The process is confidential. The Assembly co-opts members using predefined criteria in order to maintain gender balance and a wide range of professional experience and expertise among its membership.

What will this role bring to you and to EPFL?
For me, it will be a great honor to serve on the Assembly. It’s an external, unremunerated position that involves attending Assembly meetings six times a year. It will naturally strengthen existing ties between the ICRC and EPFL, building on the framework agreement signed by Patrick Aebischer and Peter Maurer in March 2016. That resulted in the creation of the Humanitarian Tech Hub, a program that aims to use innovation to improve the lives of victims of humanitarian crises. Our two institutions also work together regularly in the area of big data. And the ICRC is a founding member of the Center for Digital Trust, which was unveiled in December. This center of excellence addresses the clear need for a research platform that can anchor trust in digital technologies.

What will you bring to the ICRC?
I’ll bring my expertise in digital technologies, which are thoroughly and rapidly changing our lives. Digitization affects the ICRC’s work in three ways. First, the ICRC - like all organizations - is itself moving into the digital era. Second, the digital needs of those receiving assistance from the ICRC, particularly refugees and prisoners, have become essential in terms of both communication and safety. Finally, although the digital infrastructure is used for civilian purposes and necessary to the work of humanitarian organizations, it can be the target of military or spy attacks.

What is your view on an international framework to protect civilians against misdeeds in cyberspace?
These days, there’s a lot of talk about creating a digital Geneva Convention. But the focus has been on protecting consumers in times of peace - this is what Microsoft President Brad Smith first championed. Let’s not forget that the ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, which seek to protect anyone not actively involved in hostilities during conflicts. So intellectuals are engaged in an open debate as to whether, on the one hand, traditional law should be modified to meet the challenges of digitization in times of peace and, on the other hand, whether humanitarian law, which governs relations in wartime, should be updated in the same way. My role in all this is to support the ICRC, in particular by drawing on my connections in the IT industry, where I worked for 15 years.

Edouard Bugnion was born in 1970 and grew up in Neuchâtel and Geneva. He studied computer science, first at ETH Zurich and then at Stanford University, where he obtained a PhD. He spent 18 years in Silicon Valley and co-founded two startups - VMware and Nuova Systems (later acquired by Cisco) - in which he served as chief technology officer.
He returned to Switzerland and joined EPFL in 2012 as a professor in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences. He has been Vice President for Information Systems since January 2017.
Professor Bugnion has received numerous awards for his contributions as both an academic and an entrepreneur. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and a member of the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW).
He is also a member of the boards of directors of Logitech and Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency.