Written by Lieve Van Woensel and Geoff Archer
Technological progress has occurred with dazzling speed over a matter of decades, impacting upon virtually every aspect of our lives and society. For many it has become the lifeblood of the European Union’s (EU) economy, illustrated by the inclusion of “Smart growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation” as the first priority of the European Commission’s policy-defining ‘Europe 2020 strategy’.
It is not just in Europe that new innovations are emerging however; recently the world’s first ‘3D-printed car’ was produced at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show. Technological innovation is revolutionising everyday activities, whether that is travelling to work in automatically driven vehicles or buying and selling goods using entirely virtual currency.
In a newly published report entitled ‘Ten technologies which could change our lives: Potential impacts and policy implications’ the European Parliament’s Scientific Foresight Service outlines ten pressing technological trends of tomorrow. This report was undertaken in support of the methodology for ‘Foresight studies’ that the service is currently developing. Together they mark the beginning of a focus on ‘Scientific Foresight’ by DG EPRS.
Ten scientific and technological topics are explored in the report, reflecting the interests of citizens, policy-makers and legislators drawn from across the EU. A summary of each trend is provided, including an overview of its associated ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ impacts. A brief legal analysis highlighting procedural and legislative issues for those tackling EU policy-making is also provided in relation to each trend.
From the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to the storage of electricity using hydrogen, the report comprises a series of in-depth briefings allied to the research priorities of the STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) Panel in the European Parliament: mobility, resource security, e-government and ICT, and improving and maintaining public health. The Scientific Foresight Service and the STOA Secretariat work together within the Scientific Foresight (STOA) Unit of DG EPRS.
Each briefing offers a different perspective on technological impact assessment considering the wider implications for the society when each technological trend becomes fully embedded in daily life. This techno-scientific trends publication confronts the reader with a number of ‘What if?’ questions for reflection when thinking about possible future impacts stemming from each trend.
Moving beyond economic, social and environmental issues, both expected and unexpected impacts of a technology trend on society and citizens need to be considered carefully. Therefore the report provides challenging ‘food for thought’ not only to policy-makers and legislators but also for EU citizens. Could the use of drones make police monitoring, for example, more impersonal and how would this shape the future relationship between the state and its citizens?
With these types of questions in mind, this report provides a tool for making ‘smarter’ policy-making in the European Union. In the coming months further ‘trends’ briefings will be published in response to the rapid emergence of new technologies and their applications. This will keep Members in the European Parliament up-to-date with the latest assessments of such trends to ensure technology can be best employed for the benefit of all.