Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / December 16, 2021

STOA Annual Lecture 2021: How Europe can lead the way to human-centric innovation in distributed technologies

The event was moderated by STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), who began by highlighting the European commitment to developing critical technologies and the relevance of semiconductors for achieving strategic autonomy for Europe in the future geopolitical arena.

Written by Andrés García with Laia Delgado Callico and Liliia Hrytsai.

This year, STOA’s Annual Lecture focused on critical technologies that, with the roll-out of artificial intelligence and the dramatic increase in new capabilities and online solutions, are bound to have an unprecedented effect on all our lives. It is estimated that the explosion in the number of connected devices will result in more than 500 billion of them worldwide by 2025 – nearly 100 smart objects per inhabitant of the planet. In this context, the event investigated the problem of jointly optimised communication efficiency and resources over wireless networks to leverage massive distributed data and computation resources.

The event was moderated by STOA Chair Eva Kaili (S&D, Greece), who began by highlighting the European commitment to developing critical technologies and the relevance of semiconductors for achieving strategic autonomy for Europe in the future geopolitical arena. Eva Kaili also referred to the emerging European deep-technology start-up scene and discussed the digital Europe programme, which will provide strategic funding to tackle the challenge of making Europe greener and more digital.

Following this introduction, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, delivered a scene-setting speech on the subject of edge computing, 6G and satellite communications. He argued that, as Europe moves forward on critical technologies, it is necessary to establish clear and robust rules enabling everyone to benefit from innovation. Commissioner Breton remarked that Europe’s digital sovereignty, industrial leadership and resilience are conditioned by the capacity to develop these critical technologies. He went on to provide an overview of the multiple initiatives related to digital technologies that Europe is pursuing to meet its current needs and face the ongoing evolution, as well as the industrial data revolution. He specifically mentioned initiatives such as the artificial intelligence act, the digital services act (DSA), the digital marketsaAct (DMA) and the data governance act (DGA).

Commissioner Breton considers 6G to be a game-changer, which is expected to dramatically increase performance, capacities and signal response time standards. Development of this new technology will be conditioned on its cybersecurity dimension, for which the European Commission will be providing an equivalent updated version of the 5G Security Toolbox. He further commented on the dedicated initiative on space-based connectivity, to be launched in 2022. Providing broadband access to everyone in Europe and the whole African continent, its infrastructure will integrate quantum encryption features and low-orbiting satellites.

This was followed by a discussion also moderated by Eva Kaili with the participation of several Members of the European Parliament. Eva Maydell (EPP, Bulgaria) commented on the legislative instruments required to make all these technologies future-proof, as well as on the role of industry and public‑private partnerships (PPP). Maria‑Manuel Leitão Marques (S&D, Portugal) highlighted several points related to international cooperation and the need for strategic autonomy.

As keynote speaker, Vincent Poor of Princeton University explained the motivation behind 6G and its new requirements, in addition to its performance metrics such as communication speed and efficiency. He also discussed the new paradigm shifts that are expected, and several application scenarios and key sectors that could be particularly impacted by 6G. Vincent Poor also presented some network security concerns for 6G and how they could be addressed, concluding with a review of enabling technologies and some comments on the way in which 6G will affect future communication networks.

The event continued with brief interventions from renowned experts in the field. Yuanyuan Yang, of the United States National Science Foundation/Stony Brook University, gave a presentation of the challenges and opportunities posed by the use of smart devices, applications and edge computing. Eleni Diamanti of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) followed, speaking about the two pillars of quantum technologies: quantum computing and quantum communication. She stated that quantum technologies offer a new paradigm for processing information and how we conceive infrastructure, in respect of cybersecurity. Finally, Gerhard Fettweis, of TU Dresden, pointed out that 5G provides the basis for remote control of robots, or what is known as personal mobile robotics. As coordinator of the 5G Lab Germany, he clarified the various implementation issues from the European perspective. In his view, all industry will be robotised, so we need to develop trust, authenticity, privacy, accountability and availability of our technologies according to EU values.

Eva Kaili then kicked-off the discussion with questions regarding blockchain, security, trust, 5G and the cloud. Eva Maydell commented on the challenges regarding changes in requirements for internet communication and the increasing need for standards. Maria‑Manuel Leitão‑Marques mentioned the Gaia‑X project and its chances to become an effective European cloud. The discussion was especially oriented towards the EU’s role and its capability to drive a human-centric approach for safe exploitation of the opportunities created by these critical technologies. A sustainable digital transformation is bound to have a significant impact on our technological, economic and societal development. It is imperative, according to the participants in the discussion, that the EU maximise the opportunities offered by digital and communication technologies while managing the risks, to ensure citizens have adequate access to safe, secure, inclusive and cost-effective solutions. The panellists agreed that the next five years will define the role of the different players in the area and that there was a need for action to ensure the EU remains ahead in this global competition.

Eva Kaili concluded the Annual Lecture by pointing out that critical technologies will definitely transform the world, offering new opportunities to all citizens. She added that Europe leads the way to human-centric innovation, therefore it is important to make sure that other countries will follow the same path, because technologies go beyond physical borders.

The full recording of the workshop is available here.

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