For those of us following the high-tech sector, the notion of investing in future and emerging technology is such common knowledge and baseline requirement that we forget sometimes the rest of the world may not always think about its importance.
So, it's refreshing and welcoming to hear someone else talk along these lines to a broader group of people and remind them of stuff we already know. Earlier this week, Neelie Kroes, a European Commission vice president responsible for the trading block's digital agenda, took to the stage with exactly that message.
Speaking at the FET Flagships Pilots Final Conference in Brussels, Kroes called on people to have the courage to invest now in ideas that could power our world tomorrow, and to do this in spite of the crisis and financial uncertainty that still shadows the continent. Her full speech can be read here, but below are a few key points:
- Today we take so much technology for granted. But imagine where we'd be without the efforts of those who've gone before. Think of where we'd be without the car, or the microchip. Without the technologies themselves, without the transformation they brought to every aspect of our lives, without the amazing new possibilities they enabled. Life would be very different.
And remember that it took many people — with the vision to think differently and the patience to work tirelessly — before those ideas could become reality. That is why we need the faith to look ahead to future and emerging technology. We don't always know where that research will lead, and we don't always know what change it might bring. But we do know that maybe, just maybe, it could hold the key to our future lives.
Kroes added that member states asked the EC to set up this kind of flagship pilot program in 2009:
- Right from the start, it was clear that the Flagships [would] mean unprecedented collaboration between EU and national programmes. An unprecedented scale of ambition and support over 10 years with a unifying visionary goal. And an unwavering focus on the grand scientific and social challenges, looking at the areas that are high-risk, but high pay-off.
Since May 2011, six preliminary preparatory actions — or pilots — were funded for more than 12 months and teams had to create a design, description, and assess the project's scientific feasibility and its potential for success in both technical and financial terms. By the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, at least two of the pilots will be chosen and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in 2013 with $135 million (€110 million) in financial backing. The initiatives include everything from personalized medicine, therapy and disease prevention, management of globally interactive systems, electronics built on entirely new foundations, autonomous smart devices, and machines capable of genuine human interaction.
Given all the depressing talk about the ongoing debt crisis and austerity measures, maybe it is time that the region starts refocusing its collective energy on not only beating the same economic horses dead. A collective growth-oriented vision based on technology development and research could well be one way of the crisis. I guess we'll see how Kroes resonates elsewhere around the continent.