Despite crisis, Europe investing in future technologies

Europe is looking to the future and specifically to emerging technology
flagships according to vice president of the European Commission
responsible for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes.

Speaking at the
FET Emerging Technology Flagships pilots final conference in Brussels,
Kroes stressed the need for investment in future growth, looking ahead
and having the courage to invest in the “new ideas that could power our
world tomorrow.”

Kroes said today, much technology was in fact taken for granted.

“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!” she said.

Progress, said
Kroes, had taken “many people” with “the vision to think differently and
the patience to work tirelessly” to turn ideas into reality.

“We
don’t always know where that research will lead, and we don’t always
know what change it might bring,” said Kroes, though she added it could
well hold the key to humanity’s future.

Hence the reason Europe
is putting so much into its FET Flagships program, an ambitious
large-scale, science-driven, research initiative to push technology to
the next level.

Since May 2011, six preparatory actions (Pilots)
have been funded and fostered. Their proponents have had to create a
design, description and assess the project’s scientific feasibility, as
well as its potential for success in both technical and financial terms.

This week, the pilots will be presented and at least two of the
six will be selected and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in
2013 with €110 million behind them.

The initiatives span
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.

Kroes praised Europe’s “unwavering
focus” on scientific and social challenges and its courage in looking at
areas that were “high-risk, but high pay-off.”

Despite the
optimism, Kroes admitted that Europe was currently in “a difficult
situation” with a scarcity of public money, but that this meant ensuring
long-term growth was “more important than ever.”

“Cooperation;
risk-taking; and looking at the big questions. These are all things we
need in Europe today. These are what you, scientists and national
governments, are showing us,” she said.

“I want us to make a link
between basic research, innovation and exploitation: because by
bringing the best brains together we can build a critical mass, achieve
vastly bigger impact, and a much better return on research investment. A
return that pays off even in the short-term,” she said.

Kroes
said Europe was facing “very real choices” about how to invest in its
future; about how to ensure European research stayed globally
competitive, while ensuring that new developments support and boost
every sector of its economy.

The commissioner said it was
imperative to maintain “an ambitious level of research funding through
Horizon 2020,” and to combine Europe’s resources “in the smartest way.”

Brave and visionary, or fiscally risky? And should the US be following Europe’s model? Weigh in and let us know what you think.

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