26 Apr 2018   |   News

EU urged to lead efforts to create ‘new internet’

Advisor lays out plan for how Europe can keep pace with rivals in key enabling technologies

Europe should exploit its industrial strengths in robotics, mechatronics and automation, and burgeoning expertise in quantum computers, to rebuild the internet so that it prioritises privacy and individual rights, according to a new report.

“China is using the internet to increase surveillance over its citizens, the US too. Europe needs to go the other way,” said Jürgen Rüttgers, former science and technology minister in Germany, who heads the group advising the European Commission on expanding industrial research in the next Framework R&D programme.

The final report, published as the Commission is finalising its long-term budget plans, adds to preliminary work the group, which includes 13 other figures drawn across research, industry and finance, published in February.

In an interview with Science|Business, Rüttgers warned the balance of power in technology is shifting away from Europe. After the US, it is China, notably, that is seen to be investing huge amounts in artificial intelligence, with the ambition to become a world leader in AI by 2025, he said.

Rüttgers is also concerned about the small number of large companies, such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, that mediate much of the internet.

He says the advisory group is urging extra effort, as part of the Commission’s Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) research programme, to develop new “security and connectivity” technologies for industry. This would include more protection from hacking or privacy violations, as industry connects more and more of its factories, products and services to the Internet of Things.

That is important politically, as well as industrially, Rüttgers says. “We want the KETs to be a real growth from the base of our democracy, our European values, and our view of our way of life here in Europe.”

Today, the six foundational technologies prioritised under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme are micro and nanoelectronics; nanotechnology; industrial biotechnology; advanced materials; photonics; and advanced manufacturing technologies.

Investment in these fields, which the Commission expects will pay off in the form of more skilled, high-paying jobs, is €6.6 billion, or 8.5 per cent of the seven-year Horizon 2020 budget, which ends in 2020.

Generally speaking, the current KETs programme, which began in 2009, “has identified the correct fields to invest in”, Rüttgers said.

But he argues that the Commission should add separate funding lines for artificial intelligence and security/connectivity. Rüttgers also calls for a broadening the existing biotechnology KET to include life sciences, rather than industrial biotech alone.

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