ICT 2008: plenary report

The opening plenary debate of the ICT 2008 conference focused on trends and directions for the ICT agenda over the next ten years. It was chaired by Viviane Redding, the EU commissioner responsible for ICT and involved a panel including Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent; Harold Goddijn, the founder of Tom Tom and Esko Aho, the ex-Prime Minister of Finland. The panel agreed that there are three major societal challenges for European ICT research and development:

  • the green agenda and tackling climate change
  • raising productivity and improving skills
  • building the knowledge society

Despite the economic downtown it was agreed it was important that Europe should continue to support work that helped with these challenges and not be diverted from the existing roadmap.

Ben Verwaayen argued that the Web and its evolution into a tool for “massive” collaboration and creativity would be profoundly important for these three areas. He predicted: “a whole new era of collaboration with a new eco-system developing”.

There are potential downsides. One is that the economic downturn will turn people against the idea of investing in research and blue skies thinking. The second is that unless we are careful we will not create ICT systems that are robust, secure and accessible anywhere and by anyone. An important part of this is trust. The financial collapse over the summer has shown the vulnerability of complex systems that are not well understood. The panel were in agreement that the complex systems that are being developed in advanced Web and software systems must not be allowed to fail in a similar way. How this would be brought about was a key part of the discussions.

In particular, the consensus was that Governments will not be building the next generation Internet and ICT systems themselves by a top-down process of ‘grand visions’. Instead, technology will evolve organically and be built by independent researchers, large companies and SMEs. What this means is that the EU and other Governments and agencies need to do is to give “content” or concrete form to the understanding and meaning of trust. Ben Verwaayen said that there will need to be some element of control and regulation. Aho agreed that we need trust in our ICT systems and agreed that there can’t be grand designs, but argued strongly for systematic approaches and the importance of architecture. There is a huge amount of digitization taking place in many areas of life but, he argued, we need some kind of overarching architecture process to make it all fit seamlessly. This fits strategically with JISC’s work on architecture at the enterprise and inter-institutional level and could be seen as EU level confirmation of its efforts.

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