Case Study – European Commission High Level Expert Group on Convergent Technologies
Scenarios for Europe in 2020 were developed in 2004 to inform the discussions of the European Commission High Level Expert Group on Convergent Technologies on the New Technology Wave. The task was to provide advice on research agendas and policy options related to converging technologies. These are often defined as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences (NBIC).
The outlines of the scenarios were developed in a workshop involving 11 members of the HLEG, two outsiders and two members of the EC Foresight Unit. The Workshop was led by Gill Ringland and Michael Owen of SAMI Consulting and Gill Ringland produced the Final Report.
We found that Europe in 2020 will be affected by a number of factors, including demographic change and technology advances, but the major effect of NBIC technologies in particular on the economy and society will be later than 2020. However there would be many specific industries and processes affected by NBIC technologies in the 2020 timescale, and important research agendas well before then.
We considered that three main forces would determine Europe’s participation in NBIC research and adoption of the results:
- Public attitude to science and technology
- Europe’s view of itself, culturally diverse or seeking homogeneity, with the associated political implications
- Europe’s ambitions for economic growth, as expressed in the Lisbon Declaration.
By considering different combinations of the forces, we developed a number of scenarios and chose to explore four. The approach to science and technology research in general and NBIC in particular under each could be described as follows:
- Competitive Europe represents the “official future” as expressed at the Lisbon summit. Here, Europe would use science and technology to modify old industries and create new ones, focusing on export opportunities.
- Alternative Lifestyles would focus on industries facing structural change, using research to take them to a new totally sustainable economic model
- Global Capitalism would concentrate research on export opportunities of capability, innovation and specialist products.
- Regional Calm would focus on promoting inclusivity.
- The topics which appear in all the scenarios are those related to health, preventive medicine, telemedicine, tailored pharmaceuticals, bio and ICT monitoring, etc. A focus on health & ageing would appear to be robust across all scenarios for an NBIC programme.
- Sustainability (e.g. bio-engineering to produce hydrogen, programmes to solve the greenhouse effect, fuel cells, potable water, pollution monitoring) could be a robust focus if allied to export markets and export of capability, and used to drive economic growth.
- The use of ICT is embedded in all the scenarios, as are assumptions about enhanced ICT capability and the knowledge economy – although this is not spelled out.
- Cognitive issues and brain enhancements are not seen in the scenario where the public is negative about science and technology (Alternative Lifestyles).
- Common to all scenarios are links between universities, research, and industry. It is reasonable to look to a regional structure to implement this co-operation in all the scenarios.
- The scenarios that are based on economic growth (Competitive Europe, Global Capitalism) have also a strong emphasis on basic research excellence.
The HLEG decided that their recommendations would be aligned to the Competitive Europe scenario, but that the implications of the other scenarios would be pointed out where these were different, as in the case for much of the cognitive sciences research.