The ‘fet11‘ conference will be held soon (4-6 May 2011, Budapest) as part of the EU’s FP7 (7th Framework Programme) ICT ‘Future and Emerging Technologies’ (FET) initiative. ‘fet11’ will mark the official launch of the six FET Flagship Pilots running for 12 months. In the second half of 2012 two of the Pilots will be selected and launched as full FET Flagship Initiatives in 2013, receiving up to 1 billion euro each and lasting up to 10 years. Distilling the official information down from EU- to lay-speak, the six FET Flagship Pilot Actions to be launched are:
- ‘FuturICT’: What if global scale computing facilities were available that could analyse most of the data available in the world? What insights could scientists gain about the way society functions? What new laws of nature would be revealed? Could society discover a more sustainable way of living? This initiative is seeking to develop ICT that will provide scientists, governmental officials and citizens with a ‘Living Earth Platform’ – a planetary scale computer with the means of analysing data and managing complex events, e.g. predicting natural disasters or managing and responding to man-made disasters that cross national borders.
- ‘Graphene’: Graphene [‘atomic-scale chicken wire’, 1 atom thick] could be the wonder material of the 21st century. This Flagship Initiative will explore the potential of graphene, the fundamental understandings of material properties and its production in order to establishing European leadership. The research includes electronics, spintronics, photonics, plasmonics and mechanics.
- ‘Guardian Angels’: assisting people in all sorts of situations from infancy right through to old age, Guardian Angels will be like personal assistants and are envisioned as intelligent (thinking), autonomous systems featuring sensing, computation, and communication, and delivering features and characteristics that go well beyond human capabilities. A key feature: zero power requirements as they will scavenge for energy. Applications: individual health support tools, local monitoring of ambient conditions for dangers, and emotional applications [?]. Research: energy-efficient computing and communication, low-power sensing, bio-inspired energy scavenging, and human-machine interfaces.
- ‘HBP’ – The Human Brain Project: building the informatics, modelling, and supercomputing technologies needed to simulate and understand the human brain. Biologically detailed simulations of the brain will make it possible, for the first time, to identify the multi-level chain of interactions leading from genes to cognition and behaviour. Research will include new diagnostic tools and treatments for brain disease, new interfaces to the brain, new types of low-energy technologies with brain-like intelligence, and a new generation of brain-enabled robots.
- ‘ITFoM’ – IT Future of Medicine: a revolution in healthcare, it proposes a data-driven, individualised medicine of the future, based on the molecular/physiological/anatomical data from individual patients. ITFoM shall produce individualised versions of general models of human pathways, tissues, diseases and ultimately of the human as a whole in order to identify personalised prevention/therapy schedules and side effects of drugs.
- ‘RoboCom’ – Robot Companions for Citizens: soft skinned and sentient [?] machines designed to deliver assistance to people, in the broadest possible sense. Robot Companions will be based on the novel solid articulated structures with flexible properties displaying soft behaviour and will also have new levels of perceptual, cognitive and emotive capabilities. They will be aware of their physical and social surroundings and respond accordingly. The research will validate understandings of the general design principles underlying biological bodies and brains.
Which two will win?
Putting aside self-aggrandizing Grand Projets for the moment, what Grand Problems should Europe be trying to solve? Something along the lines of a cure for cancer? Certainly not – it would exacerbate Europe’s existing demographic timebomb of leaving dwindling numbers of the young to support legions of mentally infirm. ‘HBP’ is thus a worthy cause to improve quality of life, ‘Guardian Angels’ are desirable to look after us in old age and progress on ‘ITFoM’ is essential regardless of FP7. ‘FuturICT’ and ‘RoboCom’ are both vague and fanciful (cynics, place your bets here). Investing in Graphene may enable Europe to recover from its poor position in electronics w.r.t the US and Asia. Not that I have a vote on the issue, but if I did, I’d probably vote in the interest of the economy – for Graphene and ITFoM. Unfortunately, this would deflect lots of euro-dosh from the sexy stuff – brain science and robotics.