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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Giving Europe's scientists the tools to deliver
International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2012)
Copenhagen, 23 March 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When I look at the many troubles we face today, it can be dispiriting. Our citizens worry for an uncertain future; our young people especially face horrific unemployment; governments confront impossible-seeming deficits.
But then I remember what we're good at here in Europe. And that gives me hope.
Europe has long been the smart continent, with a history of invention and innovation. We are the home of so many advances, from DNA to the SMS.
Today I want to talk about how we can support this changing world of science. And how we should invest in infrastructures for innovation.
Because one thing is clear: if we're going to give our economy the pick-me-up it needs, we're going to have to make most of our strengths.
That means we must do the best science, and innovate. For almost any question we face today, science and technology will help with the answer: from halting harmful climate change, to caring for an ageing population, to delivering the growth that secures future jobs.
But science itself is changing, too. We need to change with it. How?
Here are three trends in particular - trends we need to support.
First: scientists are collaborating. More and more, on a large scale. Collaborating between countries, between organisations, between disciplines: it's becoming the norm. Whether it's high-energy physics at CERN; or climate simulators that integrate research from across the world. Why?
Partly because, as today's challenges are global, so are the research efforts to solve them.
But also, because the challenges are so complex. If it were easy, we'd probably already have solved it. To deal with the rest, we must use every mind, every talent, combining them to be greater than the sum of their parts. Especially if we innovate by crossing disciplines.
Technology makes large-scale collaboration not only possible, but practical and effective. In virtual research communities held together by a digital e-infrastructure, researchers can work together, wherever they are. So we must give scientists the best networks, the fastest connections, the most effective tools.
The second trend is "big data". Everywhere you look, data volumes are growing exponentially. Data from research, from governments, from everyday life. There is a lot of unexploited knowledge hidden there, if only we knew how to find it!
ICT now offers us the chance to manage this data deluge, and understand the complex interactions at play – whether it's in the natural environment, the human body or the global economy. And using data wisely – and widely – can have surprisingly large payoffs – like, for example, for dealing with Alzheimer's disease.
But we can only do this if the data across disciplines is accessible and usable. Too often today, that's not the case – and so data stays locked up on ageing media gathering dust, or in departmental servers or on scientists' laptops: unconnected, offline and with no incentive to share.
And third, today's experiments are getting more and more complex. These days if you're designing new drugs, making new aircraft engines, or modelling the climate – then it's too expensive, if not downright impossible, to do the experiment in the "real world". So you have to do it virtually, "in silico", using high-performance computers.
These trends are positive: the challenge is to harness them and let them power us forward.
The practice of modern science needs the ICT tools and knowhow to analyse big data: and for us to be able to share interoperable, usable and trusted data sets across countries and disciplines. It needs high performance computers to conduct virtual experiments and forecasts. And it needs to enable remote access: whether to instruments, data, computing resources, or expert talent. For public authorities, the challenge is to adapt the way we support science: by giving scientists access to the tools, resources, reward systems and expertise they need.
In short, modern science needs the free flow of knowledge and expertise, in an e-infrastructure that is open across national borders, disciplines and scientific communities. If we do that, we can push this scientific transformation—and all see the benefit.
Already, we've used high-speed research networks like GÉANT to connect researchers, scholars, educators and students. Not just within Europe, but across the world. We've provided access to shared grid and Cloud computing facilities, for example through the E.G.I. infrastructure. We've developed the supercomputing capacity to deal with very demanding scientific applications, through PRACE, the European partnership for advanced computing. Plus, we've been developing the tools to support data in areas from the environment to the study of proteins, as well as developing a large network of European repositories for open access publications.
But it is not enough to just create new structures, to invest in equipment and resources: it's also about changing the policy and culture, by moving towards open science. I want a single and open European digital space, a digital European Research Area, where researchers can get leading-edge, ubiquitous and reliable services for networking and computing. And where they can get seamless and open access to resources and services.
Over the last 18 months we've made significant progress. The expert report "Riding the Wave" explains our policy for scientific data infrastructures; while the GÉANT expert group provides a clear agenda for the European "Communications Commons". Last month the Commission adopted its High Performance Computing Strategy for Europe. And finally, completing the Commission's open data policy that I am driving, we will soon present a Communication and Recommendation to Member States on access to scientific information and relevant policies.
e-Infrastructures and digital science are a good example of how we need to invest in our future. But they're not enough on their own. They need to be accompanied by other investments, too. In research funding more generally, including research infrastructures. And in delivering high-speed broadband across Europe.
That is why I am calling for support for our proposals for the EU budget. Driven by my colleague, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, we have tabled a bold proposal for the future of EU research funding: Horizon 2020. It's a programme which will make it easier to get support, easier to bring good ideas to market, and easier for Europe to invest in innovation for the future.
As part of the new Connecting Europe Facility we have also proposed 9 billion euros to build the broadband network and service infrastructures that will bring digital opportunities to everybody. Innovative financing could mean we leverage more than 50 billion euros for next generation broadband. And our funds will also ensure top-quality cross-border e-services to fit Europe's Single Market. Remember that raising broadband penetration by just 10 percentage points can boost GDP growth by up to 1.5%.
Nobody can deny it: investing in ICT capital pays a handsome dividend: one our future economy will sorely need. Digital science is just one illustration of that; together with broadband networks and services and high-quality research, they can deliver a GDP boost, improved productivity, and new markets creating new jobs.
Making this investment is essential to lift Europe out of the economic crisis. And it's essential to Europe's future: digital, smart and scientific.
Because with those ingredients, with high-class scientific infrastructure, with support for research and innovation, and with high-speed broadband networks and services across the continent, we can secure the Europe of tomorrow.