Europe must make 'digital world' a central priority

Policymakers must be prepared for increasing convergence between the digital environment and the physical world, argues Pilar del Castillo.

By Pilar del Castillo MEP

12 Mar 2014

Where will the digital revolution have taken Europe and the rest of the world 15 years from now? Five years ago, in 2009, as a newly elected European parliament prepared to take up its mandate, the European internet foundation (EIF) published 'The digital world in 2025: indicators for European action'.

Now, as we look toward the European elections of May 2014 and the rapidly digitalising world awaiting the next parliament, we have repeated this exercise.

Our purpose remains as it has been: to challenge European political leaders and policymakers – and more particularly Europe's legislators – to put Europe's place in tomorrow's digital world at the centre of their preoccupations and priorities today.

Five years ago we concluded that, "given current trends any distinction between 'the digital world' and any other worlds will have become largely academic by 2025". For all intents and purposes we must fast-forward 10 years because we are already there – or rather, here. Humankind's own ingenuity has created this new world with all of its marvels, disruptions, hopes and fears. Now we have to figure out how to develop it and prosper in it. There will be no opting out.

Our new report is again based on a yearlong collaboration with EIF members and guests from all over the world, including policymakers and representatives from industry and academia, and again looks at the technology, economy and socio-political trends which will shape our future world.

At its heart is a vision of a 'knowing society' in which the real-time, real-world ability to continuously track, measure, and interpret – to 'know' – and react to the current state of virtually any external condition or phenomenon at any scale, at any time, through continuous targeted real-time data capture and analysis – today widely referred to as big data – becomes the primary source of economic, social and political power at any scale. This world will be driven by an impending avalanche of digital technologies and tools – especially software.

Central to our new digital world will be the democratisation of manufacturing as new tools increasingly penetrate the physical world – still some 90 per cent of the global economy – to eliminate barriers to the design and profitable production of physical objects at any scale.

At the same time, these trends call into question the very nature of work and employment in the economy of 2030, demanding a priority focus today on Europe's educational structures and strategies, and on the attractiveness of our business climate for entrepreneurial innovation.

The report concludes with a realistic assessment of Europe's prospective place in this future, digitally-transformed world, and identifies priority areas for public – notably European – policy action. While there are concerns over a number of Europe's weaknesses demanding urgent action, the trends identified are seen to play toward the abiding strengths of European civilisation itself. The creative uptake of leading-edge digital tools and technologies can leverage all of these strengths at European and global scale. This must be Europe's core 2030 strategy.

This EIF foresight project has been running in parallel and close cooperation with both the European commission's 'digital futures' project and 'the world in 2030' project of the European strategy and policy analysis system.

We warmly invite all members of the European parliament to the launch event for this report on 18 March in the European parliament, in advance of this year's parliamentary elections and the designation of a new commission and in time to contribute to the campaign debate.