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VUB Vicerector Innovation & Industry Relations Hugo Thienpont participated in the High-Level Strategy Group on Industrial Technologies appointed by the European Commission to advise on future research and innovation. This resulted in a report “Re-Finding Industry / Defining Innovation” that strongly recommends to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cyber Technologies as new Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) for the upcoming European Commission Framework Programme 9. 


What will be the impact on Europe’s Research & Innovation and what does it mean for VUB? What about the existing Key Enabling Technologies and will Europe keep up the pace? We invited Hugo Thienpont to elaborate on the conclusions of the strategic advisory group.


Why the advice to add these 2 new Key Enabling Technologies? Hugo Thienpont explains: “Since 2009 KETs have been a priority on EU’s research, innovation, and industrial agenda. The 6 KETs identified at the beginning are: advanced manufacturing technologies, photonics, industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, nanotechnology, and micro- and nanoelectronics. Now Europe urgently needs to pay more attention to and invest in “Artificial Intelligence” and “Cyber Security and Connectivity” research and innovation, if it wants to keep its pilot-position in these promising new sectors with the aim of bridging the valley of death between fundamental research, innovation and production. The high-level group therefore recommended to recognize AI and Cyber Technologies as additional KETs and to give them a prominent place in the FP9 research and innovation agenda with considerable funding from 2021 to 2027.”


How will this affect VUB? HT: “Both newly proposed KETs are highly relevant for VUB. It’s research group AI-Lab is a leader in Artificial Intelligence, but also for other groups such as BruBotics, Electronics & Informatics (ETRO), Business Technology & Operations (BUTO) and Photonics (B-PHOT), AI will be(come) a key technology. Cyber Security is a key action within the Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) group and the Institute for European Studies (IES). I am convinced that this influential report will give the EC the necessary power to provide more means for those topics where excellent VUB R&I groups pioneered in. But we must also keep in mind that other European research groups will start to claim leadership and that there will be harsh competition in obtaining funding.”


What was the strategic group’s advice on existing KETs? HT: “They recommended Europe to continue to prioritise advanced manufacturing technologies, advanced materials and nanotechnologies, micro-/nano-electronics and photonics. Biotechnology should be broadened to ‘life sciences’.”


And to conclude, what does this mean for Europe’s future? HT: ”The crucial question is: does technological innovation lead to more inequality or is it the opposite? It seems more plausible that today’s expanding inequality is the result of insufficient implementation of technological innovations and a failure to diffuse them widely. Capitalizing on existing KETs and introducing AI and Cyber Security as newcomers will maximise industrial deployment, job creation, and welfare in Europe.”


The full report “Re-Finding Industry / Defining Innovation” of the EC High-Level Strategy Group on Industrial Technologies can be read here.

Capitalizing on existing KETs and introducing AI and Cyber Security as newcomers will maximise industrial deployment, job creation, and welfare in Europe.
Hugo Thienpont, Vicerector Innovation & Industry Relations, VUB