ERCIM News No.48, January 2002 [contents]

Bionics workshop proceedings
The workshop reports are available at

Strategic Research Workshops

by Jean-Eric Pin

ERCIM has organised a series of strategic research workshops under the auspices of the European Commission’s Information Society Technology Programme, Future and Emerging Technology activity, and the US National Science Foundation, Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

These workshops have been set up to identify key research challenges and opportunities in information technology. On the European side, ERCIM was assigned to solicit ideas for high-level workshops from the European IT scientific community and to then organise the workshops. Based on over 350 suggested topics, a strategic workshop review committee selected the areas for joint research initiatives according to the following criteria:

  • long-term/high-risk nature of the research involved, justifying risk-sharing at an international level
  • high potential payoffs in both the EU and the US which make up for the long-term/high-risk nature of research
  • existence of sufficient scientific and technological bases in both the US and the EU to support balanced research efforts.

‘Bionics’, ‘Future Information Processing Technologies’ and ‘Semantic Web’ were three of five strategic emerging topics selected by the Strategic Workshop Review Committee. ERCIM organised a workshop on each of these three topics in 2001. The workshops were intended to facilitate breakthroughs in innovative domains, and stimulate research activities and scientific discussions of mutual interest. The respective programme committees were nominated by the strategic workshop review committee. Participation was by invitation only, and each workshop was attended by a total of twenty participants from both Europe and the US. In addition to these three workshops, a fourth workshop on ‘R&D Strategy for a Dependable Information Society’, partly supported by the NSF/EC scheme, was organised in December 2001.

Bionics - Bio-Inspired Information Technologies
In a collaborative effort among leading researchers from the US and Europe, the workshop ‘Bionics – Bio-Inspired Information Technologies’, held in Brussels on 19-21 June 2001 under the scientific coordination of Tamas Roska from SZTAKI, explored the possibilities of a joint EU-NSF research agenda in the field of bionics.

BIONICS is a common term for bio-inspired information technology, typically including three types of systems, namely:

  • bio-morphic (eg, neuromorphic) and bio-inspired electronic/optical devices
  • autonomous artificial sensor-processor-activator prostheses and various devices built into the human body
  • living-artificial interactive symbioses, eg, brain-controlled devices or robots

The Workshop has been divided into four areas: (i) sensing, interfaces and sensors, (ii) human-machine interaction with autonomous sensors and various prostheses (iii) bionic systems and brain-controlled automata, and (iv) bionic and bio-inspired device technologies.

New technologies will have to be developed in order to provide the bionics industry (sometimes also called info-bionics) with reliable tools and techniques for making commercially viable products and services. From this perspective, several key research challenges are to be studied and overcome. The main challenges to be addressed are:

  • to understand the metal-to-bio contact mechanisms for some key interface classes in the deep submicron range, and to develop testbed interfaces ready for standardised clinical trials
  • to invent microsensor- and/or actuator-specific yet programmable multidimensional signal-processing platform prototypes, the sensing and actuator parts being integrated into the platform
  • to study the inherent dynamic plasticity and interaction between the sensing and computing (signal processing) parts, especially if the signal is topographic (eg, vision)
  • to develop and invent new mixed mode VLSI design techniques for implementing the low power design of analogic topographic microprocessors
  • to uncover the neuromorphic functional models in key living sensing-processing-acting (navigating) organs, especially the visual and tactile pathway, and to study cross-modality
  • to develop and invent analogic CNN array computing algorithms for dynamic and multidimensional signal processing, fusion, detection and activation functions.

The drafted results and recommendations are intended to serve as a basis for a joint EU-NSF research program. Such a program for discovering and implementing new ideas, methods, and devices in the field of bionics would be beneficial for millions of people suffering from various handicaps and diseases, and could create a new industry in the 21st century.

International Workshop on Future Information Processing Technologies
The International Workshop on Future Information Processing Technologies (IWFIPT) was held on 3-6 September 2001 and brought together top-level scientists and strategic thinkers from all around the world. Debate ranged over those research and technology frontiers which promise to extend progress in information processing into the 21st century. The scientific coordinator was Giorgio Baccarani from the University of Bologna. The format was chosen to follow that of a Gordon-type conference in order to promote openness in discussions and a completely free exchange of ideas. Participation was limited to thirty European, thirty American and thirty Asian participants. All sessions had a main subject and were driven by invited presentations delivered by leading scientists from Europe, USA and the Far East.

The selected topics in the workshop were: ‘Future System and Technology Challenges’ (two sessions), where emphasis was placed on the convergence among PCs, PDAs, cell phones and the related network infrastructure; ‘Silicon Evolution and the Future’, which addressed system-on-chip design challenges, reconfigurable computing and low-power design issues; ‘Enabling Technologies’, such as optical networking and human interfaces; and ‘Emerging Technologies’, addressing smart dust, superconducting devices and new implementations of quantum computers.

Semantic Web
The strategic workshop on the ‘Semantic Web’ was held on 3-5 October 2001 in Sophia Antipolis, France. The scientific coordinator was Jérôme Euzenat from INRIA. The workshop gathered twenty US and European researchers from the fields of knowledge acquisition and representation, database, web and man-machine communication. The aim was to envision the future of the ‘Semantic Web’ and identify emerging research areas in order to pinpoint expected breakthroughs and put forward recommendations to the funding bodies.

The Semantic Web can be thought of as an infrastructure for supplying the web with formalised knowledge in addition to its actual informal content. No consensus exists on how far the formalisation should go: it ranges from precise metadata schemes (like the Dublin core metadata markers) to fully-fledged logical representation languages. One of the challenges of current semantic web development is the design of a framework in which all these systems can coexist. The participants have agreed that the best achievement of the Semantic Web would simply be called ‘the web’. The workshop itself was composed of two days of presentations, each participant having a negotiated topic. These presentations were grouped into four sessions (Languages; Resources and Infrastructure; Clients and Human Interface; and The Semantic Web in Application Areas). After each session, a general discussion was held in order to isolate topics for further discussion. On the third day, the participants were split into four working groups (Language; Infrastructure; Human-Related Issues; and Ontologies) and research perspectives and agendas were elaborated for the years to come.

There are a few application scenarios that have retained the attention of the audience: the Semantic Web for electronic commerce, knowledge management and bioinformatics. It seems that some of these could be seeding further applications (both test benches and early adopters for Semantic Web techniques: the bioinformatics community could be for the Semantic Web what the physics community has been for the web).

The participants expressed a need for transcontinental and transdisciplinary collaboration, ie, since the web is a worldwide resource, research should also occur on a worldwide scale. They also strongly supported the idea of seeing entities like EU or NSF supporting open-source realisation of high quality software and shelter organisations for this software (like the Apache Foundation).

R&D Strategy for a Dependable Information Society
The aims of this workshop, which was held in Düsseldorf on 1-2 December 2001, were to discuss collaboration between the EU and the USA on R&D for information infrastructure dependability, reliability and security, and to roadmap priority areas for future collaboration. The workshop started with position papers from each head of delegation on the state of play of the EU-USA R&D on dependability, followed by a review of the EU-USA collaboration in this field. Future steps of a collaborative roadmap were discussed based on the outcome of three parallel working group sessions on ‘Dependability Challenges in the Information Society’, ‘Information Assurance of Complex Networked Systems’ and ‘Interdependencies’. Jean-Claude Laprie, from CNRS, LAAS, presented the conclusions and recommendations of this workshop in a specific session dedicated to dependability during the IST Conference in Düsseldorf, 3-5 December 2001.

This series of strategic workshops will continue in 2002 with a possible extension to newly identified research priorities.

EU-NSF strategic workshops project:
EC Future and Emerging Technologies activity:
National Science Foundation, Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering:

Please contact:
Jean-Eric Pin, ERCIM
Tel: +33 4 9238 5010