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< Contents ERCIM News No. 62, July 2005

Viviane Reding

Viviane Reding,
Member of the European Commission
responsible for Information Society and Media

Digital convergence between audiovisual media, high-speed networks and smart devices is a reality. Multimedia informatics is a key enabling technology in this process. It helps make media content more directly manageable by computers, in an age where new information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical media is reckoned to double every three years.

What will be the benefits? Digital convergence presents new opportunities for businesses to unlock new markets, and for public bodies to improve the way they work. For example, national newspapers can reach customers through print, online or mobile services. Hospitals will be able to make X-Rays available instantly at the patient’s bedside.

Convergence also presents new challenges, especially in the interoperability between the network, device and content levels. Media content needs to be reformatted, restructured and re-indexed continually for multi-channel distribution – and this can best be done with automated solutions.

What is the EU’s role? On the research front, the EU’s sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development contributes to digital content, cognition and interface development as well as to eLearning and culture.

Digital content research combines semantic methods with audiovisual and Web technologies, allowing providers to create new forms of attractive and meaningful content for the consumer. In one instance, commercial producers and distributors will aim to deliver media content to end-users through different channels including interactive TV, personal computer, kiosks, mobile and handheld devices. In another case, a network of excellence - led by ERCIM - will bring together research groups in data mining and machine learning, to automate semantic-based multimedia retrieval from media content.

Cognition research breaks new ground in modeling machine perception and understanding more closely the human brain. One goal of this approach is to arrive at a new kind of computer that can describe what it sees, in real life situations. Imagine the benefits of a system which can report a traffic jam that it sees over a video camera, or which can translate sign language into words.

We also need easy-to-use interfaces, as far as possible using our own language and preferences. Research here aims, for example, at a new generation of machine translation, based on automated speech recognition and spoken language translation of broadcast news and speeches, starting with English and Spanish. Research will also explore multimodality, for example smart meeting rooms and electronic assistants which can collect, annotate and distribute different kinds of meeting materials on the fly - spoken, written or visual.

What does the future hold? My new i2010 initiative, adopted by the Commission on 1 June, sets an objective of increasing our investment in ICT research by 80% over the coming years. But i2010 does not stop there. It addresses key policy and regulatory matters, such as digital rights management. It also aims at a more inclusive information society. A recent eLearning conference explored the need to reform education and training systems, and to promote digital literacy, e-skills and lifelong learning in an ageing population. In the area of digital culture, we intend to strengthen EU policies concerning the preservation and exploitation of Europe’s written and audiovisual heritage, with the help of all the public players concerned, making easy access by citizens to Europe’s valuable resources an everyday reality.

Viviane Reding