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< Contents ERCIM News No. 58, July 2004

InfoSam2020 - Planning for the Future Information Society

by Arne Solvberg and Tore R. Jørgensen

A two-day seminar for exploring relevant features of the future (year 2020) information society initiated the InfoSam activity at the Faculty of Information Technology, Mathematics and Electrical Engineering (IME) at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) at the end of April.

Different working groups presented position papers on a number of sub themes within this wide framework. Papers and input from invited key-note speakers:

  • Keith Jeffery, Director of Information Technology and Head of Business and Information Technology Department, CLRC
  • Michael L. Brodie, Chief Scientist at Verizon Information Technology
  • Johan de Kleer, Manager of the Systems and Practices Laboratory, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

No final conclusions were drawn. However, a wide hearing has been started and the process will end late 2004. In general, when the basic technologies get continuously cheaper, faster and smaller, the broad outline seems to be:

  • further growth of ICT systems into very huge and complex networks in most application areas; interoperability, security, privacy and reliability are crucial factors
  • simulations and visualization will be of increased importance to reproduce reality (like petroleum reservoirs, ultrasound scans of the human body, etc), construct reality from models (like automobiles), understand reality (genomics, etc.) and as tools to control reality (like process control)
  • how to manage and exploit the enormous amounts of information stored
  • self-configuring systems (connected to networks or stand-alone) from 'smart dust' to complex machines operating with mission statements.

Furthermore, the interaction between ICT and each application area specialists is assumed to be crucial for producing the competitive solutions in an international business. The number of highly qualified ICT experts will limit the speed of development. Without sufficient quality, the various systems will brake down or require more resources to build and operate than they are supposed to release.

IME has an annual educational output of approximately 500 master students and 30 PhDs, a significant part (60-65%) of the capacity in Norway, and thus the decisions by the faculty will be of national importance. The rapid pace of technological change impacts strongly on curricula and research. Technological change is also a key driver for changing the way we live, due to the deep penetration of computers in all realms of society. This has an impact on student recruitment, as well as on the relevance of research themes. The quality of our teaching depends on the quality and relevance of our research. In order to stay in the forefront the faculty has to relate to future needs.

The overall objective of InfoSam2020 is to determine which knowledge profile the students should have in 2020, and the associated teaching and research. The course for the faculty for the next 15-20 years is to be charted. This may seem a long time, but it is not when compared to the 10 years it takes to set up high quality research in a new field.

The first step in the process is to explore the space of future possibilities, to describe possible technological changes and subsequent changes in our society. The next step comprises the charting of the course.

InfoSam2020 is arranged in cooperation with The Norwegian Board of Technology, an independent body for technology assessment and foresight established by the Norwegian Government in 1999. The Board aims to assess impacts and options of technology in all areas of society; to stimulate public debate on technology; and to support the political decision-making process and shaping of technological change. Insights from InfoSam2020 will thus be presented by the Board to relevant political authorities.

To serve as a framework, two major themes have been selected. The first theme is devoted to the use of 'intelligent' artefacts in various realms of human endeavour. The second theme is devoted to enabling technologies, in particular within the fields of mathematics, ICT and electrical engineering.


Please contact:
Arne Sølvberg, Tore R. Jørgensen
NTNU, Norway