Bits, Atoms and Genes Beyond the Horizon

by Dimitris Plexousakis

The 'Beyond the Horizon' Project invites the research community in Europe to participate in defining research themes on Future and Emerging Information Society Technologies in the Seventh Framework Programme

Participate in the Europe-wide consultation process that ERCIM is organising in close collaboration with European S&T communities in order to define the major challenges and promising research directions that FET could support in the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme.

In order to achieve the full potential of the Information Society and to ensure the long term competitiveness of Europe, vigorous R&D activities in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and related disciplines are essential. This is the key role of the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme within the forthcoming 7th Framework Programme. As part of IST, the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) activity has the role of stimulating the emergence and development of new IST-related disciplines and technologies, which promise to have significant scientific, industrial and societal impact. In this perspective, FET is supporting long-term, visionary, high-risk collaborative basic research projects in advanced strategic research areas related to ICTs.

Further advances in ICTs are increasingly relying upon their synergy and cross-fertilisation with other scientific and technological fields. For example, we can see prospects in the miniaturisation of ICT devices compatible and interacting with living organisms, also allowing to invent ICT components and systems based on synthetic bio-molecular structures and beyond this, systems able to physically grow and self-repair. New computing and communication schemes are increasingly inspired by our burgeoning new understanding of the living world. New simulation tools and systems are being developed to model the living world from molecules to cells, organs, organisms and societies, and, for example, to predict effects of medicines or model the integration of artificial organs with living organisms.

This is particularly true between ICTs, new materials, biology and the life sciences, where progress in nano- and information technology is blurring the boundaries between information, material and life. In the coming decades, this cross fertilisation will intensify as scientists from different disciplines learn from each other's different ways of thinking.

Providing Input for FP7
Beyond-The-Horizon (B-T-H) is a coordination action funded by IST-FET and coordinated by ERCIM. The purpose of this project is to define major challenges and promising research directions that FET could support in the forthcoming FP7 in ICT-related strategic basic research areas. Through an extensive and systematic consultation of the relevant science and technology communities in Europe, the project will deliver innovative, visionary and interdisciplinary research directions and plans that would permit to develop future ICT-related technologies and their impact on society over the next 15 years. Six individual strategic research fields as well as their cross-links are the foci of the action, namely: 'Pervasive Computing and Communications (Thematic Group 1 or TG1)', 'Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnologies (TG2)', 'Security, Dependability and Trust (TG3)', 'Bio-ICT Synergies (TG4)', 'Intelligent and Cognitive Systems (TG5)' and 'Software Intensive Systems (TG6)'.

Throughout the year 2005, the six thematic groups have held brainstorming workshops for the purpose of identifying the emerging grand challenges in the respective areas. The workshops brought together eminent researchers from both academia and industry that embarked on drafting agendas for basic research in the six thematic areas. Summaries of the findings of the groups are reported in short articles in this issue. More detailed reports are available through the project's web site. The reports will be finalized in the next few months, after a wider consultation with the relevant European research communities that will start soon.

Plenary Workshop
A Plenary Workshop in Paris, 12-13 December 2005 brought together representatives of the six aforementioned thematic groups for the purpose of examining and consolidating the research challenges and themes that were identified at the individual workshops and of exploring new promising research challenges that arise at the intersections of the different areas. The debates were enriched with varying perspectives by notable invitees from the European research community, including members of the IST Committee and representatives of the French Ministry for Research. Other workshop special guests included Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics; Wendy Hall, representative of the future European Research Council; Anne Cambon-Thomsen, member of the European Group on Ethics. Keith Jeffery, President of ERCIM; and, Ulf Dahlsten, IST Director, and Thierry Van der Pyl, IST-FET Head of Unit, European Commission. Prof. Gavriel Salvendy (Purdue University, USA and Tsinghua University, China) shared an 'outsider's view' on the directions of basic research in ICTs. The workshop was very well-attended (80 delegates) and the discussion sessions were lively. The complete programme, presentation slides and photographic material are available through the project web site.

BTH family picture
Key speakers at the plenary workshop. From left: Gavriel Salvendy, Purdue University, USA and Tsinghua University, China; Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics; Keith Jeffery, Director for IT of CCLRC and ERCIM president; and Thierry Van der Pyl, Head of Unit, Future and Emerging Technologies, European Commission.

B-T-H is now entering its second stage during which the Thematic Group reports are disseminated to the European research community at large for feedback and consultation. The reports are accessible through the action's web site. Research communities in Europe are invited to provide their comments through the on-line consultation mechanism on the B-T-H website.

Please contact:
Dimitris Plexousakis, ICS-FORTH, B-T-H Scientific Coordinator

Jessica Michel, ERCIM Office, B-T-H Administrative and Financial Coordinator