среда, 7 октября 2015 г.

What’s next for Horizon 2020?

Éanna Kelly, Science|Business

The Commission is dovetailing its political and policy priorities into the new Horizon 2020 research plans for 2016 - 2017

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Jean-Claude Juncker vowed to increase the political appeal of the European Commission when he was sworn in as president last year - and now it seems Horizon 2020 is being re-shaped in line with this promise, as the next phase of the R&D programme puts the emphasis and the money on hot-button topics such as shoring up Europe’s borders, cyber-security and driverless cars.

All feature in the draft Horizon 2020 research plans for 2016 and 2017, copies of which are now available online. These work programmes were developed over the past year by committees assembled by the Commission’s research department.

In the work programme, researchers will find competitions for:

New nanotech to aid stem cell research;
Robotic vehicles to explore the outer reaches of the solar system;
Encryption software to keep critical industries like nuclear power safe from terrorists and hackers;
Technology to help green electricity-hungry data centres
Reactions from researchers on the new plans are coming in, with many still wading into the cache of 17 documents. Final versions will be released mid-October, with lobbyists saying they expect some changes to competition scheduling and budgets, but not so much to content.

In the meantime, Science|Business has an initial dive into the documents. While the plans could change over the next couple of weeks, here are some highlights:

Open agenda

Competing for attention among the hot-button research are the varied interests close to the heart of Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas.

In June, he laid these out in a pitch entitled ‘Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World’ – a grab-bag of initiatives on open data and science, research integrity and science diplomacy.

“We need more open access to research results and the underlying data,” said Moedas at the time. “Open access publication is already a requirement under Horizon 2020, but we now need to look seriously at open data.”

True to form, a preliminary analysis of the work programmes reveals a weighty emphasis on all things ‘open’.  

According to the ‘inclusive societies’ section, an expert group on open science will be established next year. The group will be charged with “harvesting evidence… performing specific analyses, and developing reports on alternative scientific publishing models.”

There will also be a competition to create an ‘open science monitor’ in which “Contractors will identify, define, monitor and analyse the state-of-play for Open Science trends in EU28 and, where data is available, in associated countries (AC).”

The project will develop an online, interactive repository of resources on trends and impacts. There will also be some cash for an event on "Open Science" to be held at the beginning of next year.

Meanwhile, in the infrastructures section, there is money to create an EU-wide cloud computing network, heeding concerns from some scientists that current systems cannot store and share all the data they create.

Moedas has said he would like to create even bigger openings for these topics following the Horizon 2020 mid-term review in 2017.

Science diplomacy, gender equality

‘Science diplomacy’, another topic dear to the Commissioner, makes an appearance.

The question of how to prepare and employ science diplomats, who could use the soft power of science as a back channel to political dialogue and deal-making, remains an unexplored research area, the document says.

Research is needed to, “understand the success and failures of diplomatic efforts in the regions. It should also consider relevant results of international cooperation projects involving neighbourhood countries and all relevant existing legal instruments in various policy areas (eg, energy), take into account the role of other states (eg, US, Russia, and neighbours of the neighbours) and non-state actors in the various neighbouring regions.”

There will also be funding for the new seven-member science advisory mechanism, which is intended to bring an end to rows over who is qualified to give the Commission science advice.

Competitions to promote gender equality and improve training materials will be aimed at research funders, according to the ‘science with and for society’ document.  

Strengthening borders

With Europe struggling to manage the huge number of refugees fleeing conflict in countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, there is funding to devise ways of improving systems and strengthening borders in the ‘secure societies’ segment.

“There will be money for the development of technologies and capabilities which are required to enhance systems, equipment, tools, processes, and methods for rapid identification, to improve border security, whilst respecting human rights and privacy,” the plan says.

“Detecting, locating, tracking or identifying persons and vehicles crossing the border in forested regions is extremely difficult, given that technologies for surveillance through harsh unstructured environments are currently not effective.” The increasing risk of irregular flows and immigration across the border with, for instance, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, “makes the issue even more acute than in the past,” according to the work plan.

There will also be funding for the development of technologies that will make it possible to police movement within the Schengen area without inconveniencing member state nationals who have the right to travel through the 26 countries that are part of the scheme.

“For the traveller it would be ideal to cross borders without being slowed down. It is indeed likely that, in the next 10 years or so, technologies make it possible to implement ‘no gate crossing point solutions’ that allow for seamless crossing of borders and security checks for the vast majority of travellers who meet the conditions of entry, and make sure that those who do not fulfil such conditions are refused entry,” the work plan says.

Preparing for disruptive technologies

In the ‘science with and for society’ section, much attention is given to the nebulous concept of ‘responsible research and innovation’.

Researchers assess new technology using 'technology-readiness levels', so how about gauging society’s preparedness for new technology using ‘society-readiness levels’? the document asks.

The Commission sees this as timely, given the way in which advances in fields such as genetic engineering, genomics and artificial intelligence give rise to complex ethical questions.

To help society prepare for disruptive technologies, one answer could be to engage people in advance. For example, research organisations could host “science shops”, which are “inclusive and safe space[s] for participatory dialogue, citizen science and co-creation,” the work plan suggests.

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