Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Shaping the Information Society for Europe - IST99

The Information Society has taken off in Finland more than perhaps anywhere else in Europe, and where better a place to hold the annual European conference on Information Society Technologies, IST 99.

Over 3,500 IT experts, industrialists and politicians travelled to Helsinki...
The Information Society has taken off in Finland more than perhaps anywhere else in Europe, and where better a place to hold the annual European conference on Information Society Technologies, IST 99.

Over 3,500 IT experts, industrialists and politicians travelled to Helsinki for the event from 22 to 24 November, excited not only about the chance to discuss the future of the Information Society, but also for the opportunity to check out some of the latest technology.

The flight from Brussels to Helsinki was full of IST delegates, many of whom expressed a burning desire to get their hands on the latest Nokia model, the 9110 communicator, which combines phone, fax, Internet, e-mail, notepad and calendar all in one. But Nokia is not the only Finnish IT success story.

Once in Helsinki, it became apparent we were in a city at the forefront of IT applications and services. Six out of ten Finns owns a cellular phone, and at times the sound of so many ringing mobile phones seemed to form melodic harmonies. Internet connections per capita are also the highest in the world, and many Finns now handle their banking affairs over the Internet.

In the Finnish pavilion several of these high tech products were on show including the new Finnish electronic identification card, FINEID, which will go on public sale in December. It is an identification card that in future will be used around the clock for almost everything electronic, including banking, secure e-mailing, changing tax cards, registering as a job seeker, employment application and more besides.

Another product on show was the Cyphone, an augmented reality user interface, which allows you to see more information than the naked eye provides. Currently in the development stage, the Cyphone is a forerunner product platform for several potential added value services.

But why has the Information Society been so enthusiastically adopted in Finland? One of the researchers on the Cyphone project, Herri Kyllönen of VTT Elektronikka, put forward his personal theory. 'Well it gets pretty cold here in winter, and there is not much else to do other than playing around with technology. You also don't want to venture outside so often, or queue for a payphone, so any communication technology that avoids this is going to be welcome.'

The Finnish National Technology Agency, Tekes, puts forward some other suggestions. 'Finland's relatively large geographical area together with small population and cold winter climate has made advanced telecommunications an essential part of daily life. And so it has been in the past. The Finnish people have a long tradition as early adopters of new technologies - a tradition which has evolved from both curiosity and necessity.'

Another reason might be the investment in R&D, which has been growing as a percentage of GNP and last year topped three per cent. Director General of Tekes, Dr Martti Mäenpää said: 'The growth in R&D has mainly taken place in information and electronics industries, which now account for more than half of the R&D expenditure of Finnish companies as a whole.'

The Finnish experience proved a useful reference point throughout the conference. One of the main aims of the discussions was to ensure that the Information Society is inclusive, the realisation of which will require carefully planning and delicate balancing. The opening session set the tone for the rest of the event.

Dr Martti Mäenpää of Tekes began the debate. He said: 'We have in Finland a common understanding that the key element when developing our country for the future is technology know-how and people. With this strategy we also believe that Finland can make the best possible contribution to the overall development of Europe'. He went on to outline the strengths that could be built upon to ensure the development of the Information Society. These included the education and training system, telecommunications, security know-how, electronic banking and payment methods, knowledge management and all logistics.

Dr Mäenpää was followed by Erkki Tuomioja, the Finnish Minister of Trade and Industry, Erika Mann, Member of the European Parliament, Jorma Ollila, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Nokia, and European Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, Erkki Liikanen.

Erkki Tuomioja stressed the importance of using information and communication technologies in companies. He said: 'It is not just enough to have all these technological possibilities in the market. It is far more important that these new technologies are actually being used'.

The take-up of these technologies will be dependent on their ability to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of companies, he continued. Public sector decision-makers have a role to play here, ensuring 'the interests of the individuals and a balanced development of society as a whole'. Mr Tuomioja said this would involve investing in knowledge and skills, and managing the changes required by businesses.

European Commissioner Erkki Liikanen drew the session to a close by outlining a vision for the conference. He said the IST Programme and the IST conference should be seen in the context of policy change and globalisation. To ensure the equity and success of the Information Society, Europe must work together, and he pledged the Commission to supporting this through encouraging technological development with the IST programme and ensuring a favourable legal environment for business and consumers.

He said: 'The Information Society holds the key to our future: jobs, growth, and quality of life.

'No-one can predict who will be the winners of tomorrow - nor how long they will remain winners.

'It is only by pooling our resources and devising a common strategy that we can create an inclusive Information Society and ensure that Europe does not fall behind.

'Failing to do this now will compromise Europe's future. In a few years - in some sectors in a few months - the window of opportunity will be closed. Hence the need for a new initiative for the information society.'

Delegates had further opportunities to discuss the implications of the Information Society in terms of technologies and applications, the legal and regulatory framework, visionary scenarios of how people will live in the future, emerging job opportunities, how people will be competitive, and how governments will serve its citizens. The European Commission also used the opportunity to present the main orientations of the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme for the year 2000.

Some of the aspects discussed included the future of networking - what new applications will be built on the emerging pervasive networking and computing? What new technologies are being conceived, and what are the technological, marketing and economic issues? How can this be regulated?

The Internet, the new economy and the digital society were also addressed. Mobile e-commerce and wireless networks are among the cutting edge technologies coming out of Europe, leading to discussions of hot topics such as consumer protection, privacy and the respective roles of the public and private sectors.

Alongside the Finland pavilion was 4000 square metres of exhibition space. The major part was oriented towards the results of previous Commission R&D programmes in information and communication technologies. Several non-EU countries were also on hand to present their research activities and look for future collaboration activities. A quick survey of the stands revealed most had received a positive response.

The conference closed with a presentation of the future IST work programme, complemented by practical advice on next year's calls for proposals and a discussion of the policy context and strategic orientations.

Source: IST 99

Related information

Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top