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IST advisory group (ISTAG) takes strategic approach

European research on the Information Society should: ‘start creating an ambient intelligence landscape (for the seamless delivery of services and applications) in Europe relying also upon testbeds and open source software, develop user-friendliness, and develop and converge th...
European research on the Information Society should: ‘start creating an ambient intelligence landscape (for the seamless delivery of services and applications) in Europe relying also upon testbeds and open source software, develop user-friendliness, and develop and converge the networking infrastructure in Europe to world-class’. This was the vision statement delivered to the European Commission by the External Advisory Group for the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme - ISTAG.

The group, whose remit is to provide independent advice to the Commission, preferred to take a strategic approach to the IST Key Actions rather than addressing the fine print. They hope that their vision statement will be applicable to every part of the programme, guiding European IST research in the right direction.

The vision arises from the convergence of three key technologies: ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication, and intelligent user-friendly interfaces. It builds on European strengths in mobile communication and network infrastructures, providing a new impetus for the conversion of their applications with the aim of stimulating new business opportunities.

Angelo Airaghi, Vice-President of Finmeccanica, and president of ISTAG, said the group’s vision concerned the long-term future of the Information Society.

He said the concept is simple – one day it will enable him to “talk” to his household appliances about investment opportunities. What this means is that the components of devices in the home or office – the embedded microprocessors – would be connected to a network and this would enable them to communicate with each other, internet information sources, and their users and provide services which extend their “normal” functionality.

He said: ‘We will be surrounded by non-intrusive devices which will be capable of hearing, speaking, understanding and interpreting language. The question is how distant are we from that vision? We have almost all the building blocks, now we need to put them together. The microprocessors are in place, we now need to get them to do jobs other than for what they were intended.’

To help the Commission work towards this, the group recommended that the work programme should be selective in its priorities. This advice has been welcomed and the revised work programme for 2000, which will be available early in the new year, will reflect this with a reduction in the number of RTD action lines.

This view was reflected by Dr Hannes Werthner, Professor of Information Systems at Vienna University, and a member of ISTAG, who said: ‘Our vision provided a much needed focus, because it is a competitive environment and we have to identify strengths and weaknesses in the competition. It’s not so much a question of money, but if you focus you can get on top. Just don’t try to do everything.’

He said the vision should remain for the duration of the Framework Programme. ‘You shouldn’t change the vision every year because we need the chance to implement it.’

The relationship between ISTAG and the Commission has been very positive, said Dr Werthner. ‘We are giving opinions on the strategic level, and it's up to the Commission to take our advice. It's their risk. We could be right or we could be wrong – the future will show.’

Officials responsible for other programmes within the Fifth Framework Programme chose to employ an advisory group for each Key Action of their programme, but the Commission wanted an integrated approach for the IST programme, the biggest in FP5. ‘ISTAG is a prestigious multi-national, multi-disciplinary group, whose members don’t have the time to deal with details,’ said an official close to the group.

‘We use their experience and knowledge of where the industry is moving. Their advice is high level strategic advice and it's up to us and the research community to interpret it.’

Where it was felt further scrutiny was required, ISTAG set up three working groups (‘convergent IST applications and services’, ‘ambient intelligence’, and ‘user-friendly IST applications and services’) to bring additional focus to certain areas for the first revision of the work programme.

Their final report ‘Orientations for WP2000 and beyond,’ consolidates the findings of these groups, and is now available on the Web. The report, by intention, does not elaborate full technical details but rather provides strategic orientations and a number of illustrative examples that are relevant to the preparation of the 2000 work programme.

Several topics however, were identified as priorities, including human interfaces and natural interaction, network technology and system architectures, mobile webtone, and next generation Internet.

The IST work programme 2000 has been harnessed to the group’s vision through constant dialogue between the Commission, ISTAG and the IST Programme Committee (representatives of the national governments). A key step has been to introduce the vision in the revision of the workprogramme. The next step is the acceptance of the vision by a critical mass of key players who are committed to it and take responsibility for its implementation.

Source: European Commission, ISTAG secretariat

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