IoT and Techological changes for social progress

This week I have been to the Internet of Things Week 2013, in Helsinki, to talk about IoT and Techological changes for social progress.

I’d like to share with you, here, what I had to say at the Opening Session with:

Kimmo Ahola, Tekes – Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation
Mario Campolargo, Director of the Net Futures Directorate, EC
Kevin Ashton, Belkin Cleantech Division
Jari Arkko, ERICSSON, Chairman of the International Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Michael Koster, The Open Source Internet of Things


The Internet of Things is an ever-changing area that has experienced an extraordinary evolution since it first appeared. The number of devices connected to the Internet has tremendously increased over the last few years. This shows that the Internet of Things has a huge potential and will keep on growing far beyond our expectations.

Two years ago, I drafted the first European Parliament report on the issue. I already stressed, then, the need to take a step forward for a safe, transparent and multilateral governance in that field. At that time, the main keywords I underlined when looking to the future of the Internet of Things from the EU perspective were:

Stronger investment;
Trust; and
Political commitment.

Today, these three elements are still essential if we want to use the technologies of the Internet of Things in a way that can be socially useful to improve citizens and businesses daily lives. But I would add that these elements should not prevent a friendly development of the IoT.

To this extent, I would like to highlight some EU policy priorities that can help matching or fulfilling the three core elements I’ve just mentioned:

Horizon 2020, a key financial tool
Privacy and data security
Citizens’ engagement and participation.


1. About Horizon 2020

As you know, a strategic goal for 2020 is to raise EU investment in research and innovation up to 3% GDP. This would allow creating new jobs and increasing annual EU GDP up to 800 billion Euros by 2025.

To this aim, the EC has proposed a strong orientation for policy measures that allow knowledge production and stimulate innovation through a wide and robust EU budget package within the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework, still in ongoing negotiations. So far, the EC has made an 80 billion Euros allocation proposal for Horizon 2020, which unfortunately the Council is cutting to a level that cannot be accepted by the European Parliament.

According to experts’ recommendations for an “European Strategy for the Internet of Things” (November 2012), the “Internet of Things is a perfect candidate to contribute to the goals of Horizon 2020” – specially those which put innovation at the centre of economic recovery and bring a comprehensive social transformation into the digital era.

The technologies of the Internet of Things can help ensuring innovation through interoperability and a larger and better consumer production. This is also good news for growth and for jobs prospects. Therefore, it is worth celebrating European Commission references to the Internet of Things in the proposed legislative measures on Horizon 2020 – which have been further reinforced by the European Parliament report by Maria Da Graça Carvalho. In any way, negotiations on Horizon 2020 should grant solid financial support to Internet of Things-related initiatives.


2. Concerning privacy and data security:

The Internet of Things will only grow through the citizens’ trust. Therefore, tackling privacy and data security issues should be a top priority and the essential foundation to build on.

People’s rights and privacy should come first and issues such as “the right to the silence of the chip” or the so-called “pull technologies” should be addressed, when it comes to RFID (radio frequency identification) applications.

It is indeed a very sensitive issue, but so are the challenges posed by new digital technologies. And all public institutions, private stakeholders, enterprises and citizens should engage together to find balanced solutions, to make the best of the opportunities they bring and overcome possible threats and contradictions.

Because sometimes there is a confrontation between privacy concerns, rights to transparency and to accessible information. And at the very centre of it all, new technologies such as the Internet of Things are thriving to spread brand new applications.

Therefore, it is essential knowing and monitoring these specific problems and concerns closely to find constructive and balanced solutions. To this extent, it is worth noting that EU institutions, European experts and stakeholders have been pointing out the need to define regulatory and legislative frameworks flexible enough to address these sensitive issues.


3. on citizens’ engagement and participation:

Political commitment is absolutely crucial if Europe wants to take the lead to be at the forefront within the global Internet of Things community.

This political commitment should be expressed by gaining citizens’ trust and support – as I’ve already said – not only by successfully addressing the mentioned privacy concerns, but also by proposing innovative measures to improve daily life and encourage active participation.

Therefore, the EU should work closely with all stakeholders and promote public and private cooperation to build a suitable environment for the Internet of Things to develop all possible applications in a wide range of sectors such as health, transport, energy, public services, education, etc.

To this respect, I would like to introduce a “best practice” example that can help understanding and harnessing Internet of Things’ potential. I’m referring to the so-called “smart cities”.

Smart cities are based on a comprehensive use of new technologies, such as the Internet of Things and wireless sensor networks, to substantially improve the economy, the infrastructure, the environment and the governance of a city; to increase its citizens’ quality of life.

Technological applications allow public sector organisations from different layers (local, regional, national) to be interconnected to provide information – for instance- on traffic, weather, environmental conditions, emergencies or events that could have and impact on the sustainability of their community and to the daily life of its citizens. But governments could also facilitate their citizens, software developers and app makers, access to public databases so they can develop useful applications for the rest of the community.

This innovative way of delivering essential public services enables faster decision-making processes and, at the same time, it gives room for citizens engagement and participation, and for the collective community intelligence to grow and flourish. It is not a one-way street: if citizens can get meaningful information, they can also provide feedback, thanks to the same new technologies and social media applications.

In short, smart cities are a model of “how to run a city better” by putting public information, public spaces and public services at the centre of social innovation. At the same time, it builds a more “horizontal” sense of civic consciousness (between authorities and citizens) and helps sharing public responsibility on due management of public places we all live in and enjoy.

In addition to these specific social innovative applications of new technologies to encourage citizens’ engagement, the EU should also carry out a strong pedagogical task. Indeed, investments are to be made in educational and training areas both to educate citizens about the use of the IoT and to teach them on how take profit of the IoT technologies in their daily life.

Of course, it goes without saying that training on IoT can also help improving private and public workers’ skills and productivity as we work in making ICTs a cross-cutting issue for all economic sectors and create new job opportunities. That’s a crucial point given the times we are going through.


At this point, I would like to get back where I started from, in order to conclude my remarks. That is, to due financial support. In order to overcome the current crisis, we have to make a clever allocation and use of scarce resources. Therefore, investment in innovation and new technologies is essential, as it can help triggering a spill-over effect that helps mobilizing, recovering and enhancing different sectors and renew and strengthen social relations, at a time.

We have to face as much challenges, as we have to face important threats. There, new digital tools – such as Internet of Things – will help lead the way. And, as Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.

Thank you very much.


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