What will our society look like in 10 years? How will data, algorithms and AI shape our economy? Policy-wise, what will be the focus points of the EU for the next generation of the Internet? Last week, the European Union took a new step towards addressing these and many more cross-disciplinary issues during the 3rd edition of Net Futures in Brussels.

At the end of 2016, the World Economic Forum ranked the long-term health and stability of the Internet as one of the biggest global challenges. Indeed, in parallel to new opportunities the world is confronted with the risks and the challenges of the web more and more. The ransomware attack of last week, that hit targets from Ukraine to the United States and revealed urgent questions of safety, privacy and trust, is a good example. Technological disruption is happening now, and that’s only the beginning!

“The next generation of tech innovators represent Europe’s digital future”, stressed Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the digital Single Market. “Digitalization is accelerating, with innovation changing the way that we design, produce and generate value from products and services. We are really moving towards a digital economy and society.

Europe's voice on the future of Internet

“Now that the European Commission is preparing a new EU framework program (2020-2027), it wants to hear from the industry and the academia where they think we’re going on a technological level”, explains Karen Boers, co-founder and chair of the European Startup Network (ESN).

“That’s one of the reasons the European Commission, together with key partners Google, Ericsson, EIT Digital and the European Startup Network, have organized this two-day event. Europe needs to set its priorities. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Net Futures.”

On 28 and 29 June, Net Futures brought together a diverse audience of policymakers, researchers and industry and civil society representatives for a fruitful discussion on topics ranging from digitalization to humanism.

The event also presented opportunities for networking, deep-dive conversations and learnings - including inspirational sessions and post conference workshops. While tech and art enthusiasts could be part of a multimedia exploration exhibition “Alchimie” that combined music, motion, technology and design.

Keeping in mind those of you who could not make the most of the event, we picked out some of the sessions covering topics of mobile, policy, data, the next generation of Internet and the synergy of art, science and technology.

Ericsson Mobility Report

Erik Ekudden from Ericsson at the Opening Plenary 

"Technology impacts every industry. By the end of 2016, there were around 0.4 billion IOT-devices with cellular connections. This number is projected to reach 1.5 billion in 2022. IOT devices include connected cars, machines, meters, sensors, point-of-sales terminals, consumer electronics and wearables. 5G is coming up. In 2022, around 15 percent of the world’s population will have access to 5G", Erik Ekudden believes. “The key step towards the internet for the future is security, enabling an internet for all, and the best use of the resources that drive our economy and society.

Super computers in our pockets

Lie Junius from Google

"In 2007, only 1 percent of the world owned a smartphone, while it’s expected, that by 2020, 70 percent of the world will own one. Europe is a hotbed for the development of mobile applications. Some of the world’s most recognized app developers are based in Europe, including Spotify, Soundcloud, BlaBlaCar and the makers of Angry Birds and Candy Crush. App development has also a massive impact on the economy: by 2018 the app economy will employ 2.4 billion people.”

“Innovation and technology are providing new ways to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. And the goal should be to remove barriers to enable people to achieve their dreams. For this reason, technology should be accessible and affordable for all", urges Lie Junius.

Data Protection: Brave New World of Data

Pieter Ballon from imec

Data is (more than) the new oil. It revolutionizes the world and disrupts economies. What are the risks and opportunities generated by data?

"Data-driven approaches and automation can be beneficial, think about the data sharing that brings opportunities to have integrated service models”, stresses Pieter Ballon. “But only if there’s trust and a sense of privacy. Privacy is a multi-stakeholder issue and consists mainly of transparency."

Ballon sees future challenges of the European data economy and society in ensuring trust in data-driven decision making, data skills and know-how, scaling industrial cooperation models in the data economy and convergence of digital infrastructure.

Parallel session

Legal, ethical and social issues in a software-defined world

The debate that brought together experts from different fields allowed to have a cross-disciplinary look at the opportunities and challenges of digitalization. "The keystones of the Internet are inclusiveness, sustainability and openness, when the spirit of legislation and policymaking is to put these fundamentals forward.”

The new technological shift creates challenges for society as a whole and to lawyers and policymakers in particular. It’s essential that civil society, government, policymakers, lawyers, private sector work together to protect core values, such as lawfulness, fairness, freedom and non-discrimination.

Therefore, “legal norms and ethical standards should be embedded in a software-defined world, where innovation serves the people."

STARTS stands for Art, Technology and Science

Jasna Rok, pioneer in combining innovative fashion and cutting-edge technology

"Art gives freedom. It also gives courage to push things to edges. When you build bridges among art, technology and science and create a dream team of experts - you can create innovation on high speed," believes Jasna Rok.

The Internet of beings

Martine-Nicole Rojina, the Belgian multi-instrumentalist, sound designer and multimedia producer who curated STARTS exhibition

"Art is and always will be a disruptor. When you bring people under one umbrella where they are not afraid to explore, then true innovation happens," claims Martine-Nicole Rojina. "It is not a coincidence, that STARTS was a crossroad to networking and keynote sessions at Net Futures."

Net Futures 2017 welcomed over 650 attendees and turned out to be a hotspot for vibrant discussions on topics that have a direct impact on our lives, as individuals, and society as a whole. What will our society look like in 10 years? What will happen next? Let’s find out together!

Curious to see Net Futures 2017 in pictures? Find out more via this link