EU Foresight report highlights semiconductors, quantum and space

September 08, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
EU Foresight report highlights semiconductors, quantum and space
Quantum technologies, semiconductors, materials, digital skills and the space industry are all identified as key areas for the future of the European Union.

To be technologically and digitally sovereign, the EU will need to support the development and uptake of human-centred knowledge and technologies, says the Foresight Report published today.

As well as recommending its own AI and big data capabilities, the report highlights the importance of quantum technologies, semiconductors, standards and skills.

The report is a key element in establishing strategic policies for the region and support for research and development and industry. Some areas are already underway, such as the Gaia-X data project, quantum projects and the €13bn integrated space strategy.

Technology development

The EU accounts for almost 20 percent of the world’s total research and development, publications and patenting activity but lags behind global competitors in private investment into research and other indicators. The EU has a performance gap with Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

A number of breakthrough innovations can be key for the twin transitions and competitiveness. The EU’s capabilities in artificial intelligence, big data and robotics are similar to Japan’s, but it needs to catch up with leaders: the USA and China. In key quantum technologies, the USA, Japan and China are currently in the lead. By 2025, the EU will have its first computer with quantum acceleration and if matched with investment, it could be at the cutting edge of quantum capabilities by 203015 .

Other promising technologies include microelectronics, new materials for bio-degradable electronics, flexible and printed electronics, and 2D material based technologies such as graphene, says the report.

However, new technologies and hyperconnectivity do not come without challenges. In the future, 50% of current jobs globally could be automated, with significant differences across countries and sectors. New jobs will appear, but will require new skills. Digital transition can also increase e-waste, and drive demands for energy or use of rare resources.

Data sovereignty

The EU’s digital sovereignty will depend on capacity to store, extract and process data, while satisfying the requirements of trust, security and fundamental rights. The digital economy, especially data processing, high-performance cloud and edge computing, may have a positive effect on the EU’s economy and competitiveness.

EU companies and public administration authorities will increasingly adopt user and entity data analytics, Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence and the EU has introduced significant investment objectives and funding instruments to promote the development and deployment of next-generation and disruptive cloud and edge technologies.

With the increasing use of data for industrial and business applications, a strategic approach to the development and deployment of industrial Internet of Things systems, 5G/6G, and edge computing with the ability to manage and quickly analyse big data will be crucial for achieving the objectives of the twin transitions.

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Faced with the exponential increase in demand for semiconductors, the EU needs to position itself more firmly in the development and production of next-generation technologies. Access to semiconductors could be compromised by limited production capacity, and shortages can heavily affect business continuity of different industries.

The EU has notable strengths and is home to a crucial supplier of manufacturing equipment to all leading manufacturers, but it is lagging behind in the production of next-generation processors and advanced semiconductors. Taiwan, China, South Korea and the USA are investing heavily in boosting their domestic production of semiconductors and chipmakers in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and the USA have announced massive private investments in new production capacities.

“To stay in the race, the EU needs to invest in capabilities for the next generation of processors and semiconductor chips. This requires a tightened screening of foreign take-over of the European production capacities, investments in research and development, and setting favourable conditions across the value chain,” says the report.

Next: Materials, skills, standards, space

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