Policy, Futurists and Fracking at EuroScience Open Forum, Dublin

Talk 7 – 13. 07.12 – The Future of Innovation Policy 

Whenever the word Innovation is mentioned, it seems Steve Jobs is always used as a reference, in this case Martin Shanahan, Chief Executive Forfás, Ireland quoted him for saying that innovation was ‘New ways of doing things that improve our lives.’

Innovation was noted as the instrument on entrepreneurship, so how do we create an environment conducive to this. There are several initiatives in the action plan for jobs in Ireland. One is science and technology research in universities and another is policy to improve the innovation capability of of firms. There are an increasing no. of PhD’s in Ireland ranking 8th in the world in citation impact, but is this a measure of innovation prosperity? Fourteen priority areas have been identified in the plan that focus on smart specialisation. This sounds extremely economic and lean, but can these policies lead to serendipitous discoveries?

  • Priority Area A – Future Networks & Communications
  • Priority Area B – Data Analytics, Management, Security & Privacy
  • Priority Area C – Digital Platforms, Content & Application
  • Priority Area D – Connected Health and Independent Living
  • Priority Area E – Medical Devices
  • Priority Area F – Diagnostics
  • Priority Area G – Therapeutics: Synthesis, Formulation, Processing and Drug Delivery
  • Priority Area H – Food for Health
  • Priority Area I – Sustainable Food Production and Processing
  • Priority Area J – Marine Renewable Energy
  • Priority Area K – Smart Grids & Smart Cities
  • Priority Area L – Manufacturing Competitiveness
  • Priority Area M – Processing Technologies and Novel Materials
  • Priority Area N – Innovation in Services and Business Processes


 John Bell (Chef de Cabinet, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn)

 John Bell (Chef de Cabinet, Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn)

John Bell of the EU Commission spoke of us building the ship while we’re sailing it. This is an economic reformation that we are experiencing. The commission are examining the economy in a connected way using smart fiscal consolidation. Ideas to a country now are what oil has been before. He spoke of Horizon 2020 and the funding that is been secured for this. They are in the process of investigating how we get financial instruments that will work. Systemic and structural reform is required within the smart specialisation strategy.


Ken Guy (Head of Science and Technology Policy division OECD)

Ken spoke of the history of innovation policy in Ireland, a country review was done of Ireland in 1966 and multiple more over the years with each giving the same message of an economy being under pressure in key areas, with very little impact with each ensuing report. Focus changed ten to twelve years ago with the setting up of Science Foundation Ireland with the help of a philanthropist.

Implementation of the fourteen specialist areas concerned him and if they can translate to economic benefits and societal challenges. There needs to one driver – excellence. In the past international competitiveness has created this urgency – ‘The Russians are coming’ or more recently the ‘The Chinese are coming.’ He noted that it’s much easier to operate in plenary systems rather than resolving societal challenges. Getting the criteria right to select the specialisations is the challenge and often time commitment to these strategies falters in times of crisis.

A question from the floor queried if we they were designing failure into the system as they were still going to use the same academia to implement this, but there has also been a failure on the private sector to restart the economy rather than serving itself. Yet the world isn’t either/or, its imperative to align the organisation objective with the government objectives.

Talk 8 – 13.07.12 – Collaboration, Competition, Connection – Evidence of Intelligent Design in European Science Policy

Máire Geoghann-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation & Science

Máire Geoghann-Quinn opened this debate by underlining the value of the scientific method and that intellectual inquiry was a worthwhile pursuit in itself. The desire to understand the universe is resonant and universal. Curiosity driven research can bring break-through results not anticipated originally. It is battle to keep science at a central part of society and she envisages Europe as a single market of idea’s. Knowing when nations should compete and collaborate will be the challenge. Europe is at the heart of the of world science, she made a call of action to put science at the heart of Europe. This decade will be seen as a cardinal point in European History. Ideas are the only resource that cannot be depleted.

The issue of collaboration was opened to the floor, with the main issues raised were those of trust. Faraday’s response to Gladstone were he cited as an application of discovers, ‘Electricity is worthwhile because one day you will be able to tax it.

The interest in science and innovation is seen as a safer bet in a world of depleting resources and energy security. With so many people in charge, there is a vested interest that science will deliver eventually if enough is invested in it. Yet the scientist is expected not to be interested in any financial gain, only the pursuit of the truth and deeper understanding of the world. Surely in this environment, human weakness will create applications that do not benefit society. Investment in excellence is the key, but having the right people to access that excellence is even more important.

Talk 9 – 13.07.12 – Shale Gas Fracking: Global Problem or Global Solution

Crowded room for this topical discussion on Fracking

Amazingly this ‘Hot Science’ talk was located in one of the smallest venues but had full capacity with people sitting on the floor, including myself. Delegates from across Europe were represented from a mix of industries and different mindsets on this controversial energy source.The overall message was that the risks were very low if installed correctly with careful continuous monitoring.

Prof Zoe Shipton, from the University of Strathclyde presented her findings and analysis of the technology. Ivan Pearson, a scientific officer in the European Commission, noted that Shale gas an option in the future with concerns over energy security. Currently, 40% of electricity generated in UK comes from gas. Shortages of gas from Libya to Italy were highlighted as an example of energy uncertainty. As Shale gas exploration is more developed in the US, their costs of fuel is as cheap as the Middle East. CO2 levels have also fallen to ’91 levels because of it’s use there.

Analysis of the contexts was noted as extremely important to access if there is any seismic activity, as the fracking process has the potential of activating any underlying faults. Although it is a more complex and scientific process than the traditional mining of gas or oil, many of the environmental impact assessments are similar. For more information of this, the economist has produced a very good special report in it’s July issue.



Talk 10 – 13.07.12 – The State of Sting theory, Brian Green

Illustration of what the String Theory might look like

Brian Green entertained his captive audience explaining ‘String Theory’ that has the ambition of being the theory of everything and a follow up to the unanswered questions in Einsteins relativity and quantum mechanics. It’s aim is to explain the universe as a mathematical construct.

“Instead of thinking of little tiny dots or particles that come together to make bigger things, the dots are replaced by string-like filaments that can vibrate in different ways, and the different vibrations correspond to difference kinds of particles. Everything is basically built from the music of these vibrating strings.”

Talk 11 – 13.07.12 – Designing a Future for Real People – Brian David Johnson (Intel) 

Brian David Johnson – Intel’s Futurist

Brian David Johnson works as a Futurist with Intel, his role to predict and envisage how we might be living and working by 2020. They envisage that the computer will move to zero, where it will be seamlessly incorporated into our lives. What we build in the future will be limited by the constraints of our imagination. But personal touches of intimate photos and coziness will be the slowest to change.

Brian David Johnson cited many examples of our interaction with robots throughout time and the magical qualities and revery that they have brought with them. From Shelly’s Frankenstein in 1816 where the morality of creating life was examined, to a Japanese Geisa robot that perfectly serves tea. Some of the greatest concerns with interacting with robots come from if they look human like, remember the apocalypse in the movie ‘The Terminator’. Robots are closer and more incideous then we realise. The new personal assistant called Suri on the iPhone  will try and assist you in every why possible with comical prerecorded responses to questions like “I Love you Suri”, he’ll say “I bet you say that to all you apple products or let’s just be friends”, My twelve year old cousin even discovered that Suri will read you a story if you ask him nicely. The greatest challenge will be for robots to communicate with robots, as amusingly illustrated in the video below of Suri trying to talk to the robot Furby.

About Gemma Ginty

Service Designer // Architect // Strategist // Interested in cities, interactions and the ephemeral
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