Humanity has entered a new phase of technological development, the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The 4IR is characterized by emerging technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It integrates cyber-physical systems and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. These disruptive technologies evolve exponentially rather than linearly generating new products, new manufacturing processes and new business models.
Beyond the indisputable capacities of the 4IR, the ongoing public discussion has revealed a series of concerns, vulnerabilities and risks which highlight the necessity of an open public debate on key-aspects of the digital future in the post-pandemic era. Focusing on Europe, this dialogue is crucial in order to assess past experiences and current trends, to enable the expression of opinions from various stakeholders and member-countries, to highlight the multiple dimensions and issues at stake and to reach consensual policy proposals for an optimal contribution of new technologies to sustainable and inclusive development.
The European Union can play a decisive role in developing an environment which will improve the nexus between the 4IR and SDGs. Member states will benefit from an EU-wide coordinated framework in this area. The EU has expressed its intention to work actively to promote its human-centric vision of digitization and to promote a use of new technologies which will adhere to the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In March 2021, the European Commission has proposed a ‘Digital Compass’ in the form of a policy programme to be adopted by co-decision of European Parliament and Council by the third quarter of 2021 and a Declaration of Digital Principles by the end of 2021.
In this context, the project “FORCE” highlights in a multi-disciplinary and applied policy perspective the key stakes ahead for Europe in the era of the 4IR. Through a constructive Europe-wide debate, the project explores proposals and alternatives for the EU to provide an effective means of collectively addressing the challenges of the 4IR and grasp the potential of new technologies for sustainable and inclusive development for its member states and regions. It will also aim at offering a better understanding of the ‘state’ of the EU, its member states, its societies, its citizens and its economies in light of the various national initiatives for the 4IR. More specifically, the following issues will be discussed:
– The current state and readiness of Europe to face the multidimensional challenges of the 4IR.
– The European governance and policies which should be promoted for maximizing positive externalities and reducing negative ones.
– The role of the quadruple helix (public sector, academia and research, industry and civil society) in promoting innovation and technological progress that is sustainable and inclusive in line with the SDGs.