Securing a safe and sustainable digital future for Europe

At the event "Safety last?" in Brussels experts such as Despina Spanou, Director of Cybersecurity in the European Commission, explained how to create a secure digital future.

The next revolution in digital technology is coming. It will change how all of us live our lives, build our societies and run our economies. Everything will be connected, with unprecedented ability to analyse, monitor and interact with the world around us. Nothing will ever be quite the same again in future: homes, offices, factories, transport, healthcare – even, perhaps, the human body itself.

Much of this will be benign, enhancing lives and livelihoods in ways unimaginable to previous generations. But some of what lies ahead also presents serious and complex challenges in terms of ethics, equality and safety. Therefore, the Vodafone Institute hosted “Safety last? Security and prosperity in the Gigabit Age” in Brussels, the heart of European policy making.

Joakim Reiter (Credit: Bea Uhart/Vodafone Institute)

Joakim Reiter, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Vodafone Institute, welcomed the 130 guests, stressing that, “Safety has not be last but first in the digital transformation.” Furthermore, he pointed out that citizens do not trust to make governments the necessary steps to ensure the digital transformation. “We have to drive innovation while securing trust in digital transformation.”

Philippe Aghion (Credit: Bea Uhart/Vodafone Institute)

To set the scene, Philippe Aghion, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, also College de France and at the London School of Economics, delivered his keynote on the consequences of automatisation through robotics and Artificial Intelligence on economies. “In the long-term, innovation will relocate old jobs to new jobs, increase self-employment and accelerate growth and social mobility,” he explained. “Governments have to provide incentives for innovation. Even though there are risks involved, it is the governments’ job to mitigate them.”

Aghion’s vision of our digital future, was continued by presentations given by technological pioneers, who, through their ground-breaking work, help Europe to become the primary birthplace for technological and digital innovations.

  • Stephen Dunne, Managing Director of Neuroelectrics, presented the Neuroelectrics cap: a sophisticated mobile device that allows to read brain waves and modulate their activity. “We are working on technical trials in Boston on epilepsy, cognitive impairment, and also depression in the pipeline in the next couple of years. So we really believe this is the beginning of the digital brain evolution,” Dunne proclaimed.

    Lynette Kucsma presenting Foodini (Credit: Bea Uhart/Vodafone Institute)
  • Lynette Kucsma, Co-Founder of Natural Machines, thinks that 3D food printers and other IoT kitchen appliances will become more common in the next 15 years, as our kitchens are becoming smarting day by day. Talking about her product, Foodini, the first 3D food printer in the world, she said, “You can do so much specialisation and personalisation of food. So 3D food printing has many use cases – from home kitchens to Michelin star restaurants.”
  • Tim Houter, CEO of Hardt Global Mobility, is aiming to build Europe’s first Hyperloop. “At Hardt, we envision a world where you can easily travel around the continent. The demand for fast and efficient transportation has never been higher than now,” he pointed out. “The solution is Hyperloop, because it’s faster than airplanes, cheaper than trains and does zero emissions.”
From left to right: Katrina Sichel (moderator), Nuria Oliver, Mary-Jo de Leeuw, Sadie Creese, Despina Spanou (Credit: Bea Uhart/Vodafone Institute)

Despite the rise of new creative technologies that are not only able to enhance but to fundamentally change our lives, we have to beware of safety and security of innovations. In the following all-female panel discussion on the future of cybersecurity in the digital age, Despina Spanou, Director of Digital Society, Trust and Cybersecurity in the European Commission, noted that, “while the three pitches were great, security and privacy should not be neglected.” Also Mary-Jo de Leeuw, Partner at Revnext and President of the platform “Internet of Toys”, added, “Start-ups rarely speak about risks. You hear a lot of great stories, but we must operate under the assumption that everything can be hacked.”

Despina Spanou (Credit: Bea Uhart/Vodafone Institute)

Professor of cybersecurity at University of Oxford, Sadie Creese, emphasised the fact that nowadays governments, companies, consumers and other institutions have to pay attention to their cybersecurity more than ever: “One of the reasons we experienced an increase in volume of cyberattacks is that you do not need huge amounts of resources to conduct effective attacks online. You can do it from anywhere. We are even moving towards a scenario where you only need a limited amount of knowledge to be effective.”

Nuria Oliver, Director of Data Science Research at Vodafone Group, displayed her idea on how we could build trust and overcome gender bias. “The lack of education in the technological field is a big issue. We don’t trust what we don’t know or understand. I have been an advocate for it for many years: We need to introduce computational thinking as a core subject at school.”  Concluding the discussion, Despina Spanou stated, “Trust has to be built by design.”

Finally, Joakim Reiter summed up the event. “Digital transformation is a continuous process. We are on the verge of a wide-ranging change in society, and there are several challenges that we will encounter in the future. Trust is one of them.”

The event brought together high-ranking guests, ranging from academics, policy-makers to entrepreneurs, that all seek to transform our society into a Gigabit Society. Shortly, the Vodafone Institute will publish a study on digital trust of citizens in several European countries, that will provide insights into where governments and corporations have to increase their efforts to restore confidence in their abilities to carry out the ongoing digital revolution.

In this video, that was screened at the event for the first time, we asked people on the street about their views on digitisation, robotisation and other new technologies that have the potential to deeply impact their lives: