Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Constructive symbiosis – how can hybrid artificial-natural systems be exploited?


This initiative wants to go beyond inspiration from nature and bio-mimicry and seeks to explore hybrid artificial-natural systems in which the nature and complexity of interactions can be considered to be a kind of mutualistic symbiosis as it is found in nature. Projects would thus combine concepts and knowledge from different disciplines for creating a constructive ('win-win') symbiosis between the artificial and the natural, in a systemic way. This might, for example, prepare for the creation of entirely new habitats, for instance on other planets, in the ocean or in certain extreme conditions. Other visions, like in symbiosis with the human body, in urbanism, or ecology would also fit under this topic.

What are we looking for?
•    What should be the orientation of research on this topic? As stated, do you feel it is too broad or, on the contrary, too narrow?
•    Have any recent scientific results been obtained relevant to this topic? Is there already a well-established community on this?
•    Do you know of related initiatives, for instance at national level, or in other continents?
•    What is needed at this point to advance this? More exploration of different ideas? More coordination among groups or related initiatives? A strong push for a precise technological target and, if so, which one? Anything else?

Background: Following the last FET consultation during 2012-13, 9 topics were identified as candidates for a FET Proactive. This topic has not been selected for inclusion in the FET Work Programme for 2014-15. Comments are invited on whether this topic is still relevant, or if any changes would be necessary to take account of recent research results. We are also trying to understand better how to advance these areas.

To participate to the consultation:
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Ulrich Hofmann's picture

It is hard for me to imagine projects, which may both span the habitat-suggestion to the human body symbiosis. Both are interesting targets, but without a proper outer space or inner space (the oceans) program, the "habitat target" probably leads nowhere.... Even in FET. Why not be anthropocentric and only span from emergency habitats to human body symbiosis? The latter would run very nicely with the nano-bio-chem@interfaces area.

0 users have voted.
Alexia Briasouli's picture

This is a very interesting topic and it would be nice to see it included in the FET PROACT for 2014-2015.

The call document does not emphasize enough an important case of integrated artificial and natural components in daily life in a technologically enhanced world. The ubiquitous presence of sensing, monitoring and feedback devices and the use of technological solutions in a wide range of applications related to daily life already present a series of situations where a symbiosis of the artificial and natural is taking place.

For example, healthcare is making ever more use of remote monitoring, feedback and, in general, care, in order to counteract rising healthcare costs, increase the independence of a constantly aging population and improve quality of life. The symbiosis of sensors with humans, for monitoring their health status and providing appropriate feedback is not a negligible issue at all. The symbiosis of the artificial with the natural in the human body is becoming an issue in people's daily life, which should be investigated in depth.

Currently such solutions encounter problems due to the lack of familiarity of end users with such technologies. The rapid growth of technologies will likely make this problem continue into the future, even for generations that are more "tech - friendly". As a result, care should be taken to strengthen this bond and make the integration of technological solutions seamless in the daily life and workflow of end users. This will ensure the most effective use of technology, with the corresponding cost savings and improved results in each application at hand.

Therefore, there should be more emphasis on the integration and symbiosis of the artificial and natural in healthcare, where technologies are playing an ever increasingly central role.

At the same time, ecological issues such as environmental monitoring are also making increasing use of technological solutions. These can be addressed in a more meaningful manner if technology is not simply used, but if a coordinated effort is made to ensure the components being used and developed entail low inputs and emissions. This will ensure they are more "ecological", but will also have the very attractive side effect of eventually reducing the cost they entail.

The effect of the use of technologies in food production, such as fisheries or agricultural applications, should be examined in a holistic manner, that takes into account its effectiveness in terms of cost, production, but also its ecological footprint. A more subtle but important issue are the results of this symbiosis on the aims of the technologies being used. For example, the use of monitoring sensors in agricultural production may affect it, even more so when animals are involved. Similarly to the case of humans, the symbiosis of technological components with plants and animals should be integrated and seamless, to achieve optimal results in terms of production, quality of life and product (output).

9 users have voted.
Marios Kyriazis's picture

One way of approaching this subject is to consider the emerging relationship between humans and information (through digital hyperconnection). For example, our alignment with new and widespread technologies that facilitate information-sharing, may have repercussions upon our biology and evolution. These affects are real but have not yet been studied sufficiently. We know that interactions with a changing environment can act through epigenetic mechanisms in an attempt to adapt to these changes. When the environment becomes increasingly technological, it will profoundly affect our own social and biological characteristics.

3 users have voted.
Loredana De Bartolo's picture

New forms of life can be produced by using memristors circuits interacting by sensors and actuators with biological hippocampal cells to create adaptive memory systems which can cope with memory loss in neurodegenerative illness, such as Parkinson and Alzheimer diseases. A constructive symbiosis can be achieved by the implementation of hippocampal cell membrane system that will dialog with artificial memory systems. The scientific framework is the robotic agents communities, in which technological and biological components evolve and coevolve by using new way of cooperation and interaction. Technological memory circuit systems and biological cells meet together, in a completely hybrid way to give rise a new bio-artificial life. Hippocampal neurons, which are well-known for their plasticity and regeneration properties, are the best-characterised model for investigating polarization that occurs spontaneously during the first days of culture. The implementation of such combined system (memristors, cells and selective membranes) can offer new insight as in vitro model for studying neurodegenerative processes as Alzeheimer’s disease. Semi-permeable polymeric membranes, thanks to their highly selective structural, physico-chemical and transport properties, allow the successful in vitro reconstruction of neuronal tissue reproducing a tissue model for studying metabolic diseases and drug effects. Since the subject is quite relevant and not yet well studied a FET proactive topic that includes it would be really useful in order to have the benefits for the health of European citizens and to enhance and spread its importance in the scientific community.

4 users have voted.
Group managers
Aymard DE TOUZALIN European Commission Future and Emerging Technology Unit Deputy Head of Unit
Walter VAN DE VELDE European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies Scientific Officer and FET Strategy
Beatrice MARQUEZ-GARRIDO European Commission Future & Emerging Technologies Unit Project Officer
Group Participants