Ladies and gentlemen
It was thanks to a visionary memo sent by Tim Berners-Lee that the World Wide Web came into existence.
Its title was innocent: "Information Management: A Proposal".
And it was written in 1989, almost 30 years ago.
Who knows what digital life will be like in the next 30 years?
Today, we mostly take the internet for granted.
Cast your minds back to the 1990s: slow analogue dial-ups, the clunky sound of a modem connecting – if it connected at all.
Not too many websites and not much content either.
Since then, the technology change has been constant, astounding – and gradual.
Today, you can access the internet at incredible speeds from almost anywhere.
You can have it in your pocket or hold it in your hand.
With the internet, now is a good time to reflect on how we want to place the EU for the future. This is the point of today's conference as we consider initiatives for the Next Generation Internet.
There would seem to be a choice of two paths:
Is Europe to remain a mere consumer of internet technology, services and applications – and perhaps be progressively dominated by other countries, or companies?
Or should Europe become more pro-active? To develop internet tech that will better serve its people and put them more in control of the digital society where they live?
I think this is the choice that we should prefer – in partnership with other like-minded countries.
Our Digital Single Market project already does a lot to promote startups and encourage innovation. But there is a lot more we could do, such as reinforcing this commitment with more funding for tech research, for example.
We are looking into this, to anchor technology as a firm priority in the EU's next seven-year funding period.
The next generations of tech innovators represent Europe's digital future.
I strongly believe in investing in startups and hi-tech research, both politically and financially: to build a new class of internet innovators, to help them grow and compete globally.
The Digital Single Market has a strong focus on data in all its aspects. This is vital, given how much we already depend on data– and will increasingly depend in the future.
It also recognises the importance of cybersecurity and online privacy, common technical standards and interoperability, especially in areas like the Internet of Things.
And it addresses emerging growth technologies that will define our digital future – like high-performance and quantum computing, big data and cloud services.
But we need to look even further ahead than that.
Nobody really knows how the internet will look by 2050, although we can see some trends that promise to turn today’s global internet landscape upside down.
Data will need to be instantly available whenever - and wherever - anyone needs it. Big data and metadata will touch nearly every aspect of our lives.
Data flows will be all-important, as they are now - but even more so. Global volumes are already huge.
They are set to rise further, coming from both public and private sectors.
The age of the zettabyte – or one trillion gigabytes – has already arrived.
Some forecasts put the global datasphere rising 10 times from current levels by 2025, to 163 zettabytes.
But by 2050, who knows? After the zettabyte comes the yottabyte.
We have to prepare for this data deluge: storage, infrastructure, security, transferability - to name just a few issues to tackle.
In the next 30 years, if not sooner, the Internet of Things should be a widespread reality.
Analytic and processing capabilities will have progressed and offer intelligent machine learning. Robotics and artificial intelligence will be more system-embedded and mainstream.
We could imagine depending less on specific connected devices, and more on the most appropriate one that is immediately to hand.
In the years to come, that is unlikely to be a home or office desktop, and perhaps not a laptop either.
Most forms of future computing infrastructure and networks will be defined by software, not hardware.
We may be using keyboards far less, perhaps relying more on voice or gesture recognition. Or something else entirely.
Sensors will become more widespread - on our bodies, in homes and vehicles.
The cloud will dominate, based on high-speed mobile access – as well as its on-the-go convenience.
This is conjecture, of course. But I believe that it is informed conjecture.
While nobody can guarantee anything, it does seem – here in 2017 – that this is the way that things may go.
And in all these areas, there are tremendous opportunities for research and innovation – and for Europe to be in the forefront of this research.
Why not create a single e-identity? Individuals would be in full control, using it to connect securely to different technologies and platforms.
This would also give people confidence, since we know that they have a lot of different concerns about the digital age:
- about digitisation's effect on society and jobs, about cybersecurity and privacy;
- about online power being concentrated in the hands of a few big companies and platforms;
- about the impact of artificial intelligence.
This is a long list of worries. Some justified, some perhaps less so. It boils down to people's genuine perception of a loss of control. That is not going away.
Certainly, society has expectations for the future – and people want to remain in control in the online environment.
What we want to do now is to address the internet's most critical technical and use aspects so that those expectations are met.
The plan is to discuss and analyse new network architectures, software-defined infrastructure, and new concepts for services and applications.
This includes e-government and how people connect to public services, providing a safe trusted platform for new technologies.
We will start by bringing together today’s best internet innovators, including startups and SMEs – with corporates, with the academic and scientific research communities, with policymakers.
Today's conference is a useful step in that direction.
With the Next Generation Internet, I would sum up our aim as this:
- to put Europe at the heart of internet technology developments;
to help Europeans push farther the frontiers of tech;
and to retain people's trust in the online environment as well as their internet engagement.