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Ladies and gentlemen.
Today is a turning point in the life of the European Open Science Cloud. We are moving from vision to action.
But as we discuss what the future of scientific collaboration and information sharing, it is useful to look at the past. At where it all started.
If you were a European intellectual during the Enlightenment, in the 18th century, then you were likely a citizen of the Republic of Letters. This was a community of scholars and literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Goethe and Voltaire. And these individuals wrote to each other about their theories and their discoveries. In Voltaire's correspondence alone, there were nearly 19,000 letters.
They did this to create a common understanding of scientific values. And they pushed the frontiers of scientific knowledge through sharing their discoveries. Technology had a role to play in this collaboration. The printing press meant that scientific journals become more prolific. These texts made it much easier for the scholars to communicate their findings and ideas with each other, and with a wider range of people.
With the arrival of the internet in the 20th century, information sharing between scientists took a great leap forward. Modern theories and discoveries can now travel the globe in an instant. The growth in research that has resulted is immense.
But now, as the 21st century is upon us, we're on the cusp of another frontier of science. Again, technology has a role to play. We now need an internet for scientific data. And the Cloud is exactly that. It will allow a new generation of scholars to share and communicate data and discoveries in a way that has never been done before. Not just results that are published in journals. And not just data that is kept within the confines of a discipline. The European Science Cloud is the next leap forward. It will be a New Republic of Letters.
Today is our opportunity to build the blue print. But before we do, I want to talk about two things.
- First, I want to tell you my vision of what the Cloud will be.
- And second, I want to tell you how – by working together - we can get there quickly.
First, what will the Cloud look like?
In two years from now, I imagine researchers using the Cloud on a daily basis. Every researcher will be able to find and access data from all publicly funded research in Europe in a single click. They will be able to access data from different disciplines. And to combine the data and analyse it in new ways. Each researcher will also be able to store and manage their own data. And share their data with others in a secure and trusted environment.
Achieving this means tackling head-on three key issues which we are facing today:
3 and involving all disciplines and all parts of Europe.
Let's start with fragmentation. The European Open Science Cloud is not a new super structure. Many scientific disciplines and some Member States have their own version already. There are also many projects and initiatives at the European level. And I am delighted so many representatives of the national and European initiatives are here today.
We are not short of initiatives. But there is no one-stop-shop for researchers. No overall architecture that allows them to connect.
If I'm a researcher, I do not want to duplicate data that already exists. I want to find out quickly what is already there. So I can build on it. And I want to know if there is useful data that from a completely different scientific field. Or from a different country. Now, as it stands, I would have to learn how to deal with a new interface and data management system in each country and each scientific field.
The new Cloud will remedy this. It will act as a single interface for all existing structures and initiatives. And it will bring together the services offered by the various cross-border initiatives. This means that we will have a much more unified approach to scientific data management in Europe. One that our researchers can benefit from.
As part of my job I meet a lot of researchers. And what I hear time and time again is the needless duplication of research. With universal access to a single system, researchers will be less likely to duplicate research already created.
Second, interdisciplinarity. I've said it time and time again: the most exciting and ground-breaking innovations are happening at the intersection of disciplines. We need to cherish and encourage this as much as we can. But right now, our current infrastructure dissuades interdisciplinary research.
In April I visited the US. I met a group of Marie Curie Fellows at Harvard University. One of them particularly stands out in my mind. Her name is Ainara Sistiaga. She is researching the role of gut microbials in human evolution. And she is creating a tool which compares living populations with mummies from Nubia and the Canary Islands. So in reality she is working at the intersection between evolutionary biology and archaeology. Ainara is a perfect example of a researcher who would benefit from the Cloud. In one place she could access data from the scientific communities working on both archaeology and biology.
And finally, we must involve all different fields of science. Data has increasing returns to scale. The more disciplines involved, the greater the value of the cloud.
At the same time, not all disciplines of science are digitised to the same extent. By including data from as many disciplines as possible, the Cloud will help to support those who may be lagging behind.
So considering our challenges, we have a clear idea of our goal.
And now to my second point: how will we reach this goal? My ambition is to have the European Open Science Cloud up and running by 2020. But to get to this point there are a number of steps we are taking.
Firstly, today's conference. After many discussions, many reports and many great ideas we need come together in a single vision. One in which all of the different initiatives can find their place and connect.
Second, the Commission will include the necessary financial investment in the next Horizon 2020 Work Programme that will be finalised this October. The outcomes of our work here today will feed into the Work Programme. To specify the financing that is needed at EU level. Discussions are currently ongoing. But we estimate the dedicated financial package for implementing the science cloud will be more than €200 million.
Third, we need to a structured way of working together. To catalogue existing datasets and services, steer the implementation and identify the gaps which need further investment. So following today's event, I would like to bring together a "Coalition of Doers" with a first meeting this autumn. They will ensure work on the Cloud will be on track in the lead up to 2018.
Then, from Spring 2018, the financing from the Horizon 2020 work programme will kick in, and implementation will start in earnest.
I would see this as the first phase. But we know that the Cloud is a long term project. One that will need to evolve. So we also need to look at the sustainability of the financing. And what will be needed in the next Framework Programme.
Before I conclude, I want to say something to the infrastructure owners, research funders and Member State representatives in this room.
The more we work together the more we will all benefit. Let's use our existing resources strategically. Let's find simple ways for existing infrastructures and initiatives at a national level to plug into the Cloud. But at the same time, let's be open to new entrants, new data sets, new national initiatives. Let's be open to international partners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It's time for data culture to change. And it's time for Europe to take the lead.
In 1989, a scientist working at CERN proposed a new system for finding documents in the CERN library. That scientist was Tim Berners Lee. And his proposal became the World Wide Web.
But originally, it wasn't his intention to invent what we now know as the internet. On the contrary, he had a practical problem he needed to solve: He wanted to create a single location where he and his colleagues could store and share data and files. He had a practical problem, and he found a practical solution. It just so happened that this solution gave birth to what we know as the internet.
This is analogous to what we are facing right now. We have a number of practical problems with how we store, manage and access research data.
We now need an Internet for scientific data. One that provides practical solutions to the data needs of scientists. One that is trusted and secure.
From today, the European Open Science Cloud is no longer just a vision. We are now moving to action.
So let's get on with it. Let's put together the building blocks for a truly cross border, cross disciplinary initiative.
As we achieve this the Republic of Letters will take its next great step forwards. What started centuries ago with simple letter between great minds;
To the first scientific journals and mass distribution of findings;
To the age of the internet and the instantaneous sharing of results;
Finally to a comprehensive science cloud.
Sharing information and experience is natural to us as human beings. Scientific knowledge is created for the betterment of our societies and our world. And it is up to us to provide the tools to share this among all researchers. As Voltaire wrote:
What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbours, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.