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News article10 October 2023Joint Research Centre2 min read

Everybody is looking into the future: a technology foresight perspective

How can futures thinking boost Europe’s innovation in deep tech?

futuristic figure walking through a portal


How can futures thinking boost Europe’s innovation in deep tech? This is the question at the heart of the yearlong collaboration between the Joint Research Centre’s EU Policy Lab and the European Innovation Council, which has now reached its conclusion.

Foresight is about thinking, discussing and preparing for the future. It is not about predicting what is going to happen, but rather exploring different possibilities and scenarios of what could happen. In this case, the European Innovation Council (EIC) wanted to use foresight to provide insights into emerging technologies and disruptive innovations so that Europe is at the cutting edge of future technological developments.

Foresight practitioners have a range of methods that they can apply: in fact, one of the outputs of ANTICIPINNOV is a report looking at some of these methods, including those used in this project.

One method used to good effect was horizon scanning. Intelligence was gathered through a literature review of several reports of international organisations, consultancies and think tanks, in which about 100 signals and trends were summarised. In parallel, about 1,000 other signals were gathered from news sources, scientific papers, patent information and internal data. During eight workshops, more than 150 experts from across Europe as well as further afield brought in their own special outlook thanks to their varied profiles (i.e. business, researchers, policy-makers, trade associations). With their input, the 1,000+ signals were whittled down to 58 important trends to consider.

So what did we learn?

In terms of emerging technologies, a number were highlighted in those two streams of work, including:

  • Bio-inspired electronics
  • Quantum energetics
  • Space debris recycling
  • Data centres at the extreme edge of space
  • Ecosystem restoration coupled with food production
  • Wireless power
  • Triboelectric nanogenerators in textiles
  • DNA data storage
  • Xenobots for advanced medicine
  • Quantum imaging
  • Atmospheric water generation
  • Bio-concrete
  • Remote drug manufacturing
  • Video games in medicine
  • 3D bio printing of tissues
  • Body-on-a-chip for testing new treatments

Another clear lesson that emerged was that some technologies share similar challenges, such as scalability, reducing their environmental impact, and energy efficiency. Addressing these issues is paramount for achieving our sustainability goals and decarbonisation. Furthermore, additional, external factors such as geopolitical tensions, standards and regulation, education and skills development, and limited access to raw materials or resources influence the entire technology landscape. These factors shape the opportunities and risks for different technologies and their users.

Perhaps most importantly, the work gave added impetus to the mission of the European Innovation Council by demonstrating ways in which it can support critical technologies for the future of the EU, by prioritising the most pressing topics and understanding the context.

To conclude, our mission here at the EU Policy Lab’s regarding tech foresight work is to look for, understand, and help shape the technologies that are just starting to appear. Thanks to this yearlong project, the EIC will continue to support entrepreneurs and use EU funding to create better conditions for innovation in the future.

Take a closer look at our three new technology foresight reports and stay in touch: what do you think will be the next big tech breakthrough?


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