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September 27, 2010

ICT2010 Event Brussels, 1st day (#ict2010eu for twitter…)

ICT2010: the obligatory get-together for many in the European ICT world, to know and understand what the EU Commission plans to do, but also to meet possible partners for the next round of EU project proposals… Huge crowd (to be honest, a bit too huge for my taste), many exhibitions, plenaries (both keynotes and panels) as well as parallel sessions.

The day began with the usual opening ceremony with the opening speech of the Belgian prime minister (Yves Letèrme) who (well, we are in Belgium!) made his speech by cutting it into three sections, one in English, one in French, one in Dutch. Fortunately there were translation services for those who do not understand all three… What was much more interesting is the plenary session that followed, which included keynotes and a panel. What to remember of that plenary? Some points:

  • I liked Neelie Kroes’ keynote (for our non European friends, she is the commissioner for ICT, the direct “boss” of this branch here, although I am not sure she would like to be addressed this way). Not primarily for the content of what she said but more for the (I think) genuine enthusiasm that she seemed to have for the future of ICT in Europe, for the will of doing and improving things. She was very upbeat, that Europe should get its acts together (a theme that came back during the day several times) to move ahead big times. With my background at W3C, I was also sensitive on the emphasis she put on the fundamental importance of standards, on cooperation, on openness.
  • Silvana Koch-Mehrin, vice-president of the European Parliament had an interesting remark on the internet of things and on the various services that it would generate: that people should have the right, by default, to opt-in to services, and not the possibility to simply opt-out. After the privacy stories with Facebook, that resonated to me… She also said that the parliament is currently conducting two studies on how the various social ICT tools (email, social sites, etc) influence the work of the parliament (both in the positive and the negative sense). I would be very interested to read the results of those studies.
  • Christian Renaudot, CEO of Agfa-Gevaert, gave a talk on how the current plans of the commission fits the goals of a huge company like his, primarily in the area of health care related machinery. It was interesting. And he raised an issue that came up many times during the day: that the social relationships are also changing with the ICT evolution (he referred to the doctor-patient relationships in his example) and that serious work has to be done to understand those changes and where they lead to in the future. I fully agree, I just do not know how such research should be conducted efficiently…

The keynotes were followed by a panel.  A question that came up during the discussion was what the measure is of success, i.e., that the coming years would really evolve in the right way in ICT land. Many of the answers were very “techie”: rate of broadband penetration, number of services, that sort of things. But then Neelie Kroes intervened, essentially saying “well, I am an economist by formation, so I should like the numbers, but I do not. What interests me is whether the quality of life will be improved with those evolution, if we have more raw models for entrepreneurs in Europe, so that people would not always look elsewhere” Yes, It is way too easy to forget what is important…

Another question that came up a lot, and that was also the main thrust of discussion at the evening panel, is how to achieve that more global companies would be born in Europe, that there would more successful start ups, that not everyone would constantly use the Silicon Valley as a reference, etc. This questions comes up fairly often and we heard a number of the answers that are usually given: lack of venture capital, different attitudes v.a.v., for example, of failure, the melting pot aspect of the californian culture, etc. But it was interesting that there was a clear upbeat tone as well. First of all, that these things have greatly improved in the past few years, with centers around Europe that attract lots of entrepreneurs (Cambridge, Berlin, Sophia Antipolis, Paris, etc) but also that Europe has a lot to offer in terms of living quality that does attract many people, and more and more at that. One thing that is really missing is educated people. The universities in Europe are not efficient enough, and the US (at least the Silicon Valley area but, I think, elsewhere, too) is much more open to foreigners coming in, bringing their expertise to start up something (after all, Google, Yahoo, or Youtube have all been set up by foreigners). This has to improve in hoping that Europe ever gets in par with the rest of the world. (I must say that when I see the successes of such politicians and parties as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, the Jobbik in Hungary or the Le Pen family in France, I am not very optimistic on the issue of foreigner friendliness. I think Europe is heading in the wrong and frightful direction here. But that would be the topic of another blog…)

The organization of the conference is, however,… awful. An ICT conference where there is no decent wireless access: for crying out loud, this is ridiculous! Such a conference should have an exemplary access, letting people tweet and blog and email about what is happening, and letting people not on site chime in via the same tools. Isn’t that ridiculous when we talk about broadband access for everyone, about mobile computing, and all that jazz? Of course, chiming in from the outside may not have worked anyway: the panels were not organized counting on the involvement of the audience. Which is also a shame. The organizers should really learn…

Let us see what tomorrow brings!

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1 Comment

  1. Interestingly, I found the WiFi was fantastic over in the exhibitions building, and wasn’t bad over near the auditorium when talks weren’t going on. Their decision to intentionally leave the auditorium itself out of the WiFi zone to “keep people from tweeting” is truly odd, though, I agree. For an ICT conference, it makes no sense at all…

    Comment by Krista Grothoff — September 27, 2010 @ 20:16


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