The 2nd NAMUR AWARD Lecture

INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY: ACHIEVEMENTS AND PROSPECTS

Dr Riccardo Petrella
Head of the FAST Programme (CEC-DG XII)
    "Nous étions faits pour être libres
    nous étions faits pour être heureux"

    Aragon

INTRODUCTION

1. The question that I shall try to answer (within the given time constraints) is not a simple and easy one: has information and communication technology (hereafter ICT) been instrumental to greater freedom, happiness, social justice and equity ?

The question is legitimate. Since the conception and development of ICT, its promoters have announced and promised many exciting and marvellous products and services that were going to change society and individual life. Still today new waves of "revolutions" are announced in connection with the new generation of ICT as multimedia, virtual reality.

The question is not simple and easy because to identify and assess the achievements made possible by ICT in the last twenty-five years and to explore possible prospects for the next ten-fifteen years is a too ambitious task. ICT has had an impact on almost every aspect of human activities (from war to aeroplane, labour to sex, travel to musea, education to health, banking to shopping, stars observation to exploration of oceans,...). Therefore, to trace the recent history of ICT is like to trace the history of our society for the last 20-30 years, a history full of prophecies, visions, projects, failures, unexpected events.

2. I am deliberately restricting the time space to the last twenty-five years because, though the history of ICT goes back to the 40ies (the computer sprung off to respond to USA military needs), it is around the end of 60ies and beginning of the 70ies that the history of present ICT began. It is in 1968 that McLuhan published his famous book Understanding the Media. The sub-title was significant : "The technological extensions of man". In fact, McLuhan thesis was that the new communication technology (he was especially referring to television) was the last fundamental technological change of man next to mechanisation and electricity for the new media were "transforming the human conscience".

I wonder what McLuhan would say today knowing that people are working on visualisation and manipulation of human body from inside. There are plans to include a permanent communication network in the body cavity of all people allowing direct connection to every bodily organ ! Anticipated applications and services of such use of ICT are: automatic epidemiology, permanent medical check-up, remote diagnostics and treatment, interpersonal communication (including tele-sex) and many other unthinkable affairs !

Let's go back to known history and development.

*

*  *
The paper is structured in three sections. The first section is devoted to a fast review of ICT related prophecies, visions, projects and expectations. The second section contains an outrageously selective and condensed assessment of main achievements. The third section presents some hypotheses about prospects for the next 10-15 years.

A. PROPHECIES, VISIONS, PROJECTS, EXPECTATIONS

3. It was in 1972 that the first comprehensive plan of transformation of society by ICT was made public. The plan came from a country, i.e. Japan, that though fast rising in economic strength, was still, at that time, a distant "regional" power, acting under the umbrella and in the shadow of USA.

That year, the Japan Computer Usage Development Institute, on request and in agreement with the Japanese Government published the Plan for Information Society. A National Goal Towards Year 2000 (1). The driving goal was "to build a new Japan" by moving from "an industrial society to a society based on information". Accordingly, the plan intended to transform the country's territory by a profound relocation of industrial and services activities, by the constitution of a new national information and communication network. The plan aimed at using ICT to re-vitalise Japanese cities with the view to cope and solve major transport and environmental problems. Amongst other objectives, the new information society was to ensure a more effective and efficient national system for environmental prevention and monitoring. As outcome of the plan, the Japanese visionnaires and planners anticipated:

- a substantial jump in Japan's quality of life,
- a massive expansion of people ingenuity,
- a great impulsion to participatory democracy,
- and, last but not least, a highly convivial society.

4. A few years later, on President Giscard d'Estaing's initiative and request, France published the so-called Nora-Minc report on L'informatisation de la Société (2) in 1978. The report defended the idea that ICT would have radically transformed modern society and that the crisis that was characterising the French society at that time would have been exacerbated by ICT if a coherent and proactive national policy for the informatisation of French society was not designed and implemented.

To them, the "information revolution" would have led to much more profound changes that those induced by the steam-engines, railways and electricity "revolutions". The "information revolution" was going to modify the nervous system of organisation and of the society as a whole. They identified three major challenges: a new growth, new power games, the national independence. Accordingly ICT was going to play a decisive role for better and for worse in the balance between the State, as promoter and guarantor of general public interest, and the market forces, as the expression of the "free" interactions within society. The future of democracy, they predicted, was going to depend on such a good balance. Therefore "socialiser l'information" (to favour a social appropriation of information) was their main prescription.

5. It is impossible to report of similar national assessment exercises initiated or supported by public authorities in the USA. There was none. This does not mean that USA researchers, enterprise leaders and governmental decision makers did not contribute to the analysis and debate on the idea of "information society". On the contrary, dozens of articles, books and reports flavoured in the 70ies by the Americans. They coined the first a wide number of new terms such as "information society" itself, "information revolution", "paperless society", the "knowledge explosion", "informediation" and so on. Daniel Bell's book The Coming of Post-Industrial Society published in 1973 as well as the pioneer overview by E. Geibner, L.P. Gross and W.H. Melody on Communication Technology and Social Policy: Understanding the New Cultural Revolution (3), Michael Porat's seminal study on the Information Economy, the imaginative Seymour Papert's work on Mind Storms: Children Computers and Powerful Ideas (4) on computer aided learning, and the classic piece of technology optimism represented by James Martin's The Wired Society (5), just to mention a few, provided a rich and in depth panorama of the anticipated changes by Americans. The Americans also increasingly believed that a global transformation of human affair was beginning based on ICT. Alvin Tofler summarised such a belief in his multimillion copies book The Third Wave (New Jersey, Morrow, 1981).

6. The picture of the "information" that emerged from USA was based on the conviction that information was:
- expendable (information expands as it is used),
- not resources-hungry (as compared to steel and automobile production),
- substitutable (increasingly replacing capital, labour and physical materials),
- transportable (at the speed of light, hence the new concept of distance economy, distance working),
- diffusive (the leakage of information is wholesale, pervasive and continuous),
- shareable (shift from exchange transactions to sharing transactions).

7. Furthermore the quasi majority of authors (and supporters of ICT) anticipated that ICT was going to destabilize societal hierarchies of

- power, the one based on control of weapons, energy sources, trade routes, markets, knowledge;
- influence, the one based on secrecy;
- class, that based on ownership;
- privilege, established on early access to valuable resources;
- politics, the one based on geography.
8. The conclusion that one can derive from this very rapid and unjust review of ideas, analyses, visions and expectations from the past is rather clear. In the 70ies, with a few exceptions (they were also "Cassandras", "Apocalypsists" and "Agnosticists"), there was a strong general consensus on three points:
 
a) the conviction that a new era was opened (i.e. the new information society, reflecting the new technological paradigm for growth, wealth, economy, employment, international trade,...);
b) the main features of the ICT led the era. The most frequently quoted were:
- greater opportunities for people's ingenuity,
- the explosion of interactivity,
- greater participation and integration,
- expansion of conviviality,
- greater democracy,
- more stable peace,
- higher quality of life,
- universal access to learning and open education,
- changing nature of work (it is worth noticing that, with the exception of those who wrote about the new ICT based services economy, no author claimed that ICT was going to create absolute more employment).
c) the transition towards the information society as the most important issue. Accordingly, the greatest challenge was defined in terms of countries and firms ability to acquire and maintain the industrial mastery of the new technology (and, to a secondary degree, the social mastery). The greatest majority of people was convinced that the social mastery was a dependent outcome of the industrial mastery. Furthermore they felt that in order to ensure the most effective adhesion and participation of people to the strengthening of country's industrial mastery, the priority was to be given to the promotion, by all means, of public information on ICT. This was judged to be instrumental to the stimulation of public awareness and the promotion of public acceptance of the new technology.

It is not surprising that - by the end of the 70ies and beginning of the 80ies (6) - an important series of national and international promoted and funded studies did precisely focus on factors and conditions for a better public acceptance of new technology.

B. MAIN "ACHIEVEMENTS"

9. I can not emphasise it enough: the present section is not an attempt to assess in a systematic and comprehensive manner the results of the development, use and diffusion of ICT in contemporary society. Rather it is an impressionistic view from a person who has been associated with a series of technology assessment activities (research studies, seminars, international conferences) covering a wide spectrum of subject matters in the field of information and communication technology (see Table) in the last 15 years.
     
    Main FAST publications in the area of information and communication technology
    1 Niels Bjørn-Andersen, Michael Earl, Olav Holst and Enid Mumford (Ed.),     Information Society: For Richer, for Poorer. FAST Proceedings Conference on Information Society, London. 25-29 January 1982, North-Holland, 1982.
    2 Liam Bannon, Ursula Barry and Olav Holst (Ed.), Information Technology: Impact on the Way of Life. FAST Conference Proceedings on Information Society, 18-20 November 1981, Dublin. Tycooly International Publishing Ltd., Dublin 1982
    3 R.V. Gizycki and I. Schubert, Microelectronics: A Challenge for Europe's Industrial Survival, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1984
    4 K.W. Grewlich and F.H. Pedersen, Power and Participation in an Information Society, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1984.
    5 The FAST Report, EUROFUTURES - The Challenges of Innovation, Butterworths, U.K., 1984, see chapters 2 and 3.
    6 Quelle Informatique pour Quel Développement? Futuribles, Paris, 1984
    7 R. Holti, E.Stern, Distance Working - Origins - Diffusion - Prospects, Futuribles, march 1987
    8 L. Qvortrup et al. Social Experiments with Information Technology and the Challenges of Innovation, D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, 1987.
    9 J. Howells, Economic, Technological and Locational Trends in European Services, Avebury, Alderschot, 1988.
    10 E. De Bens, M. Knoche: Electronic Mass Media in Europe. Prospects and Developments, Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, 1987.
    11 J. Muskens, G. Gruppelaar, Global Telecommunication Networks: Strategic Considerations, Kluwer Academic Publ., Dordrecht, 1988.
    12
  1. Y. Poullet, La Demande Finale en Télématique, IDATE, Montpellier, 1988, Préface par R. Petrella.
  2. 13 R. Lick, La Juste Communication, IDATE, La Documentation Française, Montpel-lier/Paris, 1988, Préface par R. Petrella.
    14 J. Foreman-Peck, J. Müller (Eds.) European Telecommunication Organisations, No-mos, Baden-Baden, 1988.
    15 N.O. Bernsen (Ed) Research Directions in Cognitive Science, Vol. 3: Human Compu-ter Interaction, Lawrence Erlbaum Ass., Hove (UK), 1989.
    16 J.L. Iwens, Les Réseaux Numériques à Intégration de Services - Enjeux et Conséquences pour les Sociétés Européennes, FAST Strategic Dossier n?6, July 1988.
    17 The Future of Communication in Europe - Beyond Technology, FAST II (1984-1987) Brussels, Vol. 4, 160 p., July 1988.
    18 M. Warner, W. Wobbe, P. Brödner, New Technology and Manufacturing Management, J. Wiley, UK, 1989.
    19 J. Berleur, J. Drumm, Information Technology Assessment. Proceedings of the 4th IFIP-TC9 International Conference on Human Choice and Computers, Dublin 1990, North Holland, 1991.
    20 P. Kidd, Organization, People and Technology in European Manufacturing, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1992.
    21 W. Wobbe, What are anthropocentric production systems? Why are they a strategic issue for Europe?, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1992.
    22 K. Cullen, R. Moran, Technology and the Elderly - The role of technology in prolon-ging the independence of the elderly in the Community care context, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1992.

    10. What is particularly impressive above all in ICT is the extraordinary jumps achieved in computation (data collection, processing, retrieval, use, dissemination, ...).

    Whoever looks at ICT, the first "sensation" he gets of it is the enormous power/ capacity (still at an initial stage of development) of dealing with information that ICT has made possible in less than 30 years (think of the first pocket calculators, compare the first "cybernetic machines" with present computers !).

    Achievements in computation are "sensational" in terms of:

     
    ° speed 
    ° quantity 
     ° quality
    ° reliability 
    ° miniaturisation
    ° cost reduction


    for applications, for instance, to:
     

      - civilian air transportation: the new generation of Airbus is considered to be a computerized information system that moves people from one place to another. The computer-based seat reservation system has entirely modified the strategy of the relevant players in the area. It has become more important today to hold the controls of and access of seats reservations than to offer the safest and most comfortable place and services on board !

      - energy systems: France could not have been able to operate the electricity power system with the highest contribution from nuclear energy in the world and a very high level of quasi safety in the absence of automation and information technology;

      - training in advanced sophisticated areas such as high speed train: the future Belgian drivers of HST between Paris and Lille are simply learning how to drive it on simulators;

      - human organ transplants: the computer based equipment that is needed to enable such transplants, especially of liver, was still unthinkable just 10 years ago;

      - and, above all, a new generation of military weapons, the popular knowledge of which some was (partly and misleadingly) offered on the occasion of the Gulf War. Among others lessons that could be derived from the Gulf War, this event showed the inner limits to ICT propaganda. The attempt to legitimise the war and to make it morally more acceptable by people because, thanks to ICT, it was an entirely new type of war, i.e. a "clean" and "quick" war without human killing naufragated clamorously, not only for the shame of military establishment but also of media that uncritically supported and propagated such a claim.


    Computation is so important that in a special issue of Daedalus (winter 1991-92) devoted to it, many authors argued that USA will anew be the n? 1 world leader around 2010-2020 because of their superiority in computer science and technology.

    11. Another area of major changes associated with ICT is manufacturing.
    ICT have put an end to the era of "Taylorism-Fordism" (mass production, highly hierarchical organisational structures, competition on price and standards, international division of labour). A new manufacturing system based on product diversity (the age of the personalised consumer product is said to be rapidly approaching !), shorter product life cycles (hence, the concept of economies of scale has been enriched or replaced by the concept of economies of scope), reduced time to market for new products (just in time !), great flexibility, flat hierarchies, interactive and cooperative working relations, competition on quality has been made possible by ICT (i.e. CAD, CAP, CAM, CAQC,...). The new manufacturing system is "Toyotism" or "Lean Production". The central step in the shift towards the new manufacturing is CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) which is, in principle, more than linking computer together, sharing data and automating various tasks, including design and manufacturing. Integrated manufacturing should include people, working practises, organisational structure as well as automation, information and communication technology. I say "it should" because the dominant tendency is not as yet towards a balanced integration between people, participative and cooperative organisation, and technology. The approach most frequently adopted is to introduce the new technology and then to adjust people and the organisation to it. Much of the work on CIM has been dominated by technological consideration. The technocentric philosophy has inspired and directed the full automation strategy that has prevailed advanced manufacturing evolution during the 80ies. The result of the technocentric approach, combined with other economic and social factors (such as the priority given to competition on global markets, on cost reduction via increased labour productivity, and the growing tendency to reduce social protection), has resulted in a very ambiguous relation between ICT and employment. One can demonstrate that in highly competitive global markets those firms that have introduced ICT at the right time, for the right tasks, in a right balance, have survived and lost less jobs than those that where not able to do the same. Equally, the demonstration can be made that in OECD countries the number of jobs created by ICT applied to the services sector has not compensated the job losses associated with ICT use in manufacturing. Furthermore, the new manufacturing wave called "re-engineering" is destined to considerably reduce the need for human labour during the 90ies. Some studies have anticipated a new wave of 20 million job losses during the next 20 years in the United States (7).

    12. Rather more encouraging achievements (at least, according to the majority of the analyses) are associated with the information and communication on itself. Here the key word, the "SESAME concept" that has emerged as the emblematic word and concept is network (and networking). In relation to it, a new whole of concepts and principles have mushroomed such as connectivity, interactivity, integration (8).

    Similarly to the role played in manufacturing by CIM, the central steps in the emergence of a new information and communication has been the bit, i.e. the digitalisation of any possible type of codifiable message (voice, images, data, writings), and the move towards ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). Thanks to the digitalisation, a new generation of supports (for instance the Compact Disc), equipments (ISDN), terminals (computers, mobile telephone, HDTV,...) have modified the information and media landscape. Despite the volatility of markets (among others, because of the winner-loser fight between different competing supports and terminals such as satellites vs. cables, telephone vs. computers,...), ICT have stimulated enormous process innovations in financial services (the current globalisation of financial services could never have taken place to a such extent and rythm without ICT !). The same applies to leisure activities, especially to computer based games. It seems that young Americans have cut by half the daily time they were used to devote watching TV (more than 3 hours) because they are increasingly involved with interactive games. ICT based process innovations have also significantly modified the organisation and functioning of an hospital not only with regard to management of information on people (hospitalised persons, hospital personnel,...) but also to medical diagnosis and care, including post-hospital care. Of course a lot of misuses and shortcomings have marked the development and use of ICT in the health area. Among them, let us mention only two: first, because of the priority given to cost effectiveness, the optimisation of beds occupation and medical (expensive) equipments thanks to ICT has become one of the inspiring principle determining the rate and mode of introduction and use of the new information and communication tools and systems; secondly, the introduction of sophisticated technology such as minimal invasive therapy has been dictated by financial rationality (9). All in all ICT has undergone major commercial and socio-cultural failures in the households and in the education and training area. At the beginning of the 80ies "home advanced and interactive system" was much talked about, such as the telebanking, teleshopping, teleworking,... Philips was one of the world corporations that invested considerably in this and tried to become world leader (10). Today, we are still very far from Philips plans and expectations even in the area of teleworking which is still considered by ICT people as one area of great promise. Concerning education and training, ICT has had no difficulty to invest in university laboratories and research as well as education/training at work in manufacturing and services. Present multimedia, for instance, are increasingly used within firms for education/training purposes. More difficult and slow, compared to anticipations and hopes, has been the use of ICT in education/teaching activities both at primary and secondary schools, as well as at higher level. The introduction and use of CDs at primary and secondary schools, for instance, is proving to be an extremely difficult task. Distant learning is growing very slowly.

    Furthermore, worth mentioning (and debating on it) is that ICT applications in health, leisure activities, education/training/home and media have primarily been associated with and have played a propulsive role to, the development of "new" markets (in most cases, the "new" market was created by process innovation) that were more and more:

      - privatised;
      - deregulated;
      - and liberalised.
    ICT has been increasingly used as a justification and instrument to accelerate the process of privatisation of entire segments of economy (arguing that new ICT makes information more and more available to everybody and it increases the opportunity for new enterprises and markets), de-regulation of market configuration (anew, it has been claimed that new ICT can only produce the expected results in "free" markets) and liberalisation of national market at world level (according to the needs of global networking firms for which national trade barriers are an obstacle to their "free" operations throughout the world.

    13. In fact, another area where ICT has contributed to major achievements is the globalisation of economy. If it is possible to identify a new process in the world economic scene, i.e. the process of globalisation, which is different from the traditional processes of internationalisation and multinationalisation, this is due, in part, to the new generation of ICT. They are conspicuously modifying the role of time and space variables. Thanks to ICT, engineers from different sites in the world of the same firm can work together at the same time without moving from their location. As already mentioned, globalisation of financial markets has only been possible because of ICT. Televideoconferences are not as yet spread and used as ICT promoters would have liked but they are slowly introduced in the daily life. CNN has realised the apparent global information village. The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, the two major authoritative heralds of the free market economic ideology, are produced, each of them in different places thanks to telecommunications. The "simplest" tool that has produced the major "revolution" of the last few years, i.e. the fac-simile, has significantly conditioned the form of globalisation of business and daily life.

    The recent phenomena of delocalisation of production and services activities from the most developed countries towards in particular the region of South East Asia is a rather old phenomenon. German steel industry begun its delocalisation in Latin America, by the end of last century. The delocalisation of American groups in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Singapore,... dates back to the year 50ies. What makes today the phenomena of delocalisation a "political", economic and social hot issue is its negative impacts on employment in advanced countries as well as its possible generalisation, thanks to ICT, to all economic and human activities so that the traditional "territorial" based divisions and power structures may disappear. For the time being and the next 10-15 years, the most important result of economic delocalisation will be a new territorialisation of the world economy based on inter-firms and intra-industrial organisation. The move towards stateless global society is a pure fiction. Equally, there is no sign showing the emergence of new forms of democratic world governance. What is really emerging is a clear division between the system of the most developed cities and regions of the world increasingly integrated each to the other, and the system of poor and delinked cities and regions of the world.

    14. The potential implications and consequences of the new ICT-led globalisation of the economy are visible in the area of cultural activities. The role of CNN in the media abuses concerning the coverage of the Gulf War was already mentioned. The "Madonna" economy is another emblematic example. The global cultural industry risks to become an aggressive and arrogant phenomenon: first, by imposing the transformation of all cultural activities into cultural "goods" and "services"; secondly, by imposing the GATT rules to the diffusion and "trade" of cultural "goods" and "services"; third, by reducing to "irrelevant phenomena" those cultural activities that have not been able to become part of the cultural global markets !

    This is not however the only form that may take the application of ICT to culture. The many positive opportunities opened in the publishing sector may considerably change the editorial world. Computer music, architecture, as well as the promotion, protection and repair of monuments and cultural heritage, and new form of musea and science information and diffusion (see the example of "Exploratorium" in the USA and "Cité de la Science et de l'Industrie" in France) are encouraging and expanding.

    Expert systems, voice recognition and other sensorial capabilities are some of the enabling conditions to enter a new era of cultural development.

    15. The domain of artificial intelligence, though it cannot give records of the same practical achievements obtained in the areas described so far, remains the one with the greatest potential breakthroughs and the area which has nourished the most "exciting" techno-utopia and mind's "revolutions". A voice-reacting computer will lead to gradual but profound changes in patterns of individual and collective use, not to mention changes in the nature of the computer industry itself. The same applies to the new child of artificial intelligence, i.e. the virtual reality. Virtual reality is for the time being an objective, a strategy rather than an actual process. Considerable steps have still to be made before that one can effectively operate with virtual reality, if such a reality will ever be constructed.

    16. In the meantime, ICT have been applied for more practical purposes to the area of objects and human identification.

    The "bar-codes" is a typical example. Storage and points of sale management and organisation have been conspicuously modified. Many researchers are afraid that the extension of such a system to human beings would not only generated the army of "coded consumers" but would also lead to human "manipulations" and consequent threats to privacy, freedom and democracy. The use of bio-informatics in labour recruitment selection and courts (genetic screening tests) is not for making us very optimistic about possible future developments.

    17. From what precedes, I am tempted to draw the following seven conclusions:

    a) as it has always been the case for all major technologies, the most important contribution of ICT has been to boosten military development. I am not a specialist to say whether ICT has changed or will change, or not, the nature of war. As a layman I would say that ICT has significantly increased the difficulty to enter the club of world military powers, by making the military power rank dependent not longer only from access to nuclear power but also from access to sophisticated micro-electronics technology and computation systems;

    b) the design and development of ICT have been over-dominated by market/business driven criteria and "rationality";

    c) in most cases, the application and use of ICT have been inspired and characterised by the logic of the individual itinerary. Similarly to transport that has been dominated by the triumph of the individual (the private car) over the collective solution (public transportation), our societies have chosen an individual based approach to the appropriation of the new ICT (personal/home computer, personal/home or car/communication network);

    d) contrary to prophecies and expectations, ICT has failed to contribute to the reduction of inequalities among people, groups, cities, regions and countries. It has rather enhanced inequality in favour of new processes of power re-centralisation and wealth concentration. It has failed, so far, to contribute to the re-construction of the cities as a system of social co-existence of the diversities and communication. Despite its apparent borderless nature and the positive democratisation role played in particular by television, ICT has created new barriers among people of different culture, social status and level of development;

    e) ICT has accelerated the diffusion of principles and mechanisms of privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation in a "free" world market economy. Accordingly, it has contributed to make the ideology of competitivity for world leadership the main mobile behind the new process of globalisation of economy and society;

    f) the greatest social changes induced by ICT are not at home, at school, in the agora (parliaments, governments), in the gender relations, in the social justice or economic equity, but rather at firm level, in manufacturing and business services, in trade and financial markets, in inter-firms relations at global level;

    g) genuine innovation in society cannot take place by, but rather around and with, technology. What is of decisive importance is a balanced "compromise" between people, organisation and technology, and ICT can contribute to it. To do so, there is a need to re-design and re-develop the R&D and technology policy for ICT at European and triadic level.

C. PROSPECTS (AND QUESTIONS)

18. No divination is possible. To make a few hypotheses on prospects, one has to address question to industry people (What are their intentions, their wishes? Have they a long-term strategy?), governments (the same questions as to industry people, in addition: What is the public interest they wish to promote? What is the role of parliaments and civilian society that they would like to support?), university and research organisation leaders (What are the issues they intend to address by priority?), and users (What they ask for? Are "small users" ready to join their own organisational capacity to act together as "big users" have done in recent years?).

19. It seems that on the supply side, in addition to the existing supply in the areas mentioned in the previous sectors, new attention might be given in the next 10-15 years to:

- re-engineering and computer support cooperative work;
- games generation;
- bio-informatics;
- multimedia and virtual reality.
Safety (especially nuclear) and environmental prevention as well as personal/home and business security will expand considerably and fast.

20. On the side of governments and public authorities at large, the priority will be given to promote the development of the new information and communication infrastructures (the so-called "superhighways of communication" and "nervous system". One of the key elements of the science and technology policy programme made public last April by President Clinton concerned precisely the support given to the creation of such "superhighways"). The concepts of "informational city" and "wired society" will continue to be used by media and politicians to simplify the matters but they will soon show their limits and inadequacy as operational concepts. Regional (continental) ICT based cooperative projects will be multiplied especially amongst cities and regions within the context and boundary conditions set up by the privatised, deregulated, liberalised, competitive global markets. Under such circumstances, the scope of public information and communication networks and services will be further reduced.

21. On the demand side, pressure will be made especially by business firms, in favour of more customised information and communication goods and services, and more friendly users ICT. In the absence of public supported initiatives, households demand will not be strong and then expanding since present inadequacy of ICT supply. If a demand will grow, households are likely to be interested in cheap and more friendly user devices and services, giving greater opportunities and easier access to children to educational development and "intelligent" games. More broadly speaking, there will be a growing pressure from the civilian society to expand and accelerate the application of ICT to less favoured several areas and regions as well as with explicitly defined social purposes in the interested handicapped persons, the elderly, the minority languages.

22. My impression is that, all in all, the next 10-15 years will be dominated by a "business as usual" philosophy and strategy, i.e. the ones driven by "free" market oriented principles and approach, the content of which will be defined and decided by the global networks of multinational firms, with the support of national public authorities.

The probability of a possible expansion of newly based local, national, regional and global public visions for ICT goals, services and systems is rather low. Conversely, the risk is great that public interest in communication will gradually disappear during the next 10-15 years. It might happen that, during this period of time, the notion and practice of the European common public interest in telecommunication will be reduced to the agreement on the fact that the role of public authorities is limited to promote and safeguard an open and "free" communication environment were the "free" economic players can play the game "freely".

In presence of such a scenario, scientists have a great responsibility. To accommodate to it, is a legitimate and respectable attitude and strategy. By doing so, scientists will, most probably, guarantee their short term survival. If they wish to contribute to a long term socially sustainable and balanced development, scientists should not have to accommodate to this scenario. They should become an active component of a process geared at re-designing and re-orienting the development of ICT with the view to meet by priority the general interest of society, especially of those members (groups, cities, regions and countries) which, by definition, do not represent the most promising profitable and expanding markets (11).


(1) Japan Computer Usage Development Institute (JACUDI), Tokyo, 1972.

(2)  Simon Nora/Alain Minc, L'informatisation de la société, La Documentation Française, Paris, 1978.

(3) Published by John Wiley, New-York, 1973.

(4) M. Porat, The Information Economy, Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Stanford University, California, 1976.  S. Papert's book was published by Harvester Press, Brighton, Sussex, in 1980.

(5) Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1978.

(6) On the broad of "Toyotism" and the new manufacturing system, see P. Kidd, Organization, People and Technology in European Manufacturing, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1992.  And W. Wobbe, What Are Anthropocentric Production Systems ?  Why Are They a Strategic Issue for Europe ?, Commission of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1992.

(7) Quoted by The Wall Street Journal,  March 1993.

(8) Cf. V. De Keyser, Interactions Hommes-Machines, FAST Occasional Paper 110, Brussels, 1987.  And A. Bloch, Telematics, Inter-Organization and Economic Performance, FAST Occasional Paper 195, Brussels, 1987.

(9) H. D. Banta, The Budget is Blind : The Case of Minimally Invasive Therapy in Europe, FAST Occasional Paper 296. Brussels, 1991.

(10) Cf. F. Van Rijn (ed.), Home Telematics, Elsevier, 1990.

(11) For an overview of the present approaches to assessment in the field of ICT, see the special issue "Technology Assessment" of Technologies de l'information et Société, Paris, Dunod, vol. 4, nr. 4, 1992.

[back to the home page]


Insitut d'Informatique - 19/10/2000