Meld. St. 7 (2014-2015)

Long-term plan for research and higher education 2015–2024

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6 Enabling technologies

6.1 Direction

Enabling technologies are technologies that prove to be so radical that they lead to major change in society. They also lay the foundation for many other new technologies. Historic examples include the art of printing, railways, steam engines, electricity and modern mass production. Countries that have spearheaded development, refinement and application of enabling technologies have experienced stronger economic growth than others.

An international race is under way to develop and commercialise today's enabling technologies, such as information and communication technology (ICT), biotechnology and nanotechnology. These are knowledge-intensive technologies; that is, they are based on research and development, cutting-edge expertise and rapid innovation cycles. ICT's emergence as a fundamental infrastructure in society and a common part of Norwegians' everyday work and private lives is an example of the social formative aspects of today's enabling technologies. The fact that most bank branches have been replaced by online banking and mobile banking has, for example led to lower costs for the banks, and has made it easier for most customers to obtain and use bank services.

In the next decades, we can expect that society will be fundamentally altered by products and solutions created with the help of enabling technologies. If we look back, one of the examples we see is that less than 10 years have passed since the first smart telephones with touch-screens entered the market. These types of products were made possible by the development in screen technology, sensors, battery technology and software. The European Commission views enabling technologies as the most important driver for modernisation of European industry and the transition to a knowledge-based, low emission society. The same is the case in the US.

We must pave the way for inquisitive researchers to conduct creative experiments that subsequently prove to yield surprising breakthroughs. Cooperation and projects in the intersection between technological science and other disciplines is a precondition for ground-breaking research. It is also a precondition for using technology solutions to address social challenges and develop trade and industry.

Enabling technologies are an input factor in the development of new products and new industry. Developing enabling technologies contributes to new solutions that can be applied in most areas of society, such as food production, energy efficiency, transport/communication and better health and care services. ICT is crucial for value creation and efficiency in the private and public sectors. There is a very substantial socio-economic benefit from improved ICT solutions. Using advanced biotechnology, products based on renewable biological material can replace nearly all petroleum-based products, including energy. Nanotechnology is also important in realising a low-emission society with extensive use of clean energy sources.

Biotechnology and nanotechnology have been prioritised technology areas for the last 10 years, while ICT has been a priority even longer than that – yet still not sufficiently. Valuable and fundamental competence, quality and capacity have been developed and refined in the research system, in higher education and in business and industry. We have strong expert communities in several areas, such as secure communication, bio-refining and the materials industry. Technological development is rapid and Norway, as a high-cost country, must take part in the research front.

Competition between manufacturers and producers in high-cost countries is sharp. The OECD believes that we are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution where use of new technologies will enable us to produce a number of products in entirely new ways using more advanced production processes. Maintaining Norwegian industry and service production and Norwegian jobs that can compete in new markets requires that we are able to streamline production and reduce costs. When international competitors produce more efficiently and with more customer adaptation, Norwegian enterprises come under increasing pressure to improve the efficiency of their own production.

The enabling technology areas have originated from a number of fundamental disciplines such as mathematics, natural science and technology. However, development of enabling technologies also demands perspectives from the social sciences and the humanities and legal research. This is needed to ensure understanding of how the technology areas, and the people who will apply and use them, work together and impact each other. For example, a number of important issues are linked to how the technologies can change our society in ways that challenge us ethically, socially and politically, and that have consequences for the safety and security of our society. In historical terms, changes related to enabling technologies have challenged the existing power structures, and have in part led to significant social costs. If enabling technologies are to help promote innovation and address social challenges, research in advanced technologies and systems must be combined with research on e.g. institutions and organisations, regulation and policy, communication and interaction in the home and in society.

Enabling technologies will support the other priorities in the long-term plan and will contribute toward achieving the objectives of increased competitiveness, solving social challenges and developing excellent expert communities. The Government aims to reinforce its commitment to the enabling technologies. These efforts will target:

  • biotechnology and nanotechnology

  • information and communication technology (ICT)

  • advanced production processes

6.2 Biotechnology and nanotechnology

National R&D strategies have been drawn up for biotechnology and nanotechnology to ensure good interaction between the various parties, as well as improved overall resource exploitation. These strategies provide an up-to-date overview of status and opportunities, highlight challenges and needs and stake out a direction for further development of technology areas in Norway. The strategies have been well-received and are actively used by both those who fund public research, and those who conduct this research. Using these strategies as a starting point, Norway will exploit the opportunities provided by biotechnology in a responsible manner to secure value creation and health, and to safeguard the environment. This will be done by means of cross-sectoral research, competence development and cooperation. Biotechnology is important for the development of the marine sector, agriculture, health and industry. Future efforts must be tailored to the various needs and special features of each sector. Nanotechnology will provide a significant contribution toward Norwegian business development and social benefit, assuming that it is developed responsibly. Within this area of technology, we see both a need for further commitment to fundamental knowledge development and a stronger commitment to innovation and commercialisation. We also need more knowledge about potential undesirable effects of nanotechnology on people, the environment, and society in general.

The national biotechnology and nanotechnology strategies form the technical groundwork for how we organise our ongoing commitment in these areas. Our efforts will be scaled up so as to allow Norway to exploit the investments already made, and to reinforce resource input in the areas where this is needed.

The knowledge enhancement that has taken place within biotechnology and nanotechnology will be further developed. There is still a need to build up fundamental and interdisciplinary expertise, and this need is expected to persist for the foreseeable future. In addition, it is now important to facilitate realisation of the potential for innovation and business development in earlier investments. Norway has a large, pent-up potential for biotechnological innovation and business development within health, food production and the process industries. Nanotechnology and advanced materials will have a major impact on innovation and value creation in areas such as energy, food, health and medicine, ICT and electronics, as well as consumer products. We need to use the expertise we have acquired and refined to exploit the knowledge found in Norway and abroad. Accomplishing this will require closer cooperation between industry and commerce and the expert communities. We need to integrate research on ethical, legal, environmental and social aspects of this commitment to promote responsible technology development. Ensuring broad-based and critical research on the application of these technologies will require fundamental humanistic, social and legal research.

A new research and teaching building for life science, chemistry and pharmacy at the University of Oslo is in the planning stages. The new building will facilitate development of expert communities within enabling technologies.

6.3 Information and communication technology

Major impact, not enough research

The enabling technologies are in different stages of development in all countries, particularly in Norway. ICT is a mature technology compared with biotechnology and nanotechnology. Advanced information and communication technology is widespread, and is an integral element in all areas of society. This includes everything from remote control of cabin heaters to remote control of complex oil installations on the seabed. Therefore, much of the ICT area is about applications, adaptations and user-driver innovation. ICT and research and development collaboration within ICT are important for both the private and public sectors. The Norwegian ICT industry enjoys high revenues and high value creation per employee. For business and industry overall, as much as 45 per cent of the total investments in research and development work are linked to ICT. However, this is mainly related to development activities. Most of the research activity in the ICT area takes place in the academic communities and the research institutes. Therefore, the public sector has an extra responsibility for further developing the research-based knowledge for innovation and business development based on ICT. At the same time, good ICT applications require information on how we, as individuals and as a society, put this technology to use.

Evaluations were conducted in 2012 of publicly financed ICT research in Norway, and of the Research Council of Norway. Both evaluations pointed to a need to increase public investments in ICT research, particularly in relation to the importance of this technology in addressing key challenges in our society.

As is the case for biotechnology and nanotechnology, a national R&D strategy has also been developed for ICT. This forms the basis for how further initiatives will be organised. ICT must be utilised to the fullest to achieve more growth and value creation in Norway. Future efforts will target ICT-R&D of high international quality, business development and value creation. Our efforts will also be aimed at addressing major social challenges, particularly as regards information security, the public sector and infrastructure, and health care.

A commitment to general research and recruitment

Information and communication technologies undergo constant change, and it is particularly important that we have strong expert communities in fundamental ICT research and education. In this way, we can rapidly address new challenges or exploit technological breakthroughs that may take place in this area. For this reason, basic ICT research must receive more attention. In addition, basic ICT research must be linked with sector and topic-based ICT research. Only by doing this can e.g. the health and care services sector ensure that research on topics such as e-health is based on the best and most up-to-date ICT research.

Textbox 6.1 Personalised medicine

Personalised medicine is the new way to classify, understand, prevent and treat disease. This approach is part of life science, which is the study of the structure and function of living organisms. The enabling technologies all contribute to this development. This type of treatment is based on each patient's unique genetic make-up. The objective is to identify the treatment and the preventive measures that work best for each individual patient, and not for an average of all patients with the same diagnosis or risk. So far, this approach is most relevant for patients with rare diseases and patients with common, widespread ailments such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, and for more effective treatment of infectious diseases. Personalised medicine can also contribute to avoiding over-treatment and unnecessary side effects in patients where treatment is not effective. Progress in this field depends on significant cross-sectoral cooperation and top-notch equipment.

ICT research must include both ICT-heavy research, such as sensor technology and more applied research, for example on tools for electronic interaction and communication with patients and research for service innovation. There is also a need for ICT research within disciplines where ICT is an essential tool, e.g. in research on tailored personal treatment, where medical treatment is tailored to the individual patient based on factors such as genetic data. Those who are to use this new technology must have the right expertise. This applies equally to the newly-qualified and to those who have been employed for many years. This requires that education programmes must be updated within new fields, particularly within ICT. Opportunities for learning and skills-development for workers should be available.

The percentage of employees holding doctorates is low in the Norwegian ICT industry. Therefore, we must increase the number of scholarships in ICT. This conforms with analyses and projections of recruitment needs, cf. Chapter 2 on predictable increase in efforts. The business sector also needs people trained in ICT at the bachelor’s and master’s level.

Information security and protection of personal information

Many Norwegian enterprises have been the target of major cyber-attacks over the past year, yet information security research is still lacking in Norway. Information security is an area where national expertise is especially important. If conflict situations should arise, reliance on expertise from other countries could be unfortunate.

At the same time, an increasing number of basic functions in public sectors such as electricity, water, health, communication, transport and finance require that electronic communication networks and services function everywhere, and at any given time. We should have domestic expertise and research in this area so we can identify the best solutions for Norway.

One objective is to introduce the principle of built-in personal information security in all sectors of society. A prerequisite for good ICT products and services is that solutions that safeguard personal privacy considerations are built into all stages of the technological development. This is relevant not only in legal research, but also in ICT research.

6.4 Advanced production processes

Norwegian industry must constantly enhance the quality of its products, without increasing costs, if it is to survive international competition. Norway can rarely compete solely on price. We must compete on productivity and smart solutions.

Many Norwegian enterprises employ quite advanced automated production processes. For example, both the furniture industry and Norwegian dairy farmers make extensive use of robots in their production.

A number of service providers have also largely automated their products and services. While in the past, we went to a travel agency, received our ticket by post, and paid with a bank giro, we can now purchase flights from our cell phones – anytime, anywhere. While we used to queue to submit our tax return or to file a change of address notice, we can now do all of this from our computer. These types of advanced ICT solutions in more and more areas mean that we spend less time, we conserve the environment, and receive services that are more suited to us, and are delivered faster.

High-level expertise and considerable research and development cooperation are needed to develop these smart solutions. Researchers and experts must be able to work across disciplines and draw on knowledge from technology areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT. New technologies can also spring from putting together advanced technology from different disciplines to improve a complex production process.

We need to follow this development closely, understand the forces that drive it, and the impact this development may have for production of goods and services in the Norwegian private and public sectors. We must ensure that people are trained with the right expertise to use and develop advanced production processes. High-level ICT expertise is particularly important. We must create arenas and initiatives that stimulate Norwegian enterprises to develop advanced production processes. We must strengthen our preparedness to adopt the latest technological solutions in production, whether it is in manufacturing, the primary industries or service industries.

Use of increasingly advanced technology means that a number of enterprises in high-cost countries can move production home from low-cost countries. Domestic production yields better quality control, faster transport to customers and makes it easier to respond quickly to changes in demand. Development of new products is also easier when one has detailed knowledge of how to produce the product.

The development of new production technology, changes in demand and a new understanding of where and how one can and should produce things, will change international competition. The EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme prioritises advanced production processes in line with biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT. Research and expertise within advanced production processes will be prioritised to improve competitiveness and adaptability in the Norwegian economy, and to secure Norwegian jobs.

Textbox 6.2 Robots and 3D printers

We are currently witnessing the emergence of a broad selection of increasingly advanced technologies for providing products and services. According to the Norwegian Board of Technology, robots and 3D printers are two trends that will characterise the development of increasingly advanced production processes.

The latest generation of industrial robots can produce faster, more flexibly and with greater precision, and are safer and more stable in relation to people and operations. Kleven Verft in Ulstein municipality is an example of a company that uses robots. Kleven produces advanced ships for customers such as the oil and gas industry. Kleven has moved its production of hulls home to Norway and has invested in new high-precision welding robots that can work around the clock and are very fast.

Using data files, 3D printers (machines that “print out” three-dimensional objects) can automatically build very complex objects in a single piece, rather than assembling them from several parts. 3D printing is currently being tested for production processes for e.g. car bodies, parts for aircraft engines, prosthetics, buildings and several different consumer goods. Examples of Norwegian enterprises that use 3D printers can be found among architect offices, furniture manufacturers, design agencies and model-maker workshops that assist customers with product development and industrial design.

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