The EU is currently behind the US in innovation, while other countries, mostly in Asia, are making rapid progress. In an effort to make Europe an important player in market-creating innovation and develop the overall European innovation landscape, the EU commission recently announced its proposal regarding the next Horizon Europe program for 2021-2027. Its main focus is open innovation via the European Innovation Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology as a way of fostering the integration of business, research, higher education and entrepreneurship.

In one of the panel sessions at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) featured the French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frederique Vidal and representatives from the European Research Council, Airbus, L’Oreal, Suez and Sanofi. The panelists discussed the role and contribution of big companies and startups in the domain of innovation and the steps that have to be taken in order to strengthen Europe’s position.

From the part of the government, the minister talked about France being a land of research which is an asset that will be further developed through the Horizon Europe program. In terms of innovation policies, she underlined that open science and mechanisms for disruptive innovation are the key for the future of Europe.

Regarding the widening gap in research funding between Europe and countries such as China and the US, the European Research Council President Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, advocated for the creation of an international observatory where all the data would be publicly available to compare one country to another.

About innovation, Grazia Vittadini, CTO of Airbus, pointed out that “it is not necessarily invention, there is always the risk of overengineering our solutions and we have a need of turning new ideas into additional values for our consumers”. Innovation research centers need to be near universities in order to share information and innovate, said Suez’s scientific Director Xavier Litrico and underlined that innovation is a mindset.

Jean-Michel Sturla TOD of Research and Innovation at L’Oreal said that “We compete against companies that acquire millions of data every day. We need to combine more mathematical schemes with performance feedbacks from our consumer. This will provide a sustainable experience”.

The importance of implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the educational curriculum as early as high-school level was addressed in the context of another panel focusing on ways that AI can increase productivity in science. The insufficient number of students is one of the obstacles that Europe has to overcome in order to become a bigger player in the global market. According to Lynda Hardman from the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica which is based in Amsterdam, Europe’s strong point could be what is known as “explainable AI”, meaning that its actions can be easily understood by humans.

The European Science Forum 2018 ends tomorrow, July 14.