Key technologies shaping the future

On 1 and 2 July, the Royal Academy of Engineering and our association hosted a joint online conference bringing together leaders, policy-makers and researchers from the UK, EU and beyond. The conference explored trends in key technologies for the next 30 years, and their implications for engineers and universities of science and technology today.
6th July 2021
Back to overview

In line with the overall aim of Work Plan 2020 and 2021 to shape knowledge societies in Europe and beyond for a sustainable future, and in the light of our association’s 30th anniversary since our foundation in 1990, this conference explored trends in key technologies for the 30 next years, and their implications for universities of science and technology today.

In these rapidly changing times, foresight is an important tool for universities and decision-makers to adapt their strategic positioning. The discussion at the conference focused on foresight - imagining a desired future for science and technology, and learning and teaching in 2050 - combined with strategic recommendations - how should we act now to ensure this desired future comes true?

The conference focused on four themes developed by the joint Task Force Key Technologies: (i) Healthy Society in 30 years, (ii) Safe, Secure and Equitable Society in 30 years, (iii) Net Zero World in 30 years; and (iv) Envisioning Learning & Teaching in 30 years.

The full programme with all speakers is available here. The video recordings from all sessions are available at the bottom of this article.

Max Lu (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey and Chair of Task Force Key Technologies) said of the conference:

“I was delighted to chair this joint conference on behalf of CESAER and the Royal Academy of Engineering, bringing together policy-makers and government and university leaders from the UK and Europe.

“This is a great opportunity to imagine what the world will need by 2050, so we can start to develop innovative solutions today.

“30 years sounds like a long time away, but if we hope to be prepared and ready for the challenges of the future, we must start now to imagine what these might be.

“As research leaders we must look over the next horizon, be visionaries, as well as practical, to help governments shape policy for a desired future.

“The first theme of our conference was ‘A Healthy Society in 30 Years.’ We have seen from our extraordinary recent experience of a global pandemic that we need to carefully consider how key technologies will shape future health systems, including public health. We face the urgent need for a resilient healthcare system to prepare for another pandemic, while also embedding effective care for our aging population. We will turn to technology for the solutions.

“But recent months have also proven that technology and science are only half the story: we must call upon the social sciences to advise us on cultural and behavioural insights as we seek to mass rollout technological solutions, not least reflected in the vaccination process.

“The second theme was ‘A Safe, Secure and Equitable Society in 30 Years.’ Here we see the pace accelerating for AI, robotics and cybersecurity – but the disruptors are also making advances. We can be sure that safeguards against cybercrime will be in even greater demand in our increasingly complex digital future.

“Additionally the pandemic highlighted the digital divide in access to education. This clearly shows that when technology changes society, it must change it fairly for everyone or we will simply see new social problems take root. Equal access to technology therefore must be the foundation for an equitable, safe and healthy future.

“Our third theme was ‘Net Zero World in 30 Years.’ My own research for many years was energy conversion and storage; although I am no longer an active researcher running labs and projects, I am passionate as ever about a clean energy future and it is encouraging to see the progress being made in the field. Technological breakthroughs as well as behaviour and culture changes are all needed to tackle this most urgent of global problems.

“Our fourth and final theme was ‘Envisioning Learning and Teaching in 30 Years.’ As we have seen, the pandemic highlighted the digital divide in access to education. This clearly shows that when technology changes society, it must change it fairly for everyone or we will simply see new social problems take root.

“Virtual learning and remote teaching are no longer fringe activities, and the speed of innovation in blended learning will continue to accelerate. Technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 5G and Internet-of-Things will help to make the blend of the physical and virtual experiences more seamless. We need to harness the power of digital technologies to support collaboration and peer-to-peer learning as well.

“Yet we should remember that not just technology, but equal access to technology, must be the foundation for an equitable, safe and healthy future. Building productive and resilient partnerships in research and innovation will be critical to ensuring this outcome.

“As education and research leaders, we can be proud that our sector has risen to the challenge. For example, with Cambridge and Surrey both publicly committing to ‘net zero by 2030’. We must link our own narratives with clear and practical recommendations for better individual and organisational choices, and help to create a pervasive culture of sustainability.

“The next 30 years will hold no shortage of challenges! Some will be familiar, while others will be entirely new. Building productive and resilient partnerships in research and innovation will be critical to solving these grand challenges. Let us stay optimistic as we work together to shape the future for the better.”

A conference statement will be prepared using all the input collected during the conference, to be published after the summer including key insights and recommendations for leaders at universities research funders and policy on the EU, UK and global landscape. If you wish to be informed about this conference statement, and to get news and updates from our association, please fill out this form to be added to our emailing list.

For more information please contact our Senior Advisor for Research & Innovation Mattias Björnmalm.

Video recordings

The full programme with all sessions and speakers for the two days is available here. The event page is available here.

1 July (Day 1)

2 July (Day 2)

Request more information

If you want to know more about CESAER click on the button below.

Request more information here