Photograph by Thomas Trutschel—Photothek via Getty Images
By David Meyer
April 19, 2016

The EU administration will spend billions of euros on boosting tech R&D and the use of technology in industry and public services.

A big reason for this push, outlined in the European Commission’s new strategy for “digitizing” industry, is to create scale as Europe develops new technologies, and make sure the new gadgets and systems work across the EU’s many internal borders. Ultimately, the idea is to keep the EU competitive.

The Commission noted that many sectors such as construction and textiles are “particularly lagging behind in their digital transformation.” The solution, it said, is more automated vehicles, robotized manufacturing, Internet of things, smart energy technologies and so on.

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Countries such as Germany and Italy already have national initiatives for promoting “Industry 4.0,” as policymakers like to call it, and the plan is to try coordinate these on an EU level, building a network of “digital innovation hubs” and setting up large-scale pilots.

There will be a lot of focus on public-private partnerships — combining public and private investment, the Commission intends to “mobilize” over €50 billion ($57 billion) in the next five years.

So far, so buzzwordy — but wait, there’s more.

The Commission also wants to “create” a so-called European Open Science Cloud and European Data Infrastructure, which will in the short term be an agglomeration of (spot the trend) existing national research infrastructures. By 2020, this would however also involve the acquisition of “two prototype next-generation supercomputers, of which one would rank among the top three in the world.”

Although researchers will be the first beneficiaries — in terms of both computing capacity and more shared research data — there’s also a plan to let businesses use the resources (and some of the data) in the future.

There’s also stuff in the strategy about doing quantum-computing research and prioritizing the development of new standards for cloud computing (and also for 5G, the Internet of things, “data technologies” and cybersecurity).

The Commission intends to release a “free flow of data” initiative later this year, to counteract the burgeoning trend of data being deliberately stored within national borders.

As for public services, the Commission wants to set up a unified digital gateway for justice and e-health services, and make it easier for businesses to set up shop across borders.

For more on robotized industry, watch:

So, what about jobs? There is of course growing disquiet over the impact the digitization of industry will have on people, who may soon find themselves being made redundant by all these new-fangled robots and algorithms.

We’ll have to wait until later this year for the new “EU Skills Agenda,” which will deal with digital skills and training, but in the meantime the Commission is promising to “improve the understanding of skills requirements for new technologies in all sectors of the economy.”

It said:

Future jobs are likely to require different skills or knowledge which are not currently provided by today’s education or training systems. For example, operators, engineers and administrative staff could soon be designing, maintaining and supervising intelligent machines that assist in the performance of tasks, instead of doing the tasks themselves. In addition to digital skills there is an increasing demand for other complementary skills, such as entrepreneurial, leadership and engineering skills.

All very true, though the big question there is how many of today’s workers can be retrained, and what is to be done with those who can’t — and, for that matter, whether there will be as many of these future jobs as there are of those today.

More and more people are suggesting a future of fewer and fewer positions for humans, and that’s a scenario that will require some very creative thought from the top.

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