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MPS Symposium

29/04/2016

Different perspectives on the challenges of the digital sciences

Today, the work of Marcel-Paul Schützenberger has a resonance in all of the academic and industrial sectors: digital technology indeed affects all areas. This phenomenon was highlighted during the two round tables organised by Inria, the CNRS and the University of Bordeaux during the symposium "The scientific heritage of Marcel-Paul Schützenberger" on 24 March. 

Twenty years have passed since the death of Marcel-Paul Schützenberger, a mathematician and computer scientist who received worldwide recognition for his scientific findings, and who was one of the founder members of Iria (now Inria). These two decades have been decisive in the development of the digital sciences and for Inria in particular. Today, all areas of the economy are impacted by progress in computer science: transport, education, leisure, health, sport..."We also talk about digital humanity: human and social sciences have been completely revolutionised by interaction with the computer sciences", Michel Bidoit, director of the INS2I*, underlined during this event. On this topic Antoine Petit, Inria CEO, reminded us that, today, Inria "has interactions with absolutely every industrial and economic sector. It is a blessing, and it opens up opportunities to add value and create jobs." Indeed, this will have escaped nobody's attention: NBIC technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and robotics) made possible thanks to research in the field of digital sciences will generate a strong increase in growth over the coming years.

Moreover France and the Aquitaine region are fully involved in this "digital economy battle", explains Alain Rousset, president of the Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes regional council, in his opinion column**. These transformations, due to their scale and the speed with which they are turning our world upside down, should necessarily be accompanied by ethical and philosophical reflection, as well as a propagation of digital culture. Alain Rousset is convinced that "it is essential to progress in terms of teaching and the sharing of knowledge with the general public".  "That is the aim of my University of the Future project: a necessary, urgent, strategic tool to accompany digital revolutions." For his part, Manuel Lunon de Lara, president of the University of Bordeaux, is delighted with the digital shift the university has taken: "Teaching has adapted very quickly (and) we can see initiatives that are of great interest in the fields of law or medicine for example", concluding that "today we are in the process of writing a new chapter".

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*INS2I: Institute for Information Sciences and Technologies and their interactions

** read the column below (insert)

Innovation is at the heart of regional policy. The exponential development of computer science is a strategic issue since the digital economy is a driving force for economic growth. The ability of companies and employees to shift to digital technology is absolutely vital for the durability of our companies and our jobs. Our role is to transform the changes that are taking place into opportunities to create wealth and therefore jobs. 

Computer science is progressing at an astounding rate.  This is the famous "Moore's law" (doubling of power at constant cost every 18 months). Exponential deployment does not mean trends of stable linear growth, but curves of change that are in vertical take-off. The consequences are spectacular: for example the banalisation of DNA sequencing in health, Big Data, e-commerce, communication systems, non-biological intelligence (AI), robotics, etc...

The human neurone is 500 million years old. The transistor that makes up a computer is barely 60 years old. And yet, with Moore's law, it is progressing faster than we are! Artificial intelligence, associated with robotics, will play a considerable role in the socio-economic equation.

The most powerful computer (6 petaflops, or 6 million billion operations per second) in the greater region is to be found at Total, in Pau. It is used for the modelling of subsoils for oil exploration. In less than ten years’ time, the US and China will reach the "exaflop": 1 billion billion operations/second. This progress is vertiginous, and obliges us to remain at the forefront in order to exist. 

Every day we notice the socio-economic consequences of the computer science revolution. Since the beginning of this century, we have witnessed - with the Internet and the constant increase in computing power - the replacement of one world by another; 100% connected, 100% digital. Each day, economic models we believed would last forever are called into question by new digital technology players. It is a "Schumpterian" revolution. Mankind has never before been faced with such major challenges. 

More than ever, innovation and anticipation must guide policy. It is the key to adding value, creating jobs and therefore ensuring the durability of our social model. NBIC technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and artificial intelligence + robotics), boosted by computer science, will generate much growth over the next decades. It is up to us to become players in these new markets. And we have all the assets to do this. 

We must do better in three areas in order to win the digital economy battle: 1) Access for companies to capital risk. 2) Human capital. We train barely 25 000 engineers in France per year, and it is not enough. Just one English university, such as Oxford, trains 30 000. We must reform the system. 3) We must multiply incubators, places where talent can meet and exchange ideas. 

Finally, it is vital to progress with regard to education and the sharing of knowledge with the general public. That is what my "University of the Future" project aims to do: a necessary, urgent strategic tool to accompany digital revolutions. Indeed, we are passing at an astounding speed from a former world, that seemed unchanging, to a new world that is constantly changing, and about which most people no longer understand anything. The main missions of the "University of the Future" will be to give a panoramic view of this new world, create vocations and enable everyone to better anticipate the future (in particular regarding guidance for young people, since many professions will disappear - only to be replaced by others). 

Alain Rousset 

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