Recommendations for the EU: 100 innovations that could radically change value chains

10.7.2019

Fraunhofer ISI coordinated an international futures research team, which explored technical and social innovations that could radically change value chains in the coming years. The Radical Innovation Breakthrough Inquirer (RIBRI) report identified 100 potential innovation breakthroughs in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics or biomedicine, and indicates how the EU can prepare for them. A project team developed a semi-automated process to search for radical innovations and applied this at EU level for the first time.

The 100 Radical Innovation Breakthroughs (RIBs) include technical developments, for example biodegradable sensors and 4D printing, as well as societal concepts such as basic income or car-free cities.

An innovative, semi-automated process was used to identify and analyze the RIBs. A learning language-analysis algorithm (NLP Natural Language Processing) analyzed the contents of around 500 000 news items on scientific and technical platforms. Topics were filtered out that appeared for the first time during the period of investigation. These topics and any related patents and publications were evaluated by scientists from the respective field. The evaluation was carried out in relation to the degree of maturity, the probability of widespread use in 20 years time and Europe’s position.

The RIBRI study draws the following conclusions for European research and innovation policy:

  1. A large proportion of the RIBs has strong links to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Innovations such as emotion recognition, swarm intelligence, speech recognition and computational creativity will bring about drastic changes in every economic field – from agriculture through health to the creative industry. Europe should therefore be in a strong position for the expected wave of AI-based innovations and look for ways early on to exploit the resulting potentials and counteract the risks at the same time.
  2. More than 40 technologies that are at a low level of maturity today will be used in a significant number of applications by 2038. Examples include neuromorphic chips, 4D printing and hyperspectral imaging. A critical analysis of the possible applications of these technologies is important, for example, military drones and methane hydrate mining. Policymakers should also be aware of the possible associated disruptions in value creation. While Europe holds a strong position in some of these highly dynamic fields, such as bioplastics and technologies using marine and tidal power, it lags behind in others, such as the use of bioluminescence and energy harvesting.
  3. A new wave of change with unclear contours is emerging in the wake of digitalization around biotechnology, health and sustainability. The global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important drivers here. It will be essential to understand this next wave of change and ensure that suitable framework conditions and accompanying social innovations are in place in good time.
  4. Future value chains will be equally influenced by technical and social innovations, for example, the development of alternative currencies, gamification, local food circles, and different variants of an unconditional basic income.
  5. Several of the radical innovations such as bioelectronics, plant communication and artificial photosynthesis are still very immature. At the same time, some of the more mature technologies like hydrogels and carbon nanotubes may turn out to be more disruptive than expected. This calls for a coordinated approach of innovation and industry policy.

As Kerstin Cuhls from Fraunhofer ISI explains, “The RIBRI study provides good arguments for a new debate about the usefulness of future innovations. It should animate people to discuss and initiate possible innovation pathways early on, so that as many people as possible in the EU benefit from technical and societal innovation breakthroughs.“ Philine Warnke from ISI comments on the method that was applied for the first time: “The successful combination of automated and human analyses opens up exciting new perspectives for horizon scanning and Foresight as a whole. We hope that the continued use of this method will lead to new insights that challenge established certainties.”

About the project

The RIBRI study was commissioned by the Foresight Department of the European Commission’s Research, Technology and Innovation Directorate. The project was inspired by Finland’s Radical Technology Inquirer (RTI). The objective was to expand the RTI’s national perspective to encompass Europe as a whole. The heart of the concept is the comparison of future global value creation networks and current scientific, technical and social innovations. The new RIBRI approach was developed by the Foresight team from the University of Turku and the Bucharest-based Think-Tank Prospectiva and coordinated by Fraunhofer ISI. Philine Warnke and Kerstin Cuhls are the project leaders at ISI.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.