Your imagination is tomorrow’s innovation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

An EU proposal expected later this year has divided car companies and telecoms operators over whether policymakers should give preference to 5G or Wifi as the technology to drive connected vehicles. [Jaguar MENA/Flickr]

Digital technologies and communication have the potential to uphold a strong and dynamic internal market fit for the digital age, ultimately making every European citizen’s life much better, writes Antonio López-Istúriz.

Antonio López-Istúriz is EPP Secretary General and Spanish Partido Popular MEP.

Imagine this: you wake up one morning in the spring of 2025. You read your morning news on your bathroom digital mirror, you order a taxi through a voice-controlled home manager, or fix your children’s broken shoes just by printing new ones on your home 3D printer. You take a driverless car on your way to work while your doctor shows via video chat the results of your last exam — and sends you a prescription code so you can order the medicine online.

Then, during your lunch break, you learn you are eating steak from Navarra by scanning the meal’s info code with your phone. You can clearly trace the meat’s route all the way from the green Spanish hills to your plate. Later, while you are having a coffee break, your children’s virtual teacher gets in touch to bring you up to date on their progress and gives you tips on how to help them later with their homework.

Sound like science fiction? Far from it. Your imagination is tomorrow’s innovation. The future starts with what we do in the present.

Digital innovations and technologies are already drastically reshaping our societies, industries and economies. These changes don’t happen in a vacuum; on the contrary, our everyday life situations, such as the way we communicate, drive cars, manufacture goods or buy medicines, will completely change and adapt to digital innovations.

The choice is clear, either we prepare and quickly embrace the fifth digital revolution or we risk remaining uncompetitive as a continent, with outdated structures. That’s why we must make 5G a reality: to unleash innovation from our imagination.

For this, we must create the right digital infrastructure, boost investments and encourage all generations to invest time and effort in digital skills.

First, we must put in place the right infrastructure across Europe to connect both the urban and the rural areas with 5G. Studies show that we can create up to two million jobs if we increase broadband coverage and speed. Fast internet is not only about connectivity; it’s about improving people’s lives.

Decades ago, shovels and hoes were used by farmers to work the land. Soon smartphones and sensors will replace these tools in monitoring and controlling, around-the-clock, working tractors and other machines.

High-speed internet can also improve our healthcare systems. Your regular check-ups will no longer be ‘regular’. The computer in your doctor’s office will inform him of your blood pressure and heart rate — without your ever making an appointment.

The good news is that high-speed internet will even make parking enjoyable. Your car will automatically receive information from a sensor directing you to the closest available spot.

And while the future looks promising, we must understand and know how to use these new improvements.

Second, digital skills will be the most sought-after skills in the years to come. The top ten most-wanted jobs in the world right now require an advanced level of digital skills. Digital skills education and training are becoming crucial for all workers, from doctors to machine operators, from teachers to farmers. If we want our children to enter a world of opportunities, we must adapt our educational systems to ensure they have a high level of digital proficiency. We must prepare the next generations for jobs that do not yet exist.  And this is a great challenge.

Third, we must encourage investment in human capital, knowledge and funding. We must seek the right combination of public and private funding in order to better develop and spread 5G infrastructure. If we put in place high-quality and high-speed digital networks and infrastructure, Europe will become the preferred target for investors. This will also boost research and innovation in further new innovation and will help retain the knowledge bank we enjoy in Europe.

The internet has made distances shorter, faster and cheaper. It has challenged our productivity, growth and competitiveness globally. But we must learn from our previous experience, adapt to the new era and wholeheartedly embrace 5G technologies.

Digital technologies and communication have the potential to uphold a strong and dynamic internal market fit for the digital age, ultimately making every European citizen’s life much better. After all, our actions today are already preparing the innovative future of tomorrow.

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