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Regular version of the site

Nano Time

On October 7th –8th the Second Nanotechnology International Forum took place in Moscow. One of its most important sessions, Foresight, Roadmaps and Indicators for Nanotechnology and Nanoindustry, was organized by experts from the Higher School of Economics.

The Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev in his speech opening the Forum defined the main tasks that Russia will have to solve in this sphere. The President said that diversification of Russian economy is still a problem and that dependence on the export of raw materials still remains. Moreover, ‘the government also does not change itself in the way we would like it to'. On the other side, the lack of real changes is compensated for by organizational measures. Shortly before the Forum it was decided to assign extra funds for Rosnano, so by 2015 this public corporation will be able to invest 318 billion roubles in nanotechnologies.

Jorma Ollila, Head of Nokia, who also spoke at the Forum, talked about new extra-thin flexible displays and new mobile phones. He stressed that after the beginning of the crisis the development of nanotechnologies has clearly slowed down and in order to help preserve the pace of innovations, the governments should invest money in these compressed high risk venture industries.

Defining the Way

The session on ‘Foresight, Roadmaps and Indicators for Nanotechnology and Nanoindustry' was opened with a speech from Alexander Sokolov, Deputy Director of the HSE Institute of Statistical Research and Economy of Knowledge and Director of the Foresight Centre. We publish interviews with Alexander Sokolov and Leonid Gokhberg, Vice Principal of the HSE. They told us about the condition and prospects for foresight research in Russia.

- First of all, could you please define what Foresight is? In what sense do you use this word?

Leonid Gokhberg:This is a large area of prognostic research, acknowledged in the world and widely used on public, regional and corporate levels. Foresight includes a mixture of special methods of long-term strategic prediction, largely based on expert research. In many governmental bodies and big international corporations there are special departments responsible for Foresight.

- In terms of Roadmaps, what is their advantage?

Alexander Sokolov:This is a tool for long-term strategy prognostication, a visual representation of possible trajectories of specific markets, as well as products and product groups, which may have an impact on these markets, and scientific research and technology necessary for their development. Roadmaps assume an alignment from the future to the past of measures necessary to reach the tasks set. At the same time alternative technological solutions are noted, as well as limiting factors, possible risks, and limits in terms of resources, human resources, technological and production bases. Potential users of the ‘map'may choose which of the proposed development trajectories to follow. Furthermore, Roadmaps are largely based on the view of what our lifestyle will be like in the future.

- Why is Foresight technology different from traditional prognostication?

L. Gokhberg:Not all long-term tendencies may be forecasted by means of strict quantitative methods, since many future conditions and variables that express them are simply unknown. Thus a task arises to compensate for this by using other methods

- What methods for example?

A. Sokolov:The main difference of Foresight is that this approach assumes that there may be a lot of different scenarios of the future. The goal of Foresight is to elaborate a consensus of the interested parties on the desired scenario of development and to design a series of measures for its achievement.

- What is the ‘realizeability'of Foresight and Roadmaps?

L. Gokhberg:Roadmaps and Foresight research are not made once and for many years:they should be repeated in certain time periods on new levels and with consideration of new knowledge. This allows stake holders to track the trajectory change. Life and experience bring corrections. Some aims are achieved faster than was assumed, and some - considerably later. I'd like to give an example about automatic translation. You talk by phone with a Japanese in Russian, and he hears speech in Japanese from his handset. In 1970s the scientists said that such technology would be developed in 20 years. But this problem still remains unsolved, and moreover, according to forecasts, its solution may take another 20 years. While in general assessments in Foresight research are rather precise, and ‘realizeability'reaches 60-70%, it is not the most important thing. In such research it is essential not to guess, but to outline the most important directions and use them as an ‘early warning system'. We should not evaluate ‘realizeability'of a separate forecast, but a series of forecasts over a certain period of time.

- What is the direction of development of Foresight technologies?

A. Sokolov:At first, Foresight research aimed to assess the potential of scientific development. but now they have expanded to other areas. For example, last year we worked on a joint project together with the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Non-for-profit Sector on the development of a Roadmap for Russian civil society. Besides that, if initially Foresight was mainly targeted to inform decision-makers, today it is largely integrated into the political creation process.

- Are the HSE students involved in your research?

L. Gokhberg:Alexander Sokolov leads a course on Foresight at the HSE Faculty of Public Administration. In addition to that, a group of students is working with us almost as regular research fellows. We have hired some of the graduates. Several students of the Faculty of Public Administration will come for some practical training this week.

It is Necessary to Search for New Ways of Development

Our News Service correspondent talked to Marcel Van de Voorde, Delft University, Netherlands, and Gerd Bachman, VDI Technologiezentrum GmbH, Germany, who shared with us their vision of problems and achievements of Foresight research.

- Why is Foresight so widely used in the world today? Why should Foresight be applied in the system of managerial decision making (on governmental or corporate level)?

Marcel Van de Voorde
Marcel Van de Voorde
Marcel Van de Voorde:Foresight prognostications are important since they are able to show us the way to achieve a goal. If we are traveling from Moscow to Rome, we need a roadmap showing our route. For government-level decision makers, Foresight is essential since it can help them understand in which direction to move. In terms of companies, Foresight can help understand the way ahead and how they are able to lead a successful business.

Gerd Bachman:Foresight aims to create a better world for the humanity when everywhere, including in developing countries, the problem of starvation will be eliminated and a developed system of medical care will be established. To achieve that, progress is necessary, as well as new inventions or the use of those already existing. Technological development starts from an invention, as happened with the invention of the laser. But to start the innovation process, the invention should be implemented. So, Foresight lets understand which inventions will be needed in the future and what costs will be necessary for their implementation.

- What Foresight projects in the world are in your opinion the most successful? What is the reason for their success?

M. Voorde:I think that the best research I have ever witnessed was conducted in Switzerland, in the field of insurance. The reason for its success was that it was conducted with the active participation of banks and insurance companies. Banks are capable of providing very interesting and reliable information. And insurance companies are vitally interested in this research:it can help them understand what contracts would be more profitable.

Gerd Bachman
Gerd Bachman
G. Bachman:In terms of Foresight in Germany, I'd like to emphasize that it is largely used in the research of alternative energy sources:solar energy, wind power etc. For example, thanks to Foresight a great success was achieved in the use of sun energy. There has been successful research which led to a new method of converting the energy of sunlight into electricity through the use of silicon.

- Today the world economy is in a crisis. Is Foresight able to give a concept of what the post-crisis economy will look like? Is it possible with its use to propose measures of advance regulation?

M. Voorde:Certainly. But unfortunately today some governments and companies are cutting the funding of research, including forecasts. I think this is totally wrong. Just the opposite, crisis is precisely the time to invent, and therefore investing in research is absolutely necessary.

G. Bachman:We should take into account the processes taking place in corporations and caused by the crisis. Firstly, business is being reorganized, and mostly - consolidated. Secondly, companies are seeking new technologies and inventions that could help them overcome the crisis. For example, pharmaceutical companies are carrying out a lot of research. Other areas of research are also experiencing a revival, which means that more and more people understand that it is necessary to search for new ways of development.

See also:

Researchers Use Nanotechnology to Improve the Accuracy of Measuring Devices

Scientists from Higher School of Economics and the Federal Scientific Research Centre ‘Crystallography and Photonics’ have synthesized multi-layered nanowires in order to study their magnetoresistance properties. Improving this effect will allow scientists to increase the accuracy of indicators of various measuring instruments, such as compasses and radiation monitors.