ISSUE 0 | JULY 2021
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
THE MAGAZINE OF
INESC BRUSSELS HUB
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE
04 WHAT IS MISSING IN AI? A 2021 PERSPECTIVE
Point of view by Luis M. Correia
Point of view by Alípio Jorge & João Gama
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION Point of view by António Gomes Martins
5G: WHAT IS IT AND WHAT MAY FOLLOW?
ROBOTIC HANDS AT THE FRONTIER OF TECHNOLOGY Interview to Susana Freitas
SOLVING PROBLEMS WITH BIOINFORMATICS Interview to Susana Vinga
PEOPLE OF INESC
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE EDITORIAL
How did we imagine the future as children? We probably thought of hologram communication, robot companions, and space travel. Maybe, growing up, we imagined a world without fossil fuels, the overcoming of societal inequalities, technology accessible to all. Now that some of these dreams have become actual or feasible technologies, we are still left to wonder: what comes next?
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On all these issues, every organization and individual involved in technological innovation is called to establish their strategy, to tackle the priorities of European technological development, and to express their own vision for the future . To this purpose, for this inaugural issue of H, the magazine of INESC Brussels HUB, researchers from the five INESC institutes have brought us their personal visions of the future of technology.
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The question sounded more urgent than ever in April 2021, when we were planning the present issue, and the European Commission had just launched the Conference on the Future of Europe , an initiative for European citizens to participate in the debate on the future of the EU. Virtually in all the topics explored by the Conference, technological research and innovation have a crucial role: climate change adaptation, digital transformation, health, social justice, security.
Strong of its composite identity, INESC's vision of the future is symbiotically bound to the future of Europe. Artificial intelligence, telecommunication, energy transition, health technologies, robotics : all the contributors of the following articles and interviews wisely accompany us through the challenges and the expectations of what will be the future of technology. By doing so, they also tell us their own stories, each a unique mixture of academic career, personal life and timely encounters – with a discipline, with a problem, or with an institution.
If there is something that we can learn from the stories and the ideas of those who contributed to this issue, is that creating the technology of the future is possible only when we ask questions, share, exchange, learn, connect .
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This magazine is one new step in this direction. ∎
The world is experiencing a digital revolution. It started some decades ago and it is changing our lives, at an ever-growing pace. Digitalisation enables things (artificial systems) to perceive their context and be aware of relevant information. This opens possibilities to the development of algorithms that react, make recommendations and plans to fulfil objectives, decide, act in real time, and learn from their successes and mistakes.
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ALÍPIO JORGE & JOÃO GAMA
In fact, we already have access to algorithms like these. Recommender systems are able to figure out the preferences of millions of users on platforms like Amazon or Netflix. Autonomous robots, as the ones from Boston Dynamics, can avoid obstacles and learn to attain an objective by trial and error. Machines can predict their failures and warn maintenance by reading sensors and learning from previous breakdowns. Computer programs like AlphaZero focus on General Game Playing and learn how to play games nearly from scratch.
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In some specific medical tasks that require attention to detail, algorithms perform better than human experts . Computers use Neural Language Models to perform automatic translation at a large scale - and with so much success that translators fear for their jobs. Finally, yet importantly, computers can learn how to produce convincing readable texts and natural looking photographs and videos by learning from examples.
Current Artificial Intelligence already sounds like the future. So much so that societies are truly concerned about the impact of such an unrestrained power (and rightfully so). But AI is yet to produce a robust and truly autonomous system, while AI systems are not yet able to perform Artificial General Intelligence (the ability to address any problem a human would be able to). There are significant challenges to face and very complex problems to solve. However, we are already concerned about these possibilities, because they seem, more than ever, realistic.
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The 5G revolution is coming , promising to fulfil all the promises of the Internet of Things: Industry 4.0, smart cities, smart grids, smart farming, etc. The world, as we know it, will change dramatically. The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on our society will lead to changes that will be much more profound than any other technological revolution in human history. Which AI do we want? Will AI expand the human experience or replace it? Will AI empower our ability to make decisions that are more informed? Or will it reduce human autonomy? Will AI create new forms of human activities or make existing jobs redundant?
WHAT IS MISSING? So, what is the future of such a technology? Finding the answer to this type of question is a futile exercise; hence, it is important to be as systematic as possible and minimise speculation. To begin with, we can ask the question: what is missing in AI? Pedro Domingos, one the most important AI researchers, posed this very question in 2006 . Domingos claimed that AI, as a field, was missing an interface layer that enables the separation between low-level work (learning, inference) and high-level developments (Planning, NLP, Robotics). His proposal lies on the combination of first order logic and probabilistic graphical models.
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In 2014, Stephen Hawking presaged that AI could end humankind . AI is often listed as one of the Global Catastrophic Risks side by side with climate change and an alien invasion. (e.g., a robotic surgeon learns a new technique and kills a patient). Moreover, AI already has the potential to make autonomous decisions that may promote unfairness, and to disseminate disinformation campaigns that threaten democracies.
Fifteen years have passed, and the field seems to be selecting neural networks (and deep learning) as a possible interface layer paradigm.
These proposals, however, are very limited in their scope. They do not provide tools for planning, higher order explanation, reasoning (reasoning about reasoning), and other important features of intelligence. They focus on machine learning, and they do so in a relatively shallow way. What do we have now? Tools for classification, regression, recommendation and segmentation. Important new additions to the ML pot include sequenceto-sequence inference and powerful representation learning.
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Tensorflow and Pytorch are good candidate instances in that sense - and they have certainly enabled a good deal of high-level applications from non-initiates. Another relevant effort for providing an interface layer is AI4EU, the first European Artificial Intelligence On-Demand Platform and Ecosystem , dedicated to providing faster innovation. Big techs such as Google and Microsoft probably lead the race to provide such an AI interface .
Current machine learning (and therefore, AI) often depends on large quantities of labelled data and has little autonomy in that respect. When will we have AI systems that learn the concepts by themselves like babies do?
Currently, researchers are working on this problem by exploring good old transfer learning and reinforcement learning, few-shot, zero-shot and self-supervised learning, often with the aid of Generative Adversarial Networks - an inescapable trend. Therefore, we can affirm that Machine Learning is missing cognitive depth - the ‘deep’ in ‘deep learning’ is a different kind of depth - and that AI, as a technology, is missing many things beyond machine learning. Systems require more than deep learning to be autonomous and, more importantly, to cooperate with us, humans. AI is very useful for machine translation, but it is not able to grasp the meaning of words. In other words, it is not yet able to break free of Searle’s Chinese room .
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Perhaps that is the missing link of AI .
We can define goals to an AI system (improve the profit of e-commerce), but we do not have systems capable of defining their own goals. To interact with us safely and productively, AI systems need to have robust models of humans, of our limitations, our abilities, our beliefs, and of our world in general. An autonomous vehicle will do a better job not only if it can avoid obstacles that it can see, but if it can foresee the consequences of hitting said object (there may be a fatality and a family will be mourning). AI systems may make very accurate predictions, but they must be able to explain, discuss and improve them, according to new criteria that may arise on the fly. That is to say, to reason and to negotiate.
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Moreover, this must be done without dangerous experiments and with a concrete awareness of the consequences.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND EFFICIENCY Will machines ever become conscious? That depends on the sharpness of our criteria. Researchers are working on causal reasoning and artificial moral agents. In the near future, an AI system may write great news articles from data and from observation, but it will never be the best option for choosing an editorial line.
In journalism, in law, in medicine, in war, in politics and in many other areas of society, only humans can decide what is best for humans . However, AI systems can benefit from ethical and moral layers that may minimise the risk of being a threat to our safety and wellbeing .
Artificial intelligence is also missing efficiency. As said above, ML approaches require vast amounts of data and the training of large models, in an intensive manner.
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There is still a lot to do in the intersection of AI with cognitive science and neuroscience in that respect. Social sciences such as philosophy, psychology and sociology developed a complex body of knowledge about people and society that has a lot to offer to AI endeavours.
From an engineering point of view, and despite current market offers , AI is missing easy-toassemble powerful pipeline builders that include more than machine learning, so people can deploy them easily and efficiently in all types of devices - from large systems to sensors. Said pipelines would combine different intelligence features to enable easy linking of sensorial information to the vast amount of data on the web, model the humans’ interaction with the AI system, and predict consequences of human and AI proposed actions.
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Computations are highly energy demanding. Tuning a very large neural language model with hundreds of millions of parameters may emit more CO2 than a car in its lifetime . Although this cost may be mitigated by frequent, much cheaper than training use, (e.g. in a chatbot), the total amount of energy and CO2 emission of AI may not be sustainable. We need hardware that is more efficient. Edge AI promotes energy savings and requires consideration. Going a few steps further, there is room for new paradigms such as neuromorphic chips .
A DEEPER AND MORE HUMANE AI In summary, from what the community currently misses in AI, near future developments will most likely bring deeper, more cognitive, autonomous and humane AI . AI systems will have to be more energy efficient (greener) and robust to hostile environments. And we will probably have access to an interface layer that enables fast development and deployment of more-than-deep-learning AI solutions. We are taking extraordinary steps in complementary directions: learning, reasoning, planning, computer vision, natural language processing, etc. What do we need to make everything work together seamlessly? Do researchers need to invest a lot more in artificial consciousness?
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Current systems are very far from that point: the “sentience or awareness of internal and external existence”, and we know very little about that! ∎
VISIONS OF THE FUTURE OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION
One of the big challenges of the energy transition is to overcome the barrier of the large wealth asymmetry among nations and individuals .
The menaces of climate change are global but the instruments to deal with it are not evenly accessible. Energy poverty can hit whole nations or only a fraction of the population of a nation. It always means wealth asymmetry at large and, as such, it is an obstacle in the way of a clean energy transition. It is much easier to save energy for those who have enough available income to invest in energy efficiency and comfort.
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ANTÓNIO GOMES MARTINS
ENERGY FOR PEACE
Competition for primary resources is a consequence of this inertial effect, with a tragic record of predatory military actions, even if disguised as something different. Military activity and wars, in general, have been consistently missing in international agreements on climate and environmental issues. Nevertheless, wars are the cause for gigantic environmental impacts, CO2 emissions, destruction of infrastructures and material losses which are the extreme denial of the principles of the circular economy.
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The sustainable development goal number 7 (SDG7) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda identifies several ambitions which are well in line with the energy and environment policy guidelines of many countries. However, fossil fuels are still dominant in the final energy consumption worldwide. Transition processes in such large systems as the world economy are always slow, which means fossil fuels will be around and stringently needed for a long time.
Clean energy can be one important contribution to put an end to this reality and lead to the ultimate goals of the 2030 Agenda, “end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet”, which can only be attainable in a context of peace. Since clean energy and peace are closely connected, the energy transition can additionally be an important contribution to world peace, provided that the underlying different requirements of material resources do not cause new diverse predatory actions.
Electrification is currently identified as one path towards decarbonising the economy, mainly because, with currently dominated technology, it is possible to produce electricity in large quantities from renewable sources. Additionally, as a reassurance, there are many examples of systems where electricity demand has been fully supplied from “renewable electricity” for large periods of time without disruptions.
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THE PROBLEM WITH ENERGY EFFICIENCY
These applications compete with the process of fully decarbonising electricity supply, a goal sought in policy guidelines of some regions of the world, including in the European Union. Currently, the electricity of renewable origin is used on a business-as-usual mode since, in many cases, investments in renewable electricity generation are not accompanied by measures to increase the efficiency of energy conversions. It is not by chance that SDG7 identifies energy efficiency as an essential component of global policies. It is also not by chance that the International Energy Agency considers energy efficiency as one of the most important instruments for CO2 emissions abatement.
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However, the distance between the current share of electricity supply and total final energy demand is very large : around 20% of total energy consumption is based on electricity and around a quarter of the electricity is of renewable origin. If electricity is to fill the gap on its own, it must be used also to produce the fuels needed for direct combustion uses, which calls for power-to-X applications (synthetic hydrocarbons, hydrogen) where electricity is generated from primary renewable energy.
Without a significant increase in energy efficiency, decarbonisation will, if attainable, take much longer because renewable electricity will have to supply all the waste between final energy and useful energy.
The areas needed to capture primary renewable energy are strongly influenced by its inherently low density. Both concentrated solar power plants and power plants built with photovoltaic panels require large areas of ground. Wind generator blades are larger and larger in each new release. This lowdensity issue will determine the predominance of utility-scale investments in the renewable production of electricity. Small scale investments, namely in buildings, will play their role also with a small share . In fact, small-scale investments strongly depend on the level of the available income of families, in the case of residential buildings, or on the investment capability of companies that are not in the energy field, in the case of service buildings. Additionally, there is a well-known trend worldwide towards the concentration of population in urban areas. There are no “silver bullets” for large problems. Many partial contributions must be mobilized. This is the case of the energy transition.
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MANY IMPERFECT SOLUTIONS
A possible list of ingredients - inevitably incomplete, as it is not possible to foresee the paths that innovation will follow - includes both utility-scale and small-scale renewable production of electricity. It includes renewable power-to-X, such as synthesis of hydrocarbons and green hydrogen; energy storage; energy efficiency; smart management of smart infrastructures; local renewable energy supply in regions where there is no network infrastructure; no more material destruction caused by predatory wars; no more political interference in internal affairs of sovereign nations as an alternative to military action; an increase of energy and climate literacy , progressive behavioural change; technological innovation; research and development.
This alleged energy El Dorado is still to be verified and will depend on how patents will be managed and on how technology will be made available at a world scale.
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Nuclear fusion is a long-standing promise which has recently had some interesting developments benefiting from materials research that will allow superconductivity to occur at much higher temperatures than it was possible until recently.
Some claim that what matters is the consumer interest, that the consumer interest is to have the cheapest possible energy, and that only full competition can fulfil the goal, despite the need to fulfil the profit goals of the myriad of market agents. Others claim that consumers aim at an affordable energy bill, good quality energy services, security of supply, comfort, and a chance to have some democratic influence on the definition of energy policy and prices, which should be transparent and simple enough to be intelligible. These two different visions will most likely co-exist for a long time.
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Energy is sold and purchased in many different arrangements around the world. In those cases where there are transmission and distribution infrastructures, examples of both highly regulated vertically integrated utilities and fully liberalised markets exist in all continents. There is no consensus on which market structure better corresponds to the societal interest at large.
SOLIDARITY FOR SUSTAINABILITY There are now a growing number of voices that dare to shake off their previous shyness to say that the current ceaseless economic growth is not sustainable, and that prosperity should be sought in different ways than the usual ones if we seek a liveable future.
The energy transition, as currently defined, is essential to a liveable future for humanity. As the last decades have abundantly shown, the contribution of science is essential for progress and prosperity.
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Since large, intricate problems require multiple points of view, deep specialized knowledge in various fields and the capability of identifying cross-influences and multiple cause-effect relationships, the energy transition requires robust interdisciplinary scientific research.
This research will have to summon fields such as all engineering branches, computer science and ICT at large, psychology, law, physics, sociology, operations research, life sciences, chemistry, earth sciences, management, to name just a few. Global problems require solidarity in action, as it became very evident with the COVID pandemic. The intrinsic cooperative nature of the scientific community should serve as an example of how transparency and openness serve better the interest of all. Leaps of knowledge caused by science can only be useful for an effective green energy transition if cooperation among nations prevails over commercial barriers and competitive drifts. ∎
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António Gomes Martins
5G is already a reality in many countries, in Europe or in other continents (namely in North America and Asia), where networks have already started to be available. Unlike previous generations, the main users of this new system will not be consumers with their smartphones, but rather enterprises with their generalised implementations of IoT (Internet of Things), because the new differentiating characteristics of 5G are in fact dedicated to the latter.
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LUIS M. CORREIA
These new features will allow a real revolution in many businesses, by establishing the conditions for the operation of their own private networks, together with the massive use of sensors and actuators. In what follows, a brief description of the innovative features of 5G is presented, followed by an approach to opportunities and challenges, and then addressing some of the trends for the development of the next generation, the 6G. .
5G allows services that are quite different from previous generations, according to three axes in which they are significantly better (at least 10 times) than the current ones: EMMB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband), i.e., an increase in the data transmission speed up to 10 Gbps; URLLC (UltraHigh Reliability Low Latency), i.e., a reduction in latency down to 1 ms and an increase in availability up to 99.999%; MMTC (Massive Machine-Type Communications), i.e., an increase in connectivity capacity up to 1 million devices/km2.
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5G brings novelties in both the radio interface and the network architecture. The radio interface is essentially an improvement in flexibility over the 4G one regarding the multiple access technique (OFDMA - Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access), but it presents a novelty of great impact, which is the use of active antennas. On the other hand, the network architecture has a very different approach, given the introduction of virtualisation , which allows for the slicing of networks, and of cloudification , which allows for centralised and/or distributed approaches to the management of networks and the provision of services. The network aspects are very disruptive in relation to the current state of the technology. The virtualisation of networks will allow the installation of multiple virtual networks in the same physical network infrastructure, enabling the development and the offering of network services to enterprises to install or provide services and applications, which until now was not possible.
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While these features benefit the way consumers communicate and live, you cannot really take advantage of these “extreme” values for human use, business applications being the primary target, contributing to the ever-present goals of cost reduction (implementing ways to improve the efficiency of internal processes) and sales increase (developing new services and products for other businesses and consumers).
THE APPLICATIONS The features presented above are not the only ones, but they are the ones that stand out. However, it should be noted that 5G extends beyond these aspects, namely regarding mobile terminals and other technical issues. Concerning terminals, 5G does indeed open the range far beyond the usual mobile phones. For instance, one will certainly hear about glasses and other devices for the implementation of augmented and virtual realities, in addition to the
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On the other hand, the cloudification of the networks will create new nodes in the network, such as the separation of the current base station into an RRH (Remote Radio Head) where only radio functionalities will be performed plus the conversion of information to the baseband, and the BBU (BaseBand Unit) where the digital information will be processed; in addition, there will be several types of nodes with distributed functions, which include not only BBUs but also others, such as information storage (caching) and distributed information processing (MEC - Multiaccess Edge Computing).
inclusion of sensors in clothes (wearables, namely, for certain professional activities, such as firefighters, police and military, but also sports professionals and those affected by chronical illnesses) and multiple other applications, such as in the areas of entertainment, well-being and assisted living for the elderly.
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It is also expected that 5G will play an important role in some sectors of the manufacturing industry that are key in Portugal, from automobile to textiles and footwear, and encompassing agricultural products (olive oil and wine, for example), since 5G allows a fundamental change in the entire production process, from tracking raw materials for product distribution to improved manufacturing and quality control. The IoT component will be of great importance, as it allows the widespread use of sensors and actuators, generating data in basically all areas of application , leading to the diffusion of other technologies that are also fundamental for the digital transition, such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.
THE OPPORTUNITIES Many economic sectors (both public and private) can be expected to include the full extension of 5G in their products and services, e.g.: transports , where vehicle tracking and route optimisation can be done at a higher level, and where passenger services can be greatly improved (not only in terms of Internet access, but also entertainment for long-distance travel); health care , where the use of clothes with sensors allows to monitor patients (from chronic illnesses to post-surgical recovery at home), and where remote services can be provided (including remote surgery and much more effective teleconsultation); broadcast associated with social media , through video (television), sound (radio) and text (press), but also related to other areas, namely, the announcement of accidents by transport operators; and equipment maintenance and repair , through the use of virtual and augmented reality glasses, allowing three-dimensional visual access to complex information in real time.
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The opportunities for enterprises are immense.
For consumers, one can expect a completely new area of services and entertainment, namely coming from the generalisation of glasses for augmented and virtual realities, and of sensors in everyday objects for the full implementation of Mobile IoT. However, this wide range of opportunities is accompanied by a similar range of challenges . It is clear that the required terminals for the implementation of the foreseen services are not mature yet.
However, the very large diversity of application areas is an obstacle to the mass production of these devices in a general use perspective.
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Glasses for the additional features mentioned above, although already existing with an initial technology, need to be matured not only in terms of hardware and software, but also concerning easiness of use (essential for the mass market), after which software companies can start developing applications. In addition, the widespread use of 5G IoT by enterprises needs devices with sensors and actuators that need to be very low cost, given the scale with which they will be used.
Thus, the adoption of 5G by enterprises depends also on the evolution of hardware and software for industrial terminals, and cannot be expected to follow the high pace that mobile phones for consumers have had so far.
THE NEXT STEPS
Obviously, research on 6G has already started worldwide, and although it is too soon to identify the trends that will be part of the new system, one can already discuss some of the directions that have a high possibility to be part of 6G. The very first one is high frequencies. 5G has extended the bands beyond 6 GHz, reaching millimetre waves, i.e., the 28 GHz and the 39 GHz band.
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It is clear that the implementation of 5G will be done in phases, with the introduction of some features and the improvement of others in each one. Nevertheless, given the 10 years cycle that has characterised the successive generations of mobile communications systems, one can expect that in less than 10 years from now the topic for discussion will be 6G and its implementation.
Radio channel sensing, and prediction, will play an increasing role, since this is a key feature to increase the transmission efficiency, thus, higher data rates, lower latencies, higher capacities and higher reliabilities. This also means that artificial intelligence techniques will play an increasing role in mobile communications systems , not only related to radio channel aspects but also dealing with network ones, and ultimately with users’ behaviour and services provision. Body Area Networks will also be increasingly part of the global network, since this is definitely the way to proceed in order to provide users with an increased personalisation of services. In parallel, IoT will also extend its usage, embedded in mobile communications systems, possibly already with the energy consumption problem solved via energy harvesting.
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It is very likely that 6G will continue this race for the use of higher frequencies, aiming at THz, i.e., frequencies in the range between 100 GHz and 300 GHz. This higher frequency band will allow for even larger bandwidths (which is 100 MHz for 5G). Visible Light Communications may already play a role, especially because it will be the natural extension of communications at the THz band.
CONCLUSIONS 5G is a new technology that allows new services and applications, which could not be offered by previous generations. Unlike previous generations, the main users of 5G will not be consumers, but rather enterprises with their widespread IoT implementations, because the new differentiating characteristics of 5G are in fact geared towards the latter.
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The list of potential technologies for 6G is quite large and many other could be addressed in here. Still, one dares to say that two others will not (yet) be part of 6G: quantum computing and nano-networks. The former may be introduced at the coding level, but it seems that its maturity will not reach a level that can be swiftly incorporated in communication systems and interacting with all other system and network features. The latter will open a total new world to services provide to people, namely in the medical area, but it still requires a number of developments in hardware that are expected to be beyond a decade.
As each generation of mobile communications systems comes at the pace of a decade, one can say that in the next 10 years, businesses that provide services in the telecommunications area need to get on board with 5G , seizing the many opportunities that will emerge, and preparing for the no less challenges that will accompany these opportunities. In parallel, the development of 6G has already started, with many research teams exploring a large number of techniques that, potentially, will be part of the next standard of mobile communications systems. Except for the very first generation of mobile communication systems (the analogue one), we have witnessed that the major breakthroughs have come with the “even-generations” (2G and 4G) while the “odd-generations” (3G and 5G) have been somewhat in continuity with the previous ones at the radio interface and/or the network architecture, which basically means that a decade is too short to develop and implement a brand-new technology. - ERUTUF EHT FO SNOISIV - H • 33 EGAP
If this trend continues, one can expect quite a number of novelties in 6G, probably some of them even beyond current expectations. ∎
Luis M. Correia
ROBOTIC HANDS AT THE FRONTIER OF TECHNOLOGY
Susana Freitas is a group leader at INESC Microsystems and Nanotechnologies (INESC-MN), where she has been working since 1996. She is working on a project on robotic hands and she has agreed to speak with us about the challenge of thinking from the point of view of a sensor and about the future of her institution. How did you start working at INESC?
I joined INESC in 1996 as a PhD student. Sometime before, during my studies in Technological Physics Engineering (at Instituto Superior Tecnico, Lisboa) I was a visiting student working on the characterization of thin films from INESC using nuclear techniques (RBS, in ITN, Sacavem).
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INTERVIEW WITH SUSANA FREITAS
During the discussions with the team from INESC, it became clear to me that the materials and devices had several exciting challenges. Also, I could see, for the first time since I had joined university, a close proximity between research and real-life applications , so I decided to dedicate my studies to one of the research lines at INESC.
My job is to bring ideas into shape, and make them useful. I design and fabricate microchips, mostly with magnetic sensors that can be used in many applications around us. It is not easy to explain why I spend so much time near the computer doing projects, graphics and reporting. Also, not so clear is why I seem to have four jobs: teaching, research, maintenance, management. There are some key words that became popular in the family, such as spintronics (when my children want to impress someone they use it) , or CleanRoom (a recurring joke of ours is that “it is easier to go to work, as at home we have several rooms to clean, and INESC has only one clean room”). One of our dogs is called “Strike” inspired on the “plasma strike” function we have in one of my favourite machines (Nordiko3000) at INESC.
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How do you explain your job to your children?
Susana Cardoso de Freitas
There are several… The initial development of magnetic tunnel junctions using ion beam deposition was very exciting. We were competing with the best groups in the world, and wanted to have new results every 6 months to present at the most relevant conferences in the USA and Asia, where the industry (IBM, Seagate, Motorola, Hitachi…) was also showing the recent demonstrators for the magnetic hard disks for the next generation of computers. More recently, I enjoy developing magnetic sensors to integrate as a surface mapping head, as it looked simple, but brings new challenges I was not aware of . Here, besides learning on advanced chip packaging techniques, I need new competences (e.g. artificial intelligence and smart electronics) for an efficient readout, which are not yet solved.
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If you look back at your career so far, what was the project you most enjoyed to develop?
I can select two challenges that had a strong impact. The first is a technical challenge: one of the large deposition tools had a vacuum leak, and the issue was found to be in one enormous component (the rotation vacuum feedthrough for the 200mm wafer holding). We had no time to wait 1-2 months for the tool engineer to travel from UK to do the repair, so I did it myself. It required dismantling heavy and dirty components – equivalent to dismantling a car motor, and re-assembly it again. It took me 3 weeks and many pictures and hand-made schematics , but could do it with remote support from the service engineers in UK. Actually, since I joined INESC I could learn and grow as an engineer with similar maintenance tasks (e.g. cleaning a cryogenic pump, replace bearings from rotary parts, or replacing vacuum parts). I strongly recommend to take these unique opportunities to combine engineering with science!
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Working in technological development brings its own challenges. What is the biggest challenge you have had while working at INESC MN? How did you solve it?
We know you are involved in a very interesting idea regarding human and robots interaction. Do you want to talk a little bit about it?
Presently I am interested in combining several sensing capabilities in one robotic hand. This is something other groups have been working on, so we will not be alone... I think we have unique capabilities to develop relevant sensors, so this is a challenging opportunity to reach the limit of the technologies I know . Ironically, I do not see a future where robot hand replace humans. But there are specific contexts where a smarter hand would be of great advantage.
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The other challenge relates with time management... It is very difficult to organize my work so to have a balanced time schedule including discussions with my team, lab activities, teaching, project meetings and family requests. Still now, I am learning everyday how to prioritize, work in team, and have quality time in family . My children (and probably some members of my group) agree that I am not very good in this regard… I believe them, and I still have not found a solution.
I have never looked at robotics from the perspective of a sensor developer. However, the colleagues in ISR-IST provide very interesting use cases, and we have meetings near a robot, which is inspiring new ideas. The multisensorial instrumentation of a robotic hand is not so easy to implement, as the hardware still needs to be improved. The strategies are still under development, and will require efficient and smart ways to read a large number of information sources (i.e., sensors) in selective ways, and combine multiple sensing. My approach includes the intensive use of magnetic sensors everywhere in the hand, but cannot disclose more now… Why is INESC the right place to develop such a project? INESC MN has unique expertise in microsystems and sensors. Therefore, it is the right place for developing innovative solutions regarding new sensors and integration. Moreover, we have access to the best students from engineering courses, who are eager to be challenged.
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How did you come up with this idea?
For you, INESC is...? An exceptional ecosystem where one can find fundamental research combined with applied research and engineering . INESC has a good variety of groups with different expertise in key technical areas, related with electronics, systems and algorithms for information handling. The people working at INESC are very oriented towards problem-solving, and we see very interesting synergies in the discussions between the INESC units (MN, ID, INOV, TEC). In addition, from a practical perspective, each of us is encouraged to perform management and business activities.
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I have always felt we were in a parallel world, bridging university and industry . The talented people we receive and train every year are integrated into a multidisciplinary context, and are well equipped to become the innovation actors everywhere they chose to go after leaving INESC. ∎
SOLVING PROBLEMS WITH BIOINFORMATICS INTERVIEW WITH SUSANA VINGA
Susana Vinga is a researcher at INESCID, in Lisbon. We had a chat with her about her decision to join INESC and her future projects.
This is my second time at INESC-ID. I joined the team three years ago following my faculty position at IST (joint appointment with the Departments of Computer Science and Engineering and Dept of Bioengineering). I was at INESC-ID from 2006 to 2013 at the KDBIO group, then I moved to IDMEC for five years. I have always found mobility between institutions particularly rewarding and my career has always been characterized by that dynamic. Since 2018 I am working in the research area of Information and Decision Support Systems (IDSS).
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How did you end up at INESC-ID?
For you, INESC is...?
What research projects are you working on at the moment?
I am very happy about the launching of OLISSIPO in January 2021, a Twinning project funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020. The goal is to foster Computational Biology research and innovation not only at INESC-ID, but also in Portugal. It is my first European project as a principal coordinator and I am delighted to work with a fantastic team from INRIA, ETH Zurich, and EMBL . We will reinforce our expertise in theoretical modelling, computer science, and statistical learning, directly impacting biology, medicine, and health applications. In particular, we are very interested in research topics such as single-cell analysis, modelling and simulation, mathematical modelling of intercell and communities' interactions,
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A solid and vigorous institution that has resiliently adapted to new challenges, which include scientific and technological developments and the demanding research conditions in Portugal. More recently, I am happy to see that we are gathering efforts across all INESCs. I believe this will create a stronger group.
What is the easiest and the most difficult in your work at INESC-ID?
The easiest part is related to the fact that researchers share similar academic backgrounds and research perspectives, supported by a great administrative staff, which creates a common ground for dialogue. The more difficult aspects are related to the unstable situation in Portugal regarding the country's research and innovation strategy. Its uncertainty, coupled with the unpredictability of funding, is severely hampering our overall efficiency. Furthermore, I am worried that young researchers may not pursue their education and scientific careers in Portugal due to the lack of opportunities, which is already negatively impacting projects, supervisions, and the viability of small, less established research teams.
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computational phylogenetics of cells and communities, and translational bioinformatics, data management and software development.
I would like to make Computational Biology and Bioinformatics a stronger field in Portugal with a key pole at INESC-ID and to build a sustainable team and collaborative network in these areas. Scientifically, I hope to pursue our goals of having engineering, mathematics, and computer science contributing to answering biological and clinical problems. Besides your group and research line of actions, with whom have you collaborated more in the INESC universe?
Besides the work developed some years ago at the KDBIO group and more recently at the Information and Decision Support Systems (IDSS), I have been collaborating for more than 14 years with my colleague and friend Prof. João Miranda Lemos, since the FCT funded project DynaMo (Dynamical modeling, control and optimization of metabolic networks). Our research areas have an exciting intersection towards a more profound understanding of complex biological systems using mathematical and computational modelling .
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Do you have any dream research projects you'd like to develop?
The projects we have been involved in together (on HIV-1 control and personalised cancer therapy) reflect that common interest towards an engineering view to a more personalized medicine. How do you imagine the future of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and the role the INESCs can play in it?
How do you explain your job to your child? A scientist is passionate about solving problems and, more importantly, identifying intriguing questions. A teacher gathers disparate ideas and concepts and tries to pass them to their students in the most accurate and beautiful way. And I love both tasks. ∎
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I see with great optimism the development of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at INESCs. We have been working in synergy with the INESC Brussels HUB in the Work Group Health Technologies, and I am proud to say that, among all the INESCs, we have a great vitality in many aspects of engineering and computer science applications to Computational Biology, Bioinformatics, and, more broadly, all aspects related with human health . At INESC-ID, our Thematic Line in Life and Health Technology addresses the most significant areas in R&I, from artificial intelligence to dynamic systems that will definitely have a significant impact in Medicine and Biology.
When your friends ask you, "What are these projects you work for?", what do you say? I mostly use earth observation data for several applications . Earth observation data can be acquired using different platforms - satellite, aerial - and can be captured using different sensors - laser, images. I have worked for several years in disaster related applications , namely in the automatic identification of damaged buildings from satellite, aerial and drone derived imagery. This could be used by first responders and/or in recovery tasks. Currently, my focus is on the use of satellite imagery to detect harmful algae blooms and potentially reduce the impacts of such occurrences by having information regarding their location and extent. What was your favorite subject at school? I was fond of History and Physics. What are you currently reading? Um escritor confessa-se, by Aquilino Ribeiro.
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PEOPLE OF INESC
PEOPLE OF INESC
What was your favourite subject at school? I always enjoyed Physics but also history and languages. Different worlds!! Do you have a hobby? Oh Yes! Dancing, drawing and singing. What are you currently reading? Trent´s last case , a whodunnit from the 1920s, by E.C. Bentley.
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When your friends ask you "What is your work and what is it for ?", what do you say? I say that I work in a nanoelectronic laboratory. I explain that we fabricate sensors that can be used in computers but we also try to integrate these sensors with biological research for example for the detection of bacteria.
PEOPLE OF INESC
What was your favorite subject at school? Over time my interests shifted between specific topics that made my curiosity spike. The most notable ones are geometry, grammar, classical mechanics, poetry, and free will. What are you currently reading? The book of why , by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie; it delves into how we think and make choices.
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When your friends ask you, "What are these projects you work for?", what do you say? We use AI, the technology behind voice assistants, face recognition, or deepfakes, to automate visual tasks . Our use-cases involve real-time industrial quality control automation. AI automation provides out clients with the real-time monitoring, horizontal scaling, and speed gains required for delivering increased efficiency and consistent results with an overall cost reduction.
PEOPLE OF INESC
What was your favorite subject at school? At high school, my favorite subject was Mathematics. I always enjoyed more sciences than humanities (although I had a strong interest for History). What are you currently reading? Para lá das palavras – o que pensam e sentem os animais , by biologist Carl Safina.
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JOÃO M. LEMOS
When your friends ask you "What is your work and what is it for ?", what do you say? My work is about automatic control, in particular adaptive control. Can you imagine something more fundamentally linked to our lives ? Control is about making “things” (not only machines but many different systems) behave the way you specify. Adaptation is related to the capacity of learning from the observations made in the system you want to control to learn from data and improve the control rules.
When your friends ask you, "What is the usefulness of your research?", what do you say? Since this type of questions normally comes after a nice meal, I can always appeal to my friend’s imagination. I usually reply “get back to a world where what you see is what you get. A world where you do not have access to anyone or anything beyond what is physically available to you. Now, can you imagine the scientific work that had to be done so you can stay connected to everyone and everything, at anywhere and at any time? That’s how important these projects we work on truly are; they are the small steps we need to enable the next giant leap in telecommunications and multimedia technologies.” What was your favorite subject at school? My favourite subjects were normally related with physics and technology. What are you currently reading? Since my main job is to manage a research centre, I thought it would be a good idea to read A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge .
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PEOPLE OF INESC
EDITORIAL BOARD INESC Brussels HUB
JOANA DESPORT COELHO
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