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EU for efficient contact tracing apps to support gradual lifting of confinement measures

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EU Members States, supported by the Commission, have developed an EU toolbox for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This is part of a common coordinated approach to support the gradual lifting of confinement measures, as set out in a Commission Recommendation last week.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Member States, backed by the Commission, have been assessing the effectiveness, security, privacy, and data protection aspects of digital solutions to address the crisis. Contact tracing apps, if fully compliant with EU rules and well coordinated, can play a key role in all phases of crisis management, especially when time will be ripe to gradually lift social distancing measures. They can complement existing manual contact tracing and help interrupt the transmission chain of the virus.The toolbox is accompanied by guidance on data protection for such mobile apps, which is also published today.

Welcoming the toolbox, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “Contact tracing apps to limit the spread of coronavirus can be useful, especially as part of Member States’ exit strategies. However, strong privacy safeguards are a pre-requisite for the uptake of these apps, and therefore their usefulness. While we should be innovative and make the best use of technology in fighting the pandemic, we will not compromise on our values and privacy requirements.”

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides added: “Digital tools will be crucial to protect our citizens as we gradually lift confinement measures. Mobile apps can warn us of infection risks and support health authorities with contact tracing, which is essential to break transmission chains. We need to be diligent, creative, and flexible in our approaches to opening up our societies again. We need to continue to flatten the curve – and keep it down. Without safe and compliant digital technologies, our approach will not be efficient.”

A common approach for voluntary and privacy-compliant tracing apps

Today’s announcement is the first iteration of a common EU toolbox, developed urgently and collaboratively by the e-Health Network with the support of the European Commission. It provides a practical guide for Member States in the implementation of contact tracing and warning apps. The toolbox sets out the essential requirements for these apps:

  • They should be fully compliant with the EU data protection and privacy rules, as put forward by the guidance presented today following consultation with the European Data Protection Board.
  • They should be implemented in close coordination with, and approved by, public health authorities.
  • They should be installed voluntarily, and dismantled as soon as no longer needed.
  • They should aim to exploit the latest privacy-enhancing technological solutions. Likely to be based on Bluetooth proximity technology, they do not enable tracking of people’s locations.
  • They should be based on anonymised data: They can alert people who have been in proximity for a certain duration to an infected person to get tested or self-isolate, without revealing the identity of the people infected.
  • They should be interoperable across the EU so that citizens are protected even when they cross borders.
  • They should be anchored in accepted epidemiological guidance, and reflect best practice on cybersecurity, and accessibility.
  • They should be secure and effective. 

While allowing for easier, quicker and more efficient tracing than traditional systems based on interviews with infected patients, manual tracing will continue to cover citizens who could be more vulnerable to infection but are less likely to have a smartphone, such as elderly or disabled persons.

A common approach to other functionalities, in particular on information and symptom tracking, may be developed in future iterations of the toolbox.

Next steps

The toolbox reflects the latest best practices in the use of mobile contact tracing and warning apps to tackling the crisis. It is part of an ongoing process where Member States work together to devise and refine in the coming weeks and months the use of this and other practical tools. This first version will be further enriched in light of the experiences of Member States.

By 30 April 2020, public health authorities will assess the effectiveness of the apps at national and cross-border level. Member States should report on their actions by 31 May 2020 and make the measures accessible to other Member States and the Commission for peer review. The Commission will assess the progress made and publish periodic reports starting in June 2020 and throughout the crisis, recommending action or the phasing out of measures that seem no longer necessary.

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New world-class European supercomputer inaugurated in Italy

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quantum technology

Today, the Commission together with the European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU), the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research and the CINECA consortium inaugurated Europe’s latest supercomputer: LEONARDO, located at the Bologna Technopole, in Italy.

LEONARDO is a world-class supercomputing system, developed and assembled in Europe. When fully operational, it will have a computing power of nearly 250 petaflops (250 million billion calculations per second). LEONARDO is currently placed as the fourth most powerful supercomputer in the world. It is a joint investment of €120 million, half of which comes from the Commission and the other half from the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research and the CINECA consortium consisting of five more participating EuroHPC countries (Austria, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia).

LEONARDO is the second of the European pre-exascale supercomputers to be put into operation, after LUMI in Kajaani, Finland. It combines state-of-the-art high-performance computing components and the use of artificial intelligence to perform highly complex tasks. As such, it will enable unprecedented research into cancer and drug discovery, understanding the functioning of the human brain, discovering clean energy technologies, doing more precise climate modelling, as well as helping with predicting and monitoring natural disasters and pandemics.

The LEONARDO supercomputer system focuses on environmental sustainability and is equipped with tools enabling a dynamical adjustment of power consumption, thus granting a smart and optimal balance between energy saving and performance. Moreover, it uses a water-cooling system for increased energy efficiency.

The computing services provided by CINECA with LEONARDO will be further enhanced by the integration of a quantum computer, as CINECA has also been selected as a hosting entity for one of the first European-built quantum computers.

Next Steps

The deployment of the European world-class high-performance computing and data infrastructure continues with the ongoing installation of the Deucalion petascale supercomputer in Portugal, and the third European pre-exascale MareNostrum 5 supercomputer in Spain. 

Further to this, new sites for supercomputers have already been announced by the EuroHPC JU in June 2022, with one of them to be Europe’s first exascale supercomputer: JUPITER, which will be hosted in the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany. 

In October 2022 the EuroHPC JU also announced six sites to host quantum computers, which will be integrated with existing supercomputers. 

Additionally, a call for a second European exascale supercomputer in 2023 is expected to be launched, as well as the deployment of additional supercomputers and quantum computers in 2023 and beyond.

Background

CINECA is a non-profit consortium, made up of 70 Italian universities, 40 national institutions and the Italian Ministries of Universities and Research, and of Education. The five countries participating from the EuroHPC JU are: Greece, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, and Slovakia.  

LEONARDO now joins the existing supercomputers of the EuroHPC JU: Discoverer in Bulgaria, MeluXina in Luxembourg, Vega in Slovenia, Karolina in Czechia, and LUMI in Finland. 

The European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU) is a legal and funding entity created in 2018 to enable the EU and EuroHPC participating countries to coordinate their efforts and pool their resources with the objective of making Europe a world leader in supercomputing. In July 2021, the Council adopted the EuroHPC JU Regulation, bringing a further investment of €7 billion. 

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New robots in Europe can be workers’ best friends

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By GARETH WILLMER

For decades, the arrival of robots in the workplace has been a source of public anxiety over fears that they will replace workers and create unemployment.

Now that more sophisticated and humanoid robots are actually emerging, the picture is changing, with some seeing robots as promising teammates rather than unwelcome competitors.

‘Cobot’ colleagues

Take Italian industrial-automation company Comau. It has developed a robot that can collaborate with – and enhance the safety of – workers in strict cleanroom settings in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, electronics, food and beverage industries. The innovation is known as a “collaborative robot”, or “cobot”.

Comau’s arm-like cobot, which is designed for handling and assembly tasks, can automatically switch from an industrial to a slower speed when a person enters the work area. This new feature allows one robot to be used instead of two, maximising productivity and protecting workers.

‘It has advanced things by allowing a dual mode of operation,’ said Dr Sotiris Makris, a roboticist at the University of Patras in Greece. ‘You can either use it as a conventional robot or, when it is in collaborative mode, the worker can grab it and move it around as an assisting device.’

Makris was coordinator of the just-completed EU-funded SHERLOCK project, which explored new methods for safely combining human and robot capabilities from what it regarded as an often overlooked research angle: psychological and social well-being.

Creative and inclusive

Robotics can help society by carrying out repetitive, tedious tasks, freeing up workers to engage in more creative activities. And robotic technologies that can collaborate effectively with workers could make workplaces more inclusive, such as by aiding people with disabilities.

These opportunities are important to seize as the structure and the age profile of the European workforce changes. For example, the proportion of 55-to-64-year-olds increased from 12.5% of the EU’s employees in 2009 to 19% in 2021.

Alongside the social dimension, there is also economic benefit from greater industrial efficiency, showing that neither necessarily needs to come at the expense of the other.

‘There is increasing competition around the globe, with new advances in robotics,’ said Makris. ‘That is calling for actions and continuous improvement in Europe.’

Makris cites the humanoid robots being developed by Elon Musk-led car manufacturer Tesla. Wearable robotics, bionic limbs and exoskeleton suits are also being developed that promise to enhance people’s capabilities in the workplace.

Still, the rapidly advancing wave of robotics poses big challenges when it comes to ensuring they are effectively integrated into the workplace and that people’s individual needs are met when working with them. 

Case for SHERLOCK

SHERLOCK also examined the potential for smart exoskeletons to support workers in carrying and handling heavy parts at places such as workshops, warehouses or assembly sites. Wearable sensors and AI were used to monitor and track human movements.

With this feedback, the idea is that the exoskeleton can then adapt to the needs of the specific task while helping workers retain an ergonomic posture to avoid injury.

‘Using sensors to collect data from how the exoskeleton performs allowed us to see and better understand the human condition,’ said Dr Makris. ‘This allowed us to have prototypes on how exoskeletons need to be further redesigned and developed in the future, depending on different user profiles and different countries.’

SHERLOCK, which has just ended after four years, brought together 18 European organisations in multiple countries from Greece to Italy and the UK working on different areas of robotics.

The range of participants enabled the project to harness a wide variety of perspectives, which Dr Makris said was also beneficial in the light of differing national rules on integrating robotics technology.

As a result of the interaction of these robotic systems with people, the software is advanced enough to give direction to ‘future developments on the types of features to have and how the workplace should be designed,’ said Dr Makris.

Old hands, new tools

Another EU-funded project that ended this year, CO-ADAPT, used cobots to help older people navigate the digitalised workplace.

The project team developed a cobot-equipped adaptive workstation to aid people in assembly tasks, such as making a phone, car or toy – or, indeed, combining any set of individual components into a finished product during manufacturing. The station can adapt workbench height and lighting to a person’s physical characteristics and visual abilities. It also includes features like eye-tracking glasses to gather information on mental workload.

That brings more insight into what all kinds of people need, said Professor Giulio Jacucci, coordinator of CO-ADAPT and a computer scientist at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

‘You find interesting differences in how much the machine and how much the person should do, as well as how much the machine should try to give guidance and how,’ Jacucci said. ‘This is important work that goes down to the nuts and bolts of making this work.’

Still, cobot-equipped workplaces that can fully tap into and respond to people’s mental states in real-life settings could still be a number of years away, he said.

‘It’s so complex because there’s the whole mechanical part, plus trying to understand people’s status from their psychophysiological states,’ said Prof Jacucci.

Meanwhile, because new technologies can be used in much simpler ways to improve the workplace, CO-ADAPT also explored digitalisation more broadly.

Smart shifts

One area was software that enables ‘smart-shift scheduling’, which arranges duty periods for workers based on their personal circumstances. The approach has been shown to reduce sick leave, stress and sleep disorders among social welfare and health care workers.

‘It’s a fantastic example of how workability improves because we use evidence-based knowledge of how to have well-being-informed schedules,’ said Prof Jacucci.

Focusing on the individual is key to the future of well-integrated digital tools and robotics, he said.

‘Let’s say you have to collaborate with some robot in an assembly task,’ he said. ‘The question is: should the robot be aware of my cognitive and other abilities? And how should we divide the task between the two?’

The basic message from the project is that plenty of room exists to improve and broaden working environments.

‘It shows how much untapped potential there is,’ said Prof Jacucci.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This material was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.   

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WEF Report Maps How Companies Can Commit to Earning Digital Trust

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Digital trust is the expectation by individuals that digital technologies and services – and the organizations providing them – will protect all stakeholders’ interests and uphold societal expectations and values, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum.

From artificial intelligence to connected devices, from the security of personal information to algorithmic predictions, failures by technology developers and digital service providers have eroded confidence at an unprecedented scale and rate. Surveys have also registered an alarming decrease in trust in science and technology as well as a host of other social institutions and links. The trust gap is growing year by year, just as our reliance on digital networks and technologies is accelerating.

The report, “Earning Digital Trust: Decision-Making for Trustworthy Technologies” written in collaboration with Forum partners Accenture, KPMG and PwC, outlines how collaboration between cybersecurity, privacy, ethics and other business functions can improve trust in technology.

Citizens and consumers expect companies and technology developers to take their values – on privacy, data use and inclusion – seriously. Where companies are unable to produce technology that meets those expectations, they can no longer expect widescale adoption. Companies are not ready to meet this challenge:

  • PwC indicated recently that only 10% of executives feel ready to comply with cybersecurity transparency requirements (PwC 2023 Global Digital Trust Insights)
  • Accenture suggested that a growing lack of trust cost US organizations $756 billion in 2017 alone and that today more than 76 % of CEOs say citizen trust is critical to business competitiveness (How to Build Trust in a New Digital World)
  • KPMG said increased trust can lead to better profitability but, at the same time, over 75% of executives believe that new technologies such as artificial learning and machine learning raise troubling questions on cybersecurity and ethics (KPMG Cyber Trust Insights 2022)

To reverse this alarming trend, the World Economic Forum convened representatives of the world’s largest tech and consumer-focused companies – including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Mastercard, Walmart, IKEA, PayPal, Salesforce and others – alongside government representatives from the US, European Commission and Singapore and leading consumer advocates to create a framework for companies to commit to earning digital trust.

The Forum’s Digital Trust Framework shows for the first time how commitment to cybersecurity, privacy, transparency, redressability, auditability, fairness, interoperability and safety – when taken together and driven by CEOs – can improve both citizen and consumer trust in technology and the companies that create and use new technologies. The Forum’s report provides both a framework – with detailed goals and dimensions to support digital trust – and a roadmap for companies on how they can become more trustworthy in their use and development of technology.

According to Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum and Head of the Centre for Cybersecurity, “Developing trustworthy technologies is a decision – and responsibility – that rests with leaders across sectors and industries. The World Economic Forum’s Digital Trust Framework will help to guide leaders in making decisions that cultivate more trustworthy and responsible technology.”

“The most important decision we can make in the 21st century is whether we will work together to build trust or watch innovation fail. By focusing on the values and expectations of individuals, and by committing to security and reliability, accountability and oversight, and inclusive, ethical, and responsible use of technology, we can make the technology we develop more trustworthy,” said Daniel Dobrygowski, Head of Governance and Trust, World Economic Forum.

“Improving digital trust is vital for digital citizenship to flourish. The Forum’s new Digital Trust Framework is an essential resource for making technology more trustworthy for individual consumers and citizens,” said Nuala O’Connor, Senior Vice-President, Chief Counsel, Digital Citizenship, Walmart.

“Deploying trustworthy technology should be the goal of all organizations. The World Economic Forum’s Digital Trust Framework is a helpful roadmap that will provide guidance to leaders in making decisions that advance technology in responsible ways. As part of the steering committee, I’m grateful to contribute Microsoft’s learnings from our journey aligning our efforts on the interconnected governance of privacy, digital safety and responsible AI. The resulting WEF Digital Trust Framework will help guide other organizations on their path to earn digital trust.” said Julie Brill, Chief Privacy Officer, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft.

“Without trust in digital systems, the financial services ecosystem we have today could not exist. The Forum’s Digital Trust Initiative is playing a critical role in helping to define what trust means in the digital world,” said Ajay Bhalla, President, Cyber and Intelligence Solutions, Mastercard.

“Consumer trust is built when companies put the essential needs and rights of their consumers first and foremost. As a representative of consumer advocates around the world, Consumers International is glad to be part of the Digital Trust Initiative calling for companies to inform and empower consumers,” said Helena Leurent, Director-General of Consumers International, the membership organization for 200 consumer advocacy groups in over 100 countries including Consumer Reports, Which UK, CHOICE Australia, Consumer Voice (India), El Poder del Consumidor (Mexico), Hong Kong Consumer Council, Consommateur Maroc, Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and many more.

“At IKEA, trust is at the heart of everything we do. Whether it’s in our products or trust in how we handle your data. Trust must be earned, and we see it as a collective effort. IKEA is a proud partner of the World Economic Forum’s Digital Trust Initiative, and we look forward to contributing on creating a shared vision for digital trust between citizens, government, and organizations” said Nozha Boujemaa, Global Vice President, Digital Ethics & Responsible AI, IKEA Retail (Ingka Group).

“Customers won’t do business with companies they don’t trust. At Salesforce, Trust is our #1 value, and we are empowering our customers to raise the bar for digital trust – building direct, trusted relations with their customers by ensuring sensitive data is stored, processed, and forgotten, if necessary, on their terms. The World Economic Forum’s Digital Trust Initiative is a valuable resource for any company looking to share that vision and build a trusted enterprise” said Vikram Rao, Chief Trust Officer, Salesforce.

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