Research in the short and long term

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic over the past 12 months. It’s an area where, according to the Vinnova report, KTH ranked best in Sweden, and is a driving force participating in numerous major research projects and collaborations.

The media are writing about it, researchers are researching it and governments are prioritising it; a development that can be seen in both Sweden and other countries.

This summer, I listened to Max Tegmark, a KTH alumnus, recipient of KTH’s Great Prize and Professor of Theoretical Physics at MIT in Boston, and his summer talk that focused on AI. He discussed in an exciting way how AI is leading to superhuman artificial intelligence, where machines can eventually outshine humans.

A thought provoking and challenging look at the possibilities of technology and how this should be used and controlled in the future, and in the service of all humanity. It is increasingly apparent that when new research fields such as this emerge, ethical questions must also be raised. Many social challenges are complex, so it is important to cast an eye over the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and the need for multidisciplinary approaches.

The research world is extremely extensive, which makes it what makes it so dynamic. While it is easy to gain the impression that a specific technology or technological development is the overriding focus, basic scientific research is continuing within many areas.

It may not garner such big headlines, but a methodical search for knowledge is obviously vital and a platform for future technological achievements. Knowledge that is mapped, tested, questioned, built on and further developed requires a great deal of patience, courage and stubbornness.

Many of today’s technological applications that we take for granted in our everyday lives would not exist without basic research. A few examples include having access to fresh food, headache tablets, electricity for cookers and even computer games. All these everyday products are based on basic research that then became an application, that when launched were only available to the few, but which everyone now has access to, at least in large parts of the world.

Both basic and applied research create benefits for society. Sometimes it is hard to say if certain basic researchfindings will offer any immediate benefits. Maybe the application will appear next year, in ten years or maybe not for another fifty years. Research is also about testing ideas and theories that prove not to hold water. It is important to bear in mind that you do not always get things right the first time – but without mistakes, there will be no progress.