New and emerging areas in ICT

What is the priority?

The New and emerging areas cross-theme priority is to encourage researchers to work on truly transformative concepts and technologies within and beyond what is currently recognisable as ICT.

To be 'new and emerging' an area needs to comprise something more than an advance, however significant, within an established field. It must be genuinely disruptive, offering real potential to significantly alter current practise in research or industry. Broadly speaking we might see new and emerging ideas in ICT arising in two ways: grown within the ICT research landscape or introduced into it from other themes.

While it is practically impossible to predict all the new and emerging areas which will grow within ICT, it is possible (and useful) to point to historical precedents as exemplars. For instance, the development of information theory is a good example of the level of ambition and change we would like to encourage in this theme. Although like all research it built on previous work, and while it is generous with its citations, it's fair to say that Claude Shannon's 1948 paper 'A Mathematical Theory of Communication' created information theory as we now understand it. It is cited even now and its concepts still significantly influence thought within and outside ICT disciplines. Applications under New and emerging areas should offer promise of similar implications for the shape of ICT research.

Implementation of the Priority

A range of approaches have been taken to address this priority by both EPSRC and the research community, sometimes acting in partnership. In considering how to address this priority researchers are asked to bear in mind the diversity of support mechanisms on offer. Support for a topic under this priority does not have to be project based. For example, a topic could need further exploration in order to determine what research is necessary. Under such circumstances support for workshops or networks to explore the area in more detail and provide advice for the research community and EPSRC taking them forward would be appropriate.

Outcomes of the Priority

The Quantum Technology Theme grew from discussions with the community on how the research landscape in this area should develop, and ultimately have led to the establishment of this Theme and the participation of ICT researchers in its efforts.

Similar engagement also resulted in discussions around research in human-like computing and what form this might take. To support this, the ICT Theme held an initial workshop in 2016 and the report is available here (PDF). Discussions on this topic are continuing, with follow up activities being planned.

There is also a small portfolio of research grants focussed on exploring or establishing new areas in the ICT research landscape. While these have started relatively recently, meaning it is too early to evaluate their impact, these offer the prospect of growing into new research domains in the ICT research landscape.