Europe needs strong software research
We request that European and national funding agencies acknowledge the importance of software for society and the need for increased funding of software research. Now is the time for aggressive funding of software research, and leveraging the expertise that Europe has to offer, to remain autonomous and stay ahead of the curve.
”Software is eating the world.”  Indeed, just like oxygen is an invisible but essential element for all life forms, software is an essential, yet invisible, driving force of the present world:
- Software is the fabric of our society: there’s virtually no aspect of society that is not facilitated or mediated by software ;
- Software is a key transformation and enabling technology, disrupting many areas of modern economy, compelling industry leaders to admit that “every company is now a software company” ;
- Software boosts scientific progress in many domains (e.g., AI, data science, medicine, engineering);
- Software is vital for our infrastructure as it underlies critical systems (e.g., power, telecom, aerospace, automotive, finance, health);
- The total volume of software in the world is staggeringly large, and is growing at an exponential rate .
There is, however, a striking contrast between, on the one hand, the omnipresence of software in our society and, on the other hand, the extraordinary difficulty to guarantee the correctness, reliability, performance, scalability, safety, and sustainability of modern software systems. There is an urgent need for software engineering innovations: the world of software is a moving target, due to the ever-increasing size and complexity of software, the technological churn of both hardware and software, the increased heterogeneity of software, and the emergence of new societal and technological challenges . Fostering such innovations requires fundamental software research, independently of specific application areas (e.g., blockchain, AI, Internet of Things, quantum computing, etc.). Only then can we continue to further develop the concepts and technologies that have revolutionized how we build software (in no small part due to European innovations, such as the World-Wide Web, the Linux operating system, and the Python programming language).
Europe is home to the expertise that is required to lead and drive innovation in software. It hosts some of the most talented software researchers at universities, research institutes, and R&D departments in industry. However, the software research community lacks the resources to facilitate basic research and bootstrap public-private collaborations between industry and knowledge institutions. As a result, software innovation is stifled, and Europe risks becoming a second-hand user of innovations invented elsewhere , esp. from big tech from America and Asia. European industry is gradually becoming less competitive as software is the key differentiating and value-adding factor in products and services. This is not only detrimental to Europe’s economy, but also affects Europe’s autonomy and sovereignty at the strategic level. Since software reflects and shapes society, core values, such as privacy, safety, fairness, sustainability and inclusion, are increasingly under threat.
We therefore urgently request that European and national funding agencies acknowledge the importance of software for society and the need for software research. Now is the time for generous funding instruments for software research, and leveraging the expertise that Europe has to offer, to remain autonomous and stay ahead of the curve.
On behalf of:
- VEReniging Software Engineering Nederland (VERSEN)
- Groupement de Recherche Génie de la Programmation et du Logiciel (GDR GPL)
- Finnish Information Processing Association (TIVIA)
Link to this text (PDF): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Pn4HINXQI2SSsyF05...
 Marc Andreessen, “Why Software Is Eating the World”, The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2011. See: https://a16z.com/2011/08/20/why-software-is-eating...
 Software was responsible for 1 trillion euro of total value-added GDP in 2016, a 9.9% increase with respect to 2014, whereas the overall GDP growth over the same period was 6.0%. Source: https://software.org/reports/2018-eu-software-impa...
 For instance, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, at the Mobile World Congress, 2019. See also: “Now Every Company Is A Software Company”, Forbes, November 30, 2011.
 Recent research estimates the global volume of software to double every 3.5 years on average. See: Hatton, et al. “The long‐term growth rate of evolving software: Empirical results and implications” Journal of Software: Evolution and Process. February 2017. https://doi.org/10.1002/smr.1847
 Diomidis Spinellis, “Research Priorities in the area of Software Technologies”, EU DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology — E2 PO 30-CE-0751856/00-91, 2016.
 Over the past 10 years (up to 2018), R&D investments of European software companies grew only by 5%, whereas the R&D spending of US software companies grew faster at a rate of 8.2%. Source: Networked European Software and Services Initiative (NESSI), Next Generation Software Technologies Empowering the Digital Transformation of Europe: Recommendations on Software Technology Research for Horizon Europe, 2018.