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INESC: My Utopian Vision for the XXI Century!

Dreaming is a must!

After three decades from the creation of INESC, I laid myself the challenge of "updating" the dream that led us to this adventure, in the form of "My Utopia".

Unfortunately, for this exercise, I already unable to invoke the helpful mind of our dear João Lourenço Fernandes. However, with the experience of almost 20 years of great intellectual harmony and practical activity side by side with him, enriched by the road already travelled with my companions in this journey, who were taking leadership of the walk, I will take my chances with this public exercise, with the expectation that it will inspire new leaders and new paths for the future.

Following my habit of thinking, constructing "My Utopia", I will assume that there are plenty of financial resources enabling us to do everything we want—in INESC and with INESC!
Dreaming without any financial constraints is really challenging because we have to focus our attention on the goals that are worth pursuing and on the remaining restrictions that limit the way to achieve them. Specifically, on the human resources—on us, our attitudes, values, knowledge, skills, abilities, and wills.

Undoubtedly, we ourselves are the greatest limitation for our Future!

Bring up People with Values and Knowledge

It is for this reason that the first component of "My Utopia" is that INESC of the XXI Century will become one of the leading TALENT FACTORIES of Portugal, in the sectors of its intervention.

Manufacturing Talents? Yes, INESC should continue and intensify its positioning as a LINK between the University and the Society with respect to the formation of the Human component of the country's Intellectual Capital: persons who are passing from their studentship to the professional's career stage, acting and creating values in various sectors.

This LINK is the most relevant INESC activity in the XXI Century, because we always must bear in mind that profound sociological, cultural, educational, scientific, and civilization changes in Portugal will really take 100 years. Therefore, there is no time to lose!

Manufacturing Talents with Knowledge, this means, bring up people who indeed know doing things! Whose Knowledge is Active, Transforming, and Able to Create Values. This should be the Nº 1 Brand of the "human product" of INESC. More than by generalist discourses and ability to elaborate studies, INESC'ians should be distinguished by their ability to Make things Happen. That is, by being Engineers with a capital 'E'!

Manufacturing Talents with Values! Talents with Knowledge, but without values would constitute a tremendous danger. Values! Principles! Moral! Ethics! Happy are the Societies recognizing what it is a combination of the inmost humanity with more demanding competence that result in the positive differentiation of their evolution with respect to others.

This talk about Values is not a babbling! "Things of the past," outdated believes... No! Talents with Values = Wealth! On the contrary, the lack of values, corrupted ends and means, contempt of others, the lack of solidarity and justice—all are the true means for destruction of the well-being, for weakening the Society.

It is this commitment alone that justifies the existence of INESC in the Portuguese Society.

Keeping up-to-date and active the University Professorship

The second component of "My Utopia" is associated with the Virtuous Circle of the intimate relationship of the University Professorship and Scientific Research with INESC. The Mission of INESC is to be one of the main national-scale instruments in the formation, alignment and constant updating of the University Teacher expertise in the sectors of its operation.

In other words, the Mission of Manufacturing Talents with Knowledge and Values applies in full scale to the academic system itself.

As anywhere else, in INESC we are Learning by Doing! And Professors only learn how to be really good Professors—in teaching and scientific research as well as in the business and professional activities—if they are truly committed to action and are accountable for the results of their action. For better or for worse!

And this is the real reason that justifies, in essence, the existence of INESC within the university system. This is the real reason for a type of organization in which each assumes strong responsibility for the agreements concluded with third parties. This is why the institution itself—just since its foundation—does not exist "in the shadow" of any other entity, particularly the State, and survives by its own means, i.e., due to responsible and accountable acting of each of us.

Because only in the exercise of responsibility—actual, with real consequences—that we learn to endow others with our autonomy. Only this way one should claim the academic freedom and university autonomy.

Scientific research is a key factor to the maintenance of teaching ability. Its value to the training of human resources is evident. However, its value to the training of teachers often ignores one aspect that remains very essential for transformation of Portugal: Due to the tremendous divorce between the Academia and reality of the country, only when the teachers are confronted with their students in the context of contracted R&D activities, they realize the gaps in student learning, the uncoordinated, wasteful curricula and training processes, and—finally—the results of their actions as teachers.

Unfortunately, this very important feedback is prejudiced by very small volume of R&D activity within the framework of contracts with Industry. While, in absolute terms, the current volume of R&D financing keeps in line with what it should be—in both the public, national or European, and private sector—, the existing huge relative distortion in favour of public funding clearly affects the above mentioned Virtuous Circle: largely the public-funded R&D is measured by contexts that have little in common with the problems of the Portuguese Society and companies, as well as with creation of real values.

This means that nowadays there exist many researchers and a lot of research that lie comfortably outside the national reality. A kind of expatriates, who are still living in Portugal.

And it upsets me a lot, because it comes to undermine one of the most fundamental bases of "My Utopia": Research in INESC must continue to strive to be sharply located at the thin boundary between the international scientific relevance and the specific usefulness for formation of the Intellectual Capital, Professors and Professionals—in Portugal and for the sake of Portugal.

As the saying goes, rather than choose between the Fundamental Research and the Applied Research, one must always do the Founded Research!

And it is by founding our Research Activity that such a plan of Values equates, being now applied to the University. Let us have the comfort of not wanting to think like "sons of our society", because otherwise we will always lag behind the programs and funding that appear... The others will not liberate us from responsibilities! And the silence and "let go" have been associated with greater abuses and genocide in far more "civilized" societies...

We live in Country, with our People, in our Epoch. All we are responsible not only for implementing programs and projects, but also by their creation and design.

And we have to be interrogated by the reality of our epoch. Does the way we use our personal skills and accessible resources suit the best for the challenges of the present time?

Conceiving relevant Innovation, Research, Development and Entrepreneurship

Thus the third component of the "My Utopia" is associated with the proactive role of INESC in formulating nationwide problems and challenges—naturally, within the limits of the strategic and global context in which we operate—and providing inputs where the University and the R&D sector are called upon for their resolution.

The economic activity of the country has a sectorial structure, which highlights the importance of some sectors. On one hand, there are large areas under state regulation, such as the Telecommunications, Renewable Energy, Environment, Transport and Finances—Banking and Insurance. On the other hand, there exist sectors of industries and traditional services, such as the Textile; Footwear; Furniture; Capital Goods; Pulp Paper, and Cement Production; Building Industry; Tourism; Winery, Forestry, and Agriculture; and Retail Sales. In addition, some new sectors emerge, such as the Automotive Industry, Pharmacy, Biotechnology, as well as the Health, Aerospace, and Defence Industries.

INESC was founded in the 80s, married with the sector of Mail and Telecommunications. In the 90s the institution was aligned with the Programs PEDIP - Programa Específico de Desenvolvimento da Indústria Portuguesa (Specific programme for the development of Portuguese industry) and CIÊNCIA (Science). Notably, with both of them! Economics as well as Science and Technology. Because we set our minds as such. Because we made it happen!

In this twenty-first century dream we must proceed with this linking policy, taking the advantage of all the variety of existing support instruments, while articulating the convergence in the action programs and agreements in which we are involved. All this in favour of the country as a whole, which is more than a simple Sum of the Parts.

And this implies possessing the will, the persistent ability to formulate problems, to define objectives, resources and terms, and to propose to the Country what we, as INESC, believe in.
Because belief is a necessity!
Is it really so hard? Does the sectors, the issues, the problems that exist are so difficult that we do not dare to think of them? Aren't we able? Are our contributions to these objectives so inadequate, irrelevant and mediocre that it is not worth the effort to try to? That only OTHERS are able? Is it only the INTERNATIONAL CONSULTING that can help us to define our problems and formulate achievable solutions?

Everything in my past, and especially in the 30 years with our INESC, indicate the opposite. Yes, we can! Yes, we have approached situations in our sectors of activity, engaged with the partners "on the ground", formulated problems, developed solutions, created companies, thus bringing value and wealth to the Country, created jobs for many professionals, and generated capital gain for many entrepreneurs.

We must continue to invest in this same positioning, pursuing the same type of objectives. And this is happening today, in concrete sectors, and with concrete partners, diving into our reality. And if we have the courage and determination to do this with continuity and persistence, we will find - in Portugal as well as around the world - many opportunities to deepen our skills in R&D, designing and developing its actual offers in our courses, developing curricula and careers of our professors. Following a FOUNDED path will contribute to the development of Engineering in Portugal, led by our own heads, open to the outside inputs but autonomous in its objectives.

And now let us see, with some examples of the Future, quite possible if we want it to come, if it is really so difficult to formulate such type of prospects.


In the Transport Sector, the capabilities of observation, command and control that currently exist in the airspace and, increasingly, in the maritime zone under the national sovereignty, are in fact non-existent in our terrestrial space.

The public transport and freight vehicles circulating in our terrestrial space are formally subject to public inspection, with the necessity of issuing prior authorizations and possession of specific transport guides, issued on paper, verifiable in situ by police and security authorities.

Well, we all know that in the critical situations—accidents, natural disasters, national security— current means and systems are virtually useless. And even in today's "normal" life very grave situations occur on our roads, which have to be monitored and controlled in real time, in the interest of us all. Example: the "environmental treatment" given to certain toxic liquids via the pragmatic and criminal technique of "ping-ping" on our motorways. Brilliant!

A NATIONAL STRATEGIC INITIATIVE in transport involves the design, development and operation of an integrated Track and Trace system for all public transport passenger and freight vehicles, for their cargoes, routes and timetables, in a manner completely identical to the air navigation systems, and in liaison with the civil protection forces, police and national security.

A pipe dream??? Not at all, it is just an update of strategic concepts of the MONICAP system, originally proposed by our late Luís Vidigal, which also gave rise to a system of commercial fleet management, XTran! Combined with the concepts of Ticketing and Monitoring of Urban Transport, advanced and developed by Alves Marques and Alberto Cunha in the 1990s, and now deployed in the domestic and international markets.

This is the way how the Future is constructed—from our imagination! And then, brought to reality.

I do hope no one doubts that the development of something of this kind entails an intense and continuous R&D activity in many areas of science. And presents a great potential for the national export capacity.


In the Environmental Sector, it is a matter of time until we are faced with biological terrorist attacks in cities. The morbid ability of a few drops of a certain product, introduced into the system of urban water supply is absolutely tremendous!

What I mean by that is that it is imperative to conceive, develop and install the real-time monitoring and control systems for water supply, able to determine the presence of biological agents in water in minute amounts, to stop immediately its flow and isolate these agents in the infected duct sections thus preventing their global spread.

Therefore, it is also a NATIONAL STRATEGIC INITIATIVE. This is a challenge that the entire INESC should take. Because, among other things, we have important expertise in Microelectronics and Nanotechnologies, because we are familiar with the optical-fiber systems and corresponding embedded sensors, because we operate in collaboration with experts in biotechnology—in the biosensor production.

A pipe dream??? Not at all, it is simply an enhancement of our present know-how, of what we are currently investigating in INESC MN and INESC PORTO articulating the capabilities, identifying the gaps, aligning the will to solve this tremendous civilization-scale challenge. And what recently gave birth to one more INESC company, the Fibersensig Devices, led by Pedro Guedes de Oliveira.

This is one more illustrative example of how the Future can be imagined, planned and constructed.

Again, giving rise to multi-disciplinary R&D activities whose results can be exported worldwide.


Contemporary society is facing major challenges of integrating some social groups, which, for different reasons, are de facto excluded from the social mainstream.

One of the most affected, fast-growing groups are people of the 3rd age. In truth, for health reasons—associated with the specific realities in the family context, or its absence—there are thousands of people, many of them with relative affluence, which are effectively isolated from society. And it is not just the cases like an elderly couple lost somewhere among the hills of the distant Region of Alentejo. It is rather thousands of elderly people living in the city buildings' floors, walking with difficulty, with no lift, with no one by side, almost without minimum domestic support.

In addition to the personal and individual burden, the social and economic costs of this situation are also high. The physical and mental health of these people deteriorates, aggravating the situation that lasts for years.

Do we, with our fantastic technologies, have nothing to input on this subject? Do we, using the modern means of communication, multimedia and sensors, have the ability to specify a system that not only realizes the interaction capabilities and monitoring of these people, but simultaneously open new markets for communications, contents and services in the Country?

Is it so difficult to imagine, specify, design and implement systems of cooperative interaction and support between the elderly, between grandparents and grandchildren as well as systems of the institutional support by the local authorities, charity organizations, parishes, and health care institutions—for people in permanent need?

A pipe dream??? Not at all, it is simply the adapting, to the 3rd age context, the strategic concepts of the Support for Formation of Large Masses of Youth that I developed with Dr. Raul Junqueiro in the 1980s, which later gave rise to programs like Inforjovem and the bases of the Ciência Viva.

Again, this is the way how the Future is imagined, constructed, and then brought to reality.

INESC as a tool for strategic sectors

The fourth component of "My Utopia" is associated with the role of INESC as a tool for R&D in the national strategic sectors.

INESC is an institution that belongs! Belongs to the public university sector—this component has been extensively covered before. And also belongs to companies, in this case of the sector of Mail and Telecommunications.

I look favourably upon INESC constituting itself as an instrument for cooperative business, R&D, and the relationship and interaction with the academic system, covering all major national strategic sectors, which should accept active participation in their capital: Telecommunications, Energy, Environment, Transport and Finances—Banking and Insurance. All of them should take this instrument and, using it, "make the game" for Portugal, focusing on production of the human capital, giving objectives and priorities to R&D, stimulating technological entrepreneurship and acting, through INESC, at the seed-capital stage, like Business Angels.

I believe that the coming years will be the years of hope! Especially because the ability to make omelettes without eggs is almost exhausted and the Brussels funds are running out ..

And with progressively smaller role in the economy, all the players on the national scene will have a different and more rational attitude to searching for synergies, dialogues and co-responsibility.

I dream of INESC that includes, among its Business Associates, such strategic companies as EDP, REN, GALP ENERGIA, AdP, Brisa, Carris, Refer, CP, Metropolitanos, ANA, CGD, Millennium BCP, BES, BPI, Santander...

I dream of INESC in which our Associates always want things from us! In which they talk among themselves, with our Universities and with us, conceiving better Portugal.

After all, it is we, the Portuguese, who will finally have to confront face to face with our Future.

And, especially, with the future of our grandchildren.

José Tribolet
President of INESC