As the birthplace of the car, the airplane, and the iPhone, Americans commonly assume that the most cutting-edge technology is happening here long before it happens elsewhere. While there is much to support that assumption, there are still ways in which Europe has managed to be more advanced than the United States.
While the reasons for these technological lags are undoubtedly complex — everything from concerns about terrorism to handwringing over costs can be blamed — the fact that the U.S. is playing second fiddle cannot be glossed over — nor should it be ignored. From the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, here are five ways in which Europe is outpacing the pack wearing Team USA when it comes to technology.
1. Pin and Chip Technology
If there’s an obvious downside to the boom in technology that has occurred over the past couple of decades, it’s the rise of cybercrime and its cost in terms of money, time, and overall anxiety. From credit cards to classified data, hackers and other criminals have made billions of dollars and wreaked untold havoc all over the globe, but places that are especially dependent on tech — like the U.S. — experience the lion’s share of the trouble.
Europe has done more to tackle these concerns, and it is way out in the lead when it comes to attempts to make credit cards more secure. Using what’s known as “pin and chip” technology, European credit cards are much more difficult to hack than the magnetic strip cards still used — and routinely hacked — in the United States. Why hasn’t the U.S. made the move to the superior and safer technology, especially given the Americans’ love affair with plastic credit? American banks and businesses don’t want to spend the money to convert.
Another way in which Europe’s technological prowess is vastly superior to the United States’ is in the realm of privacy laws related to technology, including what’s known as the “right to be forgotten.” Just this past December, the EU made sweeping changes to its laws in order to allow citizens to have a much greater say in the ways in which their data is collected, stored, and managed by ISPs, social media sites, and the like.
The laws should go into effect as early as 2017 and are a reflection of the reality that the EU sees privacy as being a right that’s on par with freedom of expression. In addition to these newly passed and far-reaching privacy laws, Europe has also implemented laws pertaining to a person’s “right to be forgotten,” which allows citizens to ask companies to remove data that is no longer applicable or is out of date. In the United States, even after Edward Snowden’s revelations, privacy is considerably more beleaguered.
3. Smart Cities
Smart cities — urban areas utilizing tech and connectivity to create a more efficient and sustainable environment — are becoming more and more common across Europe. From Barcelona trashcans that are outfitted with sensors that alert workers when they need to be changed to Copenhagen’s wireless monitoring of citywide water use to identify conservation opportunities, many of Europe’s cities are tackling budget constraints and environmental threats with technology that saves them money and makes their operations more ecologically sound. While some cities in the United States, such as Boston and San Francisco, have begun similar efforts, overall Europe’s cities are a lot “smarter.”
The commercial use of drones is something numerous industries within the United States are lobbying for, but red tape and legislative bureaucracies still have the technology and its practical uses hamstrung. In Europe, however, commercial use has faced fewer hurdles, which is allowing the EU to advance the technology and its use at a pace that is leaving U.S. drone tech in the dust.
5. Renewable Energy Tech
The EU has vastly outperformed the United States when it comes to investing in and developing technology that moves away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. From wind energy to solar power, Europe has spent the last two decades working on solutions that are not only sustainable but also increasingly cost-effective for countries and citizens alike. Much of the United States’ lag in this regard has finally begun to shift thanks to incentives granted under the Obama administration and the slow transformation of public opinion surrounding climate change.
While the United States continues to be a world power regarding technological innovation, improvement could still be made. As this short list shows, the EU is leading the charge in some arenas that are of vital importance, not just to tech but to the planet as a whole.