Robot hand, symbolising artificial intelligence

© iStock.com/JONGHO SHIN

The development and mastery of applications using artificial intelligence (AI) is a key issue for Germany. There is a broad debate about ways to use AI and the opportunities and risks posed by such uses. Language assistance systems and chatbots are already part of many people’s day-to-day lives. AI systems help doctors to diagnose cancer, and self-learning software supports companies in their purchasing, sales, planning and auditing in the context of Industrie 4.0. But the overall development is only just getting underway.

The Federal Government’s AI strategy

The Federal Government adopted its Artificial Intelligence Strategy on 15 November 2018. The Strategy (in German) was drawn up jointly by the Economic Affairs Ministry, the Research Ministry and the Labour Ministry. The Federal Government’s aim is to safeguard Germany’s outstanding position as a research centre, to build up the competitiveness of German industry, and to promote the many ways to use AI in all parts of society. The focus is to be placed on the benefits for people and the environment, and the intensive dialogue with all sections of society about AI is to be strengthened. You can learn more at www.ki-strategie-deutschland.de (in German).

Potential of AI for the German economy

A study produced on behalf of the Economic Affairs Ministry indicates a boost to gross value added of more than €32 billion in the goods-producing sector alone in the next five years; that equates to a third of the total growth predicted for this sector. Many other studies suggest a similar potential in many sectors.

Germany is a world leader in the field of artificial intelligence, particularly with regard to self-learning systems and machine learning. It needs to do more work on technology transfer, the legal framework, and digital infrastructure. With regard to modern methods of AI and self-learning systems, the availability and quality of data are central preconditions and determining factors for the quality of outcomes. However, access to data is restricted in many cases. For this reason, the quantity of useful, high-quality data must be significantly increased without violating personal rights, the right to control one’s own data or other basic rights.

In order to make the best possible use of the potential of artificial intelligence, it is crucial to roll out a more innovation-friendly policy environment in order to shape the digital transformation and to strengthen Germany as a centre for technological innovation via an increased transfer of expertise and targeted funding. The Economic Affairs Ministry is already providing a total of €140 million to fund a number of programmes to make systems smarter, such as Smart Data, AUTONOMIK and “PAiCE – Digital Technologies for Business. Minister Peter Altmaier is working towards European cooperation on AI, for example with France.

Smart networks: networking the virtual and physical world

With the ongoing merging of the virtual and physical world, both at home and at work, communication networks are becoming more and more important, particularly in the sectors of education, energy, healthcare, transport and administration. Telecommunications and information technology are therefore regarded as part of the “critical infrastructure” which safeguards Germany’s public security and social continuity. The smart networking and control of basic social infrastructure could realise overall economic potential of more than €55 billion per year – that is around two percent of Germany’s gross domestic product.

There is also a need for highly sophisticated communication solutions in industry, for example: modern communication networks need to have smart functionalities and adequate interfaces to production-related systems in order to ensure that individual pieces of equipment and components can be autonomously, securely and reliably networked. In order to make the best possible use of the potential and opportunities of smart grids, it is therefore vital to foster smart networking between the different sectors.

Smart Networks Initiative: measures and goals

The Smart Networks Initiative promotes systematic networking between the various players. The Economic Affairs Ministry’s Open Innovation Platform is a contact point for experts, professional users and end-users, enabling them to discuss ideas and projects. The Open Innovation Platform organises activities to promote a better understanding of smart networking, and thus fosters progress in this area.

Since May 2017, the Open Innovation Platform has focused on artificial intelligence and smart networks. It aims to work together with the community to study the opportunities, potential and challenges of artificial intelligence as part of Germany’s smart networks. In order to actively shape the development and application of artificial intelligence in Germany, it is vital to have an overview of what specific role artificial intelligence is already playing in the five sectors of education, energy, healthcare, transport and administration. For this reason, the Economic Affairs Ministry is planning to undertake a study into the potential of artificial intelligence in the light of the new technical possibilities so that it can give better consideration to artificial intelligence in its R&D programmes and its innovation funding.