Artificial intelligence and its benefits for society – that was the central theme of this year’s DIGICON in Munich. About 350 participants and 40 experts on politics, business and science met in the Palais Lenbach, where – in diverse panels and lectures – they discussed the new worlds that AI can open up.

Artificial intelligence as a catalyst

As the French writer André Malraux said so beautifully, “If you want to read the future, you have to leaf through the past.” That’s what you spontaneously think when you enter the Palais Lenbach, which is listed as a historic monument. Especially this year, on 20 and 21 November: on these two days, Munich’s most famous Neo-Baroque building was all about the digital future. Prof. Dr. Claudia Linnhoff-Popien, in her function as editor of the renowned trade magazine Digitale Welt, invited us to the event. Every year our advisory board member organizes the DIGICON (Digitale Welt Convention), where about 40 experts from business, science and politics analyze the AI-based digital world in panels and lectures, with an audience of 350 renowned guests.

The first panel on the topic “Welcome to the age of AI” was held this year by our Managing Partner and Co-Founder Robert Jacobi, with his discussants Volker Wetekam (corporate strategy officer and executive vice president at Bosch), Dr. Christoph Zindel (member of the managing board at Siemens Healthineers) and Dr. Dieter Nirschl (managing director at ADAC). The first conclusion of the 100-minute panel: despite the complexity of the topic and the fact that the participants come from different industries, there were astonishing parallels in thinking and approach, and a broad consensus regarding the societal challenges related to artificial intelligence – especially on the following points:

  • Similar to the automotive industry, medical technology also relies on a multi-stage process in the application of AI: in the first step, both sectors are concerned with data collection, in the second with data interpretation, in the third with user-centered evaluation, and in the fourth and final step with the fundamental consequences for society. Cognitive algorithms, for example, make it possible for AI to predict and detect pneumonia much more precisely than any radiologist could.
  • Who owns the driver or patient data? This is one of the hottest topics in the debate. Developers and providers depend on the use of (anonymized) data to refinance investment costs. But does the data belong to the data producer? Everyone lays claim to the data: manufacturers, insurers, health insurance companies, doctors, etc. But who can access what, and when, is still completely unclear. One possible approach is to outsource data sovereignty to independent trustees. This is because companies must treat data and technology in a confidential manner, so that the future of our everyday lives can be placed in their hands. Cybersecurity is also becoming increasingly important in this context.
  • Legislation has a major influence on the breakthrough of artificial intelligence: China and the USA are at the forefront of development, and Germany is in danger of falling behind. One reason: even in the first phase, political regulations in Germany are hampering further development. As a result, we in Germany are losing momentum. A policy with a sense of proportion that takes into account industry-specific requirements would be desirable. Because the use of AI in medicine is a much more volatile topic than is the use of AI in trade and commerce.
  • AI (still) divides society: the digital elite sees the new technology as an essential contribution to the ecological and social common good – and also as a job creator. But the digital euphoria has not yet reached the general public. Skepticism and fear of data-protection aspects prevail.
  • Germany is on the right track, but can and must increase its speed and willingness to take risks. Trust in artificial intelligence currently remains a typically German fear-based discussion.

So, total harmony among the panel participants?

Not quite. At least in the current individual handling of AI there are still some serious differences. Among the participants’ future favorite applications are image and pattern recognition (Volker Wetekam), the use of Google Maps (Dieter Nirschl) and the “AI-Rad Companion” for computer tomography (Christoph Zindel). And our Managing Partner Robert Jacobi? He favors the prediction and recognition of the espresso machine’s habits.


Picture: Lennart Preiss / Getty Images

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