EMO Hannover 2019, 16 - 21 September

    EMO Hannover 2019, 16 - 21 September
    EMO news

    Artificial intelligence is the next step forward

    At the VDW annual press conference held in mid-February 2019, VDW Chairman Dr. Heinz-Jürgen Prokop spoke about the importance of artificial intelligence for the machine tool industry.

    22 Mar. 2019

    He said: "The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is also opening up new opportunities for production technology. AI has not so far been been used extensively in the machine tool industry. However, the first individual applications are now available. The German Academic Association for Production Technology (WGP), a close partner of the VDW, has announced the launch of a systematic approach for the introduction of AI." VDW Industry Report conducted an interview with Daniela Kluckert, member of the Artificial Intelligence Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag, on the opportunities arising from and obstacles in the way of the introduction of AI.

    Ms Kluckert, there are widely different ideas about AI. Which approach is the AI Enquete Commission taking, and how is it structured?
    First of all, the Enquete Commission covers all the interests represented in the Bundestag. On the one hand there are doubters who want to ensure that development is stopped and that everything remains as it is. On the other hand there are forward-looking members who see AI as a great response to the urgent questions of our time. Our parliamentary group is represented by two members and we've appointed two external experts: Andrea Martin from IBM and Dr. Aljoscha Burchardt from DFKI. We want to position ourselves in the best way for making optimum use of the opportunities offered by AI. For our benefit here in Germany, but also for the purpose of tackling major global issues such as curbing climate change, combating hunger or creating educational opportunities for all.

    How familiar are you with transport and digitalisation?
    My professional background means that I have a pretty good overview. But I also take a personal interest in mobility, future and technology-related aspects. I believe that technology is an integral part of life in Germany. It enables us to do many things and it can help us master the great challenges of our time – some of which I've just mentioned. We will only be able to make Germany businesses fit for the future with a future-oriented mobility policy.

    What expectations are there regarding the Enquete Commission's work?
    The Bundestag is expecting us to make recommendations on how the Bundestag and the Federal Government should handle AI in the future. As a parliamentary group, we would like to see a positive, forward-looking approach that draws public attention to the issue of AI. I see it as part of our work to explain AI and take away the fears: we should be thinking less about malevolent robots that oppress people than about machines that make our work easier and increase our productivity.

    Shouldn't that have happened years ago?
    I don't think it's too late. But we're certainly lagging behind in terms of AI. Our neighbours are already a good deal further down the road. This is another reason why it's high time for a wide-ranging debate.

    The European Union recently convened a group of 52 experts to push ahead with the development of an AI strategy. Why is the debate taking place at two levels?
    We first need to have this debate here in Germany in order to find out what we actually want. Once we've formulated our own ideas, we can take them to Brussels and argue our case there. If we skip this step at the national level, the same will happen as with the General Data Protection Regulation (DGPR): we'll get a regulation which nobody actually understands.

    The Internet and Digital Society Enquete Commission report filled 2,000 pages, but few of its proposals were implemented. What action have you taken to avoid a similar failure?
    I hope that the end result will be good guidance which will eventually become law. But we're all aware of the danger of failure. That's why we've also made very concrete proposals regarding the organisation of the working groups in order to keep them down-to-earth and to prevent them from getting too convoluted. Ethics, for example, should not be discussed abstractly, but always in concrete terms based on the issue at hand - such as ethics and AI in mobility.

    What could the guidance look like?
    Instead of introducing regulations that constrain AI to an extent which more or less prevents companies from making sensible use of it, we believe the focus instead should be on: What opportunities does AI offer employees?

    You have raised the issues of health, ethics, famine and climate change. Most of the appointed experts are mathematicians, computer specialists or scientists. Must companies – not least from the mechanical and plant engineering industry – fear being overlooked by the Enquete Commission?
    As chairperson of the Working Group on Mobility and the Environment, I can assure you that we won't overlook them. We will find ways of incorporating the expertise of German companies.

    In what ways can machine tool manufacturers, for example, contribute their know-how?
    The Enquete Commission includes working groups on aspects such as Mobility and Environment for which we can invite experts to the hearings. Otherwise, of course, they can always approach the Bundestag members directly and talk to them. Above and beyond the appointed experts, there are many other fruitful possibilities.

    How would this work, ideally?
    It makes sense to approach members of the Enquete Commission directly and to consider in advance what outcomes you want and expect. I assume, for example, that your VDW members have very similar interests in terms of AI – your association offers a good platform for bringing many companies together around a table and for setting out common positions in a position paper. In any case, it's always good idea to present a united front to the politicians.

    You mentioned the GDPR, which posed enormous problems for medium-sized companies in 2018. Is such a scenario also a threat to AI which depends on the collection and processing of data for it to function?
    It could be a threat, yes. Which is precisely why it's so important to take bold counter-measures at an early stage. Obviously we won't be trying to undermine European data protection policies, which have been developed over many years. And that's why I think there are two main approaches here: firstly, we need to make necessity a virtue and use data economy as an incentive to develop new procedures that are less data-intensive. That's what I expect from industry. Secondly, we need to engage in a debate about data and create clear demarcations, such as what exactly characterises personalised data and when is it sufficiently abstract to be usable for the community. That's what I expect from the Federal Government and the coalition partners, as far too little has been done in recent years.

    How can we ensure that there will be enough specialists for new AI applications?
    First of all, companies have a duty to train their staff and raise their productivity. That's in the interest of all companies anyway. But there are other tasks that have to be taken care of by the state. We must disabuse young people of the illusion that work in ten years' time will still be exactly the same as they imagine it today. The world of work is constantly changing, which means that further training must become an ongoing process. We must support this change more effectively, by providing grants not just for the initial training, but which are also available to middle-aged students.

    It will be difficult to deploy AI without digitalisation, and Germany has a lot of catching up to do in this area overall. What preparations still need to be made to give AI a fighting chance in Germany?
    Many areas still require attention. Firstly, we need to push ahead with the roll-out of mobile communications and high-speed broadband – and also consider both aspects in combination. Secondly, we need to think about the best way to improve the infrastructure. Companies should be able to expand to keep pace with growth. Thirdly, we need to rethink the entire funding framework and stop turning a blind eye to money being spent for no apparent benefit. We should also take a look at the public procurement directives of the upcoming 5G frequency auctions. There must be room to think outside the box: for example, why don't we hand over the frequencies to the companies free of charge but demand nationwide expansion of the infrastructure in the shortest possible time in return? The operators should use their capital to make sorely needed improvements to the infrastructure, instead of first giving it to the state - this type of right-pocket, left-pocket politics leads nowhere.

    How does this fit in with Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek's statement that 5G technology doesn't need to be "installed in every milk jug"?
    That was way off the mark. Of course we need 5G technology "in every milk jug" if we don't want to give up on rural areas. Our aim as a technological location must be for Germany to be at the forefront of this technology. Not least because an increasing number of areas, from agriculture and autonomous driving through to telemedicine, require digital connectivity.

    VDW contact

    Stefan Schwaneck
    Tel. +49 69 756081-83


    The German Bundestag appointed the Enquete Commission for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in autumn 2018. It consists of members of the different Bundestag parliamentary groups and an equal number of experts appointed by the parliamentary groups. The Commission's purpose is to monitor the influence of AI on society, the German economy and the world of work in the future.
    Daniela Kluckert was Ministerial Secretary at the Saxony State Representation in Berlin until 2017, where she was responsible for transport and the digital agenda. Kluckert was delegated to the AI Enquete Commission as representative of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag. She is also Vice-Chairperson of the Transport Committee and Chairperson of the AI Working Group in Mobility & Environment.