Opinions on artificial intelligence have long come from both ends of the spectrum, with some envisioning science-fiction inspired horror scenarios on one hand and others dreaming of a saviour for all of the world’s ills. There can be no doubt that AI is divisive, but while people debate, this technology of the future is making ever greater inroads into our every day and working lives. For two years, a 38-strong team of experts commissioned by the federal government have been advising on the opportunities and threats presented by AI. The result? The technology offers more positives than negatives. Scepticism towards AI is slowly evaporating amongst the general population.
AI is already here, in all kinds of everyday applications—self-parking cars, facial recognition in digital photos and for unlocking smartphones, voice assistants, route recommendations, personalised advertising, product suggestions in online shops and streaming services, translation services, auto-correct in chat messages and in robot vacuum cleaners. In industrial production and agriculture, AI improves processes while in the healthcare industry it’s used to analyse symptoms. And that’s just the beginning. A fact made clear by the long and incomplete list is that there is more than one kind of AI. AI is more a variety of data-driven, self-learning technological applications of different shapes and sizes. AI will neither save nor destroy humanity, but there can be no doubt that it can help companies unlock new business areas, better target customers and optimise processes, which is already quite a lot.
The study commission made up of 19 cross-party members of parliament and 19 external experts, had their first of 25 meetings in September 2018 to look into the opportunities and challenges AI presents for our society, the German economy and the future of work, covering a wealth of technical, legal and ethical questions. Their conclusion was there are many benefits to AI. As a “next step towards digitalisation driven by technological advancements”, AI will change a lot in the economy and society, but these changes can be tailored. Technology will make work less stressful and monotonous, illnesses will be detected and treated more quickly, administration will be more efficient and local, and mobility safer. The aim is to create “human-centric AI” that is focussed on people’s well-being and benefits society. AI systems and their decisions would have to be value-based, transparent and understandable, but responsibility must remain with people, because only then, according to the experts, will people begin to trust the technology and exploit its potential.
According to the Bitkom digital association, acceptance for AI applications is also growing among the general population. In 2017, the population was pretty evenly split in their opinion of AI, but in September 2020, two thirds see the technology as an opportunity, with the other third still convinced that it presents more of a risk.
At the 2020 Potsdam EinheitsEXPO to celebrate German Unity Day, enthusiasm for AI was palpable. Over 30 days, the state of Baden Württemberg presented a live art installation to demonstrate the potential of creative artificial intelligence. Bechtle supported the AI company, Colugo—a member of the Cyber Valley start-up network—to set up the installation. “Visitors weren’t just slightly interested, but in some cases showed real enthusiasm, which completely exceeded our expectations”, says Dr Johannes Stelzer, managing director of Colugo. On the platform kreative-ki.de, Colugo and Bechtle give details on the important social and economic aspects of AI, promote discussions with AI experts and present concrete solutions for businesses including AI strategy consulting and process optimisation.
These solutions are of particular interest for SMEs because the data rooms creative AI needs for learning and testing can be created in a very short time with only a small amount of data. That means that businesses don’t have to invest time and money into building up a database, but can start using AI straight away within a lean project framework. For example, in production or administration, an intelligent system can detect and process data such as addresses and serial numbers much more quickly and reliably than any human. It can also automatically identify anomalies and errors meaning there’s no need for a manual, visual inspection. And last but not least, process chains can be dynamically calculated and optimised according to any parameters so that efficiency can be increased with the same amount of resources.
No matter if in politically-commissioned studies or in conversation with businesses, ethical questions should always be part of the discussion. As AI—as with every technology—has both positive and negative sides, it’s important to consider how it’s used and the consequences of that use. The best way to predict the future, is to help design it, and with this in mind, it’s a clear thumbs up for AI.
My work as a lecturer is changing. Using AI I can get a better idea of what my students already know and where they have issues. This allows me to adjust my pace and repeat difficult topics.
Maria Wirzberger, Assistant Professor of teaching and learning with intelligent systems at the Institute of Educational Science at the University of Stuttgart
AI is not a free spirit with its own mind. It takes on jobs that we give it—both good and bad. We rely on tools such as our cars, smartphones and air conditioning and this leads to dependencies we have to constantly rethink: Which decisions should we leave to machines and which not?
Professor Steffen Staab, head of the analytic computing department at the Institute for Parallel and Distributed Systems and the University of Stuttgart.
Ever got lost because your phone’s GPS said it knew a short cut? There are some situations in which we blindly follow AI and convenience plays a large role in that. We should of course really think about the values and consequences of using AI and how it can be used so that everyone benefits.
Mila Gorecki, masters student in machine learning at the University of Tübingen and winner of the 2020 Women’s STEM Award
AI is in use and constantly being developed at Bechtle as well. A system partly developed in-house analyses the movements of visitors to bechtle.com, determines patterns and uses them to make recommendations to users. The aim is interlink some 50,000 hardware and software products with Bechtle service and solutions as well as use cases and magazine articles so that customers benefit from holistic information and support. They will also receive suggestions for products and solutions based on their previous orders, but it doesn’t end there, with a chat bot and intelligent delivery forecasts also in development.
Bechtle update editorial team
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Published on Feb 16, 2021.