Interview: AI - Use of the key technology in Germany, the USA & China

from | 3 July 2019 | [at] News

Artificial intelligence is considered one of the key technologies and drivers of digitalisation and the emergence of new, disruptive business models. In many countries around the world, its use is already a reality or even an everyday occurrence - but there are still differences in the degree of use and the possibilities for use in the various countries around the world. In this article, we approach the question of how artificial intelligence is used worldwide through interviews with experts. We start with Germany, followed by the USA and China.


Artificial Intelligence in China: An Interview with Kristin Shi-Kupfer

Kristin Shi-Kupfer

Kristin Shi-Kupfer heads the research area Politics, Society and Media. She is an expert on China's digital policy, ideology and media policy, civil society and human rights. Previously, she was a research assistant at the Institute of Sinology at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg. Shi-Kupfer did her doctorate at the Ruhr University Bochum on the topic of "Emergence and Development of Spiritual-Religious Groups in China after 1978″. From 2007 to 2011, she reported from Beijing for ZEIT Online, taz, epd, Südwest Presse and Profil, among others. In May 2017, Shi-Kupfer was appointed to the expert group of the German-Chinese Innovation Platform of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Since May 2018, she has been writing as a regular commentator for the online edition of "Manager Magazin".

Alexander Thamm: In what context did you deal with AI use in China?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: For our study published this March. "China's digital rise. Challenges for Europe" we have been working very intensively in a team of four on China's new technologies. AI as the automation of intelligent behaviour and machine learning plays a key overarching role in many areas.

Alexander Thamm: How would you assess the current state of development/maturity of artificial intelligence in China?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: Huge ambitions, rapid progress, fundamental weaknesses - put simply. Like no other country, the Chinese government is driving the development of AI through huge investments, pilot projects and the targeted involvement of the private sector. Beijing aims to be a global leader in this field by 2030. In almost all quantitative rankings, e.g. number of patents or AI companies, China is already ahead. However, in the area of chips or basic research for data processing and machine learning, the People's Republic lags behind with its own solutions and innovations.

Alexander Thamm: In which application areas is AI being used most intensively there?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: A large part of China's success is indeed based on the fact that AI - also due to the enormous amounts of data and the large market - is used directly in many application areas, tested live and thus further developed. The most prominent example is facial recognition, which is used, for example, in mobile payment, hotel check-in, but also in public surveillance.

Alexander Thamm: What data is mainly used?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: Mobility and financial data play an important role, biometric data, but generally also texts, images, videos, information that people generate through their behaviour. All this information is of course linked to personal data. 

Alexander Thamm: And what about data protection?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: A growing number of Chinese are concerned about data protection. In a survey conducted by the Chinese Consumer Association last year, 85 per cent of respondents said they had been affected by data misuse. The Chinese government has also strengthened data protection in recent years through national standards and sector-specific regulations. However, all these regulations only target companies, not party-state institutions. There is no independent data protection authority in China and so far no national, comprehensive law on the protection of private data - this has now been announced. In the latest regulations, it can be seen that Beijing has adopted some parts of the European Basic Data Protection Regulation. However, China deviates from it at crucial points, for example, the requirement to obtain consent from individuals is not formulated so explicitly. The basic problem is ultimately the political context: China is not a constitutional state. Chinese users cannot file a constitutional complaint against a political institution for misuse of data - and even if this were to become formally possible, they would lose it.   

Alexander Thamm: What is the interest/goal behind the use of artificial intelligence in China?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: On the one hand, the Chinese government wants to use AI to boost the economy, to create a new growth engine, so to speak. On the other hand, the Communist Party wants to use AI to enforce its comprehensive claim to power, i.e. to monitor and control all other actors - be it its own cadres, domestic and foreign companies, its own citizens and also foreign leaders. Sustained, sustained growth and more efficient control should then equip China for geostrategic competition - especially with the USA.

Alexander Thamm: Where do you see the greatest opportunities (and dangers) of AI?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: We see right now in the northwestern region of China, in Xinjiang, what can be one of the greatest, if not the greatest danger - apart from warlike conflicts -: the creation of a totalitarian surveillance state based on AI. In my view, the greatest opportunity of AI is basically always when it is used prudently for the benefit of people, for example for disaster early warning systems, also in health care.

Alexander Thamm: What progress/competitive advantages could China realise through the use of AI?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: The size of the market and the enormous amounts of data are two major competitive advantages. In addition, the Chinese government is experimenting with combining a centrally controlled technology policy including local pilot projects with the often almost "Wild West" dynamics of the market or the private sector. This is proving difficult. Often, the rule is first let it run, then regulate. The enormous progress in further development naturally also has consequences for China's military capacities, an area that should not be forgotten, especially in a non-democratic system like the People's Republic.

Alexander Thamm: How do you see the further development of AI use in China and where does Germany stand in comparison?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: China will certainly continue to make rapid progress in AI application and development. Whether or when China will succeed in achieving breakthrough innovations in the field is impossible to predict. The equally massive efforts to promote and retain talent are an important factor that is closely linked to China's overall economic, political and social development. That this will not always be linear and upward is already becoming apparent.

Germany is definitely at the forefront of AI in individual sub-areas, for example speech recognition, and is also strong in industrial applications, the whole area of Industry 4.0, Internet of Things. The People's Republic is also increasingly seeking cooperation in this area.

Germany must think very carefully - in the European context - about how it wants to - and can - shape cooperation with China in the field of AI. Companies and universities will and should - also with state support - benefit from China's enormous data and progress. But in order to avoid, or at least minimise the risk of German or European actors providing technologies that are used in Xinjiang, for example, there is a need for clear principles and stronger guidelines in the area of application and data processing.  

Alexander Thamm: What do you recommend for dealing with AI (e.g. companies, politics, society, etc.) and what is your forecast for the future?

Kristin Shi-Kupfer: Prudence, with a view not only to the overall well-being of humanity, but also to the dignity of each individual. In my view, the use and further development of AI must go hand in hand with ethical principles, which certainly need to be renegotiated from time to time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said something very important, also for this context: "The last responsible question is not how [we heroically get out of the affair; originally "I myself"], but how a coming generation should live on. Only from this historical responsible question can fruitful - if temporarily very humble - solutions emerge." Here, Europe can and should take on an even stronger global pioneering role.

Artificial Intelligence in the USA: An Interview with Olav Laudy

Olav Laudy

Dr Olav Laudy is passionate about analytics-based data monetisation and the ethical use of data science results. We know of no more competent thought leader than Olav, who can present complex data science concepts in an easily understandable way and relate them to business implications. After a distinguished career at SPSS, Olav was Chief Data Scientist for IBM Analytics for Asia Pacific and recently became Chief Data Scientist at Causality Link, a fast-growing start-up that combines the expert knowledge of its clients with the automatic reading of publications as well as the extraction of supplementary information from quantitative models.

Alexander Thamm: In what context did you look at AI use in the US?

Olav Laudy: I am Chief Data Scientist of a startup, Causality Link - where we are developing a solution to collect and analyse millions of financial documents, extract long-lived knowledge and drivers from these documents, aggregate and use the knowledge gained to provide easily accessible explanations covering every industry, every public company and the overarching macroeconomic issues that affect the market. Our platform uses natural language processing, Machine Learning and Predictive analytics.

Alexander Thamm: How would you assess the current state of development/maturity of artificial intelligence in the US?

Olav Laudy: Buzzling! While there are even companies whose business and value are derived almost exclusively from the use of AI and machine learning (such as Uber and Airbnb), many companies have developed analytical solutions over the last decade that help them make smarter decisions across the board.

Alexander Thamm: In which application areas is AI being used most intensively there?

Olav Laudy: You could almost say where is it not used! Every B2C company has analytical marketing solutions. The development of Deep Learning has taken business by storm and companies are now experimenting with applying Deep Learning to many customer touchpoints. Think for example of Chatbots, speech recognition and Image recognition/visual recognition.

Alexander Thamm: What data is mainly used?

Olav Laudy: A model is not magic: rather, it is all about data. While companies have traditionally mainly used structured data collected as part of their business processes, I believe that companies that want to gain a competitive advantage must continue to develop alternative sources of data. This can range from using signals in the customer's voice, to recognising emotions, to mobile apps that automatically collect data on customer behaviour to draw conclusions.

Alexander Thamm: And what about data protection?

Olav Laudy: There are laws on consumer protection, but this aspect receives relatively little attention. The excitement is more about what can be achieved with analytics, less about how to rein in technology. Behind the scenes, there is a massive trade in consumer data, with all the small businesses selling data collected from mobile platforms. I'm the consulting CIO of a startup, DataSaas, which is the Blockchain-technology to ensure data privacy and allow consumers to monetise their data by granting limited access to companies willing to buy that data.

Alexander Thamm: What is the interest/goal behind the use of artificial intelligence in the US?

Olav Laudy: The goal is to create a competitive advantage.

Alexander Thamm: Where do you see the greatest opportunities (and dangers) of AI?

Olav Laudy: In the coming years, you will see a radical change in the way business is done. Compare navigating with paper maps to navigating with Google Maps: you can hardly imagine how your parents managed to find a cross-country holiday destination without a magical voice in your car saying: "After 300 metres, turn left at McDonalds" (yes, Google Maps understands landmarks). This AI-fication will happen in every aspect of a business, from finance (we're working on that at Causality Link) to customer engagement.

The new development will have a major impact on jobs. Jobs will disappear, change and many will be created. It is crucial that companies think this through as early as possible and take action to adapt current employees to the new situation. I see acting too late in this area as the biggest threat.

Alexander Thamm: What progress/competitive advantages could the US realise through the use of AI?

Olav Laudy: Silicon Valley is where most of the commercial AI developments have taken place in the last decades, with the very visible result that a large group of companies like Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Twitter are now present worldwide and it is hard to imagine a world without them.

Alexander Thamm: How do you see the further development of AI use in the US and where does the United States of America stand in comparison to other countries?

Olav Laudy: AI will increasingly permeate our world (think, for example, of the autonomous driving car), but reality will also rely heavily on AI. These developments are about to be developed in Silicon Valley, where the world's smartest thinkers and developers are drawn. Once AI begins to support the design and development of itself, there is only one possibility: world domination for the US. China is developing fast because they see it coming - although it is questionable whether they have what it takes to become the world leader in AI - I think Europe is asleep and relying on technology from the US. This is not to say that there are no developments in Europe, but from my point of view they seem fragmented and local. As justification for such a harsh statement, I ask you; name one European company that has achieved a global presence by using AI!

Alexander Thamm: What do you recommend for dealing with AI (e.g. companies, politics, society, etc.) and what is your forecast for the future?

Olav Laudy: Get ready for the AI summer! The 90s were called AI winter because after a series of disappointing developments, progress in AI got stuck, hampered by computing capacity. Now we are in AI spring: new AI applications are emerging all around us. Soon this development will come to its full flowering and we will find ourselves in a world beyond our imagination. If you think I am exaggerating, just research the social tracking system of Chinese citizens, for example. With the help of (camera) surveillance and AI, undesirable behaviour of people is reflected in their social value, which affects their freedom (e.g. travelling). Augmented reality will affect every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate - at a distance - to how we spend our money and what our city centres will look like.

I don't think there is a good way to prepare for this, apart from following developments, keeping a close eye on new directions and evolving and adapting as quickly as possible. It is the advantage of early adopters that determines your success.

Artificial Intelligence in Germany: An Interview with Jörg Bienert

Jörg Bienert

Jörg Bienert is co-founder and chairman of the German Association for Artificial Intelligence and participates intensively in the social discussion on the use of AI in Germany. At the same time, he is an entrepreneur and founder of aiso-lab, a Cologne-based company focused on strategic AI consulting. After studying technical computer science and holding several positions in the IT industry, he founded ParStream, a Big Data startup based in Silicon Valley that was acquired by Cisco in 2015.

Alexander Thamm: In what context did you look at AI use in Germany?

Jörg Bienert: With the aiso-lab GmbH I realised a start-up with a focus on AI consulting and the implementation of customised projects. At the same time, I am co-founder and chairman of the KI-Bundesverband association of more than 180 companies from the AI sector. In this context, I am intensively involved in the political and social discussions surrounding the use of AI in Germany as a business location.

Alexander Thamm: How would you assess the current state of development/maturity of artificial intelligence in Germany?

Jörg Bienert: Germany has a long and successful history in the field of AI research, especially in the field of symbolic AI. Unfortunately, in recent years we have been overtaken at great speed by China and the USA in the field of neural AI. Therefore, the challenge is to ensure that Germany does not lose out through a Germany-wide AI strategy with a clear focus and stringent implementation planning.

Alexander Thamm: In which application areas is AI being used most intensively there?

Jörg Bienert: While Americans and Chinese are in the field of general Data and their use in AI, we in Germany have a head start in the storage and use of industrial and machine data. We have to make use of this lead. This is an opportunity and a risk at the same time, because if we lose touch here, too, we will have major problems in the overall economic development.

Alexander Thamm: What data is mainly used?

Jörg Bienert: The availability of sufficient data in terms of quantity and quality is one of the essential prerequisites for successful AI development. In the area of industrial data, it is therefore necessary to give companies the opportunity to share data with each other and with AI service providers via data pools and open data initiatives.

Alexander Thamm: And what about data protection?

Jörg Bienert: The protection of personal data is also important when creating AI applications. Here, however, we have to differentiate between data that actually contains personal characteristics and data that was only generated by machines, for example. When processing personal data, it should be analysed exactly to what extent it is necessary for the training of neural networks personal rights are actually restricted. The GDPR overshoots the mark here in some places and thus gives other countries a competitive advantage.

Alexander Thamm: What is the interest/goal behind the use of artificial intelligence in Germany?

Jörg Bienert: Based on AI technologies, completely new applications, new products and business models can be developed, in all industries and across the entire value chain. That's why AI tends to be one of the key drivers for future economic growth. In Germany, we are dependent on constant innovation to maintain our prosperity. Therefore, the use and promotion of AI should be a long-term strategic goal of politics and companies.

Alexander Thamm: Where do you see the greatest opportunities (and dangers) of AI?

Jörg Bienert: KI can improve people's lives in many areas and possibly even save lives; just think, for example, of the improved diagnostic possibilities in healthcare when analysing X-rays or microscopic sections to detect cancer. AI will improve processes and change working life in many areas. These changes must be planned for the long term and prepared for, for example, by adapting training at school and in the workplace. At the same time, ethical discussions on the use of AI should be ongoing, for example to avoid developments such as the total surveillance of citizens in China.

Alexander Thamm: What progress/competitive advantages could Germany realise through the use of AI?

Jörg Bienert: Germany has already made groundbreaking inventions in the area of research, such as the LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) developed by Professor Schmidhuber at the TU Munich, which is used in all speech recognition systems, among other things. We have to get better at transferring research results to the economy and at designing scalable business models and growing companies. Then we will be able to achieve a growing competitive advantage, especially in the area of Industry 4.0.

Alexander Thamm: How do you see the further development of AI use in Germany and where does Germany stand compared to other countries?

Jörg Bienert: Germany has fallen behind the USA and China in terms of research results and economic penetration in the field of AI. AI has not yet really arrived in the SME sector in particular - only a quarter of SMEs are already using AI. As part of the overall strategy, we need to raise awareness, strengthen training and research and, above all, improve the start-up eco-system so that high-performance AI companies can emerge.

Alexander Thamm: What do you recommend for dealing with AI (e.g. companies, politics, society, etc.) and what is your forecast for the future?

Jörg Bienert: The current public discussion about AI seems to focus more on the topics of risk minimisation, ethical issues and effects on work. But above all, we need to put the opportunities of AI in the foreground, become more innovative and more willing to take risks when it comes to promoting AI projects and start-ups, so that we are not left behind in many areas by the winners of the platform economies from the USA and China.



Alexander Thamm is Founder, CEO and pioneer in the field of data & AI. His mission is to generate real added value from data and restore Germany's and Europe's international competitiveness. He is a founding member and regional manager of the KI-Bundesverband e.V., a sought-after speaker, author of numerous publications and co-founder of the DATA Festival, where AI experts and visionaries shape the data-driven world of tomorrow. In 2012, he founded Alexander Thamm GmbH [at], which is one of the leading providers of data science & artificial intelligence in the German-speaking world.

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