AI, Big Data, IoT, Robotics: our societies must prepare for the future

Germany / Brussels, 21 November 2017 - “We want to develop computers with eyes, ears and common sense”, said Christoph Lüth of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), when he addressed a delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

“Today, humans tell the systems what to do. In the future, systems will tell humans what to do,” according to Holger Kohl of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology. Cyber-physical systems – often called the Internet of Things – merge the physical and virtual world and will be adaptive, autonomous, mobile and cooperative. Artificial intelligence, big data analytics and robotics play a key part in enabling cyber-physical systems.

Two weeks after Saudi Arabia declared the humanoid robot Sophia a citizen, 13 members of parliament from 8 Allied states and two partner countries (Georgia and Serbia) spent a week in Germany to focus on the civilian and military technologies of the future, along with the opportunities and risks that accompany them. The delegation was led by Jean-Christophe Lagarde (France), Vice-Chair of the Sub-Committee on Technology Trends and Security of the Science and Technology Committee.

“Innovation is not about research alone”, argued Herbert Zeisel of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. To focus its efforts, the German government has therefore launched “light house projects” in nine technology sectors, which bring together all relevant players inside and outside the government. With visits to German research and technology organisations and industry in Berlin, Magdeburg and Bremen, the delegation had the opportunity to learn more about three light house projects in particular: Industrie 4.0 (German’s name for the next industrial revolution), autonomous electric driving and IT security.

To identify capability gaps and emerging technology trends, the German Ministry of Defence works with the Fraunhofer Group for Defence and Security, said Ralf Schnurr of the Federal Ministry of Defence. During the visit, the delegation had the opportunity to examine two trends that the Ministry is particularly concerned with: big data and space infrastructure. 

In Berlin, at the Smart Data Forum and the co-located Innovation Center for Immersive Imaging Technologies, members had the opportunity to see technology demonstrators in areas such as crisis management, energy, health and mobility. Aware of the privacy issues at stake, members engaged in extensive discussions on data security and data sovereignty, i.e. how to ensure that data is secure and how to keep users in control of their data.

In Bremen – the city of space – the companies OHB SE and Airbus briefed members on the most recent advances and the next steps in space technology. “Space is part of our daily infrastructure”, stressed Fritz Merkle, member of the OHB Management Board. Security, economy growth and navigation all depended on space assets. As the space domain becomes increasingly vital for armed forces, “space infrastructure needs to be protected”, added Jörg Plaß of Airbus’ Security & Defence Space Programs Germany. The delegation deepened their discussions during tours of OHB’s and Airbus’ production facilities as well as DFKI in Bremen, which focuses heavily on robotics for exploration of planets and moons in the solar system.

Other topics during the visit included Germany’s evolving cyber defence policies, climate diplomacy, energy transition and the Airbus A400M programme.

An in-depth mission report on this visit will be made available at a later stage.