The digital transformation is causing some of the most profound societal challenges of the 21st century. By 2020, there will be almost 25 billion networked devices, approximately 3.5 for every person on the planet. Cloud computing, cross-border supply chains, the Internet of Things (IOT), e-commerce and the sharing economy are giving rise to a new class of Mittelstand, the „Micro-Multinational. “Across the OECD, digitally-dependent jobs make up 22 percent of all new jobs created. Many of these jobs will be powered by start-ups.
But digitalization is not happening in a vacuum. It comes against the backdrop of a rising tide of populism and resentment toward institutions and elites that have not delivered on inclusive growth, security and social cohesion. Productivity gains of the past two decades – benefiting from the rise of the Internet – have accumulated disproportionately at one end of the wealth spectrum as income inequality grows and social mobility becomes more difficult. Many citizens from Dresden to Detroit feel alienated from an ever-accelerating process of digitization that some feel is ignoring privacy protections; excluding citizens from dignified work; treating safety and cybersecurity as an afterthought; and unmooring their sense of moral grounding. Against this backdrop of opportunities and challenges, the Aspen Institute Germany established its digital program in 2017. This program consists of three pillars:
First – the Aspen Institute Germany launched its annual Aspen Berlin Artificial Intelligence Conference in 2018 that brings citizens, policy-makers, business leaders, innovators, economists, philosophers, religious leaders, union organizers, civil society and security experts together to discuss AI’s possibilities and pitfalls. This conference series addresses four separate but interrelated dimensions of AI: economic impact, ethics and democracy, safety and security, and over-the-horizon challenges of artificial general intelligence. At its core, the Aspen AI Conference confronts the question: How can AI designers, operators and policy-makers guarantee that AI improves lives, ensures dignity, preserves security and safeguards democracy for users and citizens?
The first two conferences, “Humanity Disrupted: Artificial Intelligence and Changing Societies” and “Humanity Defined: Politics and Ethics in the AI Age” told the beginning of a story of how European, American, and East Asian societies are grappling with the impacts of AI. The first conference addressed areas that are a source of both risk and opportunity – . these include the future of work, the defense sector, healthcare, finance, automated decisions via algorithms and autonomous driving. The second conference took a deeper dive into the ethical questions of AI, focusing particularly on the centrality of human dignity. Planning for the third conference in this cycle is underway for 2020. It will examine the economic dimensions of AI and its impact on labor, productivity, global competition, education, and social benefits.
The Aspen Institute Germany also organizes regular workshops on Artificial Intelligence that touch on aspects that are a source of friction, anxiety, and concern within society. On this theme, the digital program has hosted three workshops that focused on national security, the future of work, and bias in algorithms. These workshops brought together practitioners, academics and politicians from Germany and the US to think about AI-related challenges from a transatlantic and cross-sectorial perspective.
Finally, Aspen Germany hosts workshops as part of its “Aspen NextGen Network.” These bring together Germany’s future leaders and examine the opportunities provided by AI, as well as the ethical challenges digital technologies pose in light of a dignity-based social contract. The goal of this exercise is to break down barriers between siloed communities and explore scenarios that will provide a better sense of the ethics of AI in Germany and Europe.
Second – the Aspen Institute Germany and the Ministry of the Interior, Digitisation and Migration of Baden-Württemberg hosted their high-level conference “Berlin CyberSecurityForum 2019.” It brought together more than 250 European, American and international top policy makers, legislators, engineers, hackers, civil society, academics and representatives of the business, privacy and security communities as well as media.
Speakers and participants explored the challenges of today and tomorrow in keeping our digital space secure across keynotes, panel discussions, and seven seminar-style breakout sessions.
Third – the Aspen Institute Germany organizes a regular Digital Dish that features a provocative thinker for an intimate, off-the-record lunch in Berlin to discuss an issue related to the most pressing tech policy debates. The Dish brings together a mix of frontier thinkers on tech policy and specialists focusing on the U.S.-European relationship. By bringing together both communities, the Digital Dish Luncheon Series addresses trends, frictions and successes in the transatlantic tech policy space and contextualize issues in the broader U.S.-European relationship.
Previous guests include Lars-Hendrik Röller, Chancellor Merkel’s top economic advisor G7/G20 Sherpa, Dieter Janecek (Alliance 90/The GREENS) and Thomas Jarzombek (CDU), and Howard Dean, fmr. Governor of Vermont.
The Digital Program would like to thank its partners, the State Representation of Baden-Württemberg, the Heinz und Heide Dürr Stiftung, Microsoft, Pfizer, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, Brunswick, the Internet Economy Foundation, Atlantic Council, Deutsche Telekom, DXC Technology, the German AI Association, and the Cyber Security Council for their generous support of these initiatives.
We would also like to thank our media partners Der Tagesspiegel, Sicherheitshalber, Berlin Policy Journal, Internationale Politik, KCRW Berlin, and Deutschlandfunk Nova.