Germany researching for the digital world: the Science Year 2014
Surfing, tweeting, shopping online: digitisation has made our world faster, more virtual and more dangerous. In a series of exhibitions, events and campaigns, BMBF’s Science Year 2014 ‘The Digital Society’ will explain where the journey is taking us – and what role is being played by German research institutions.
Our everyday lives are set to become still more digital. Of that, Wolfgang Wahlster is convinced. The information scientist is director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the largest institution of its kind in the world. As an expert on ‘human-machine interfaces’, Wahlster has shared his ideas about the development of the digital society, both at the opening event for the Science Year 2014, in the middle of February in Berlin, and on the video blog (in German only).
Wahlster believes that, by 2020, ‘all our digitally enhanced everyday objects, from our wristwatches and central heating, to our cars,’ will be networked with each other in the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ – in part, thanks to German research. And in the workplace, ‘smart’ machines will operate as support systems, working according to people’s needs.
What will the factory of the future look like? (in German only)
Is the digital society more ‘liveable’?
Like the majority of German IT experts and engineers, Wahlster also thinks the digital society is necessary to make both our leisure time and our working days ‘more liveable.’ Many Germans hold a different opinion, with 39 per cent of them being worried by the influence of digital technology on their lives. This is revealed in a study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the Science Year 2014. Older people, in particular, remain rather sceptical.
With all the promotion of Germany as a centre of research, the Science Year 2014 is also an awareness raising tool, says Federal Minister for Education and Research Johanna Wanka (CDU): ‘We want people to be able to move safely and with self-determination through the digital world.’ The message is that there’s no stopping the digital society. Research is a key instrument for developing opportunities and ameliorating risks – and, not least, for strengthening Germany as a business location.
BMBF’s spokesperson for the Science Year 2014, Henderika Hillebrand, views it in the same light. ‘Science and research are playing an important part as the drivers and facilitators of the digital transition,’ she says. ‘For this reason, the aim of the Science Year is to encourage citizens to exchange and discuss ideas with researchers.’
Science Year 2014: communicating research interactively
To keep the general public up-to-date about the latest research, the organisers of the Science Year 2014 are, of course, taking full advantage of the benefits of a multimedia website. Besides the Internet, however, they are also using more traditional means of transporting the message. The touring exhibition ‘ScienceStation’ will be making stops in numerous German railway stations, and from May 2014, the ship ‘MS Wissenschaft’, with interactive presentations of a number of research projects on board, will be anchoring in around 40 towns and cities of Germany and Austria.
The efforts to communicate the results of the research will focus primarily on school pupils. In educationally supported events known as ‘SchulKinoWochen’ (school cinema weeks), they can see films about computer hackers, social networks and robot technology deployed for the care of the elderly. Meanwhile, using a ‘research exchange’ it will be possible to invite scientists into the classroom.
Background: the Science Year
The Science Year is a joint initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and the the non-profit organisation Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD, Science in Dialogue), which aims to communicate research to the broader general public. Since 2000, WiD has been examining socially and politically relevant research topics in all sectors, receiving support from many partners in the fields of science, economics and society.
Who are Germany’s ‘digital faces’?
One important initiative for the Science Year 2014 is ‘Deutschlands digitale Köpfe’ (Germany’s digital faces), organised by the German Informatics Society (GI). With the help of a jury of prominent individuals, this aims to identify those people ‘who, through their work and innovations, will leave their stamp on the digital future of our country.’
Researchers are sure to play an important role here – established ‘digital faces’ such as the IT professor, Wolfgang Wahlster, but also younger scientific talents who have grown up with smart phones, tablet PCs and the data cloud.
Digital Society focal topic on the Alumniportal Deutschland
In 2014, Digital Society is also the focal topic of the Alumniportal Deutschland. What does the future of the digital society look like? What role will German research play in this?
Author: Thomas Köster