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Making Germany AI-proof in the years to come

| Saarbrücken | Berlin

AI has gained enormous scientific, economic, and social importance in recent years. At the same time, international competition in science and industry has intensified. Industrialized countries have adapted their public funding programs and further tailored them towards AI research. The change in the international environment and the strong growth of large internet platforms that use AI intensively create new challenges at all levels.

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Article by Prof. Dr. Antonio Krüger for the blog of the SPD Economic Forum.

AI is both a cutting-edge and a cross-sectional technology, with cutting-edge research also enabling cutting-edge progress and innovations that have considerable economic and ecological added value across a wide range of applications. As one of the largest economies in the world, Germany must realize the application opportunities of AI but must not give up its sovereignty in the process. Excellence is the way forward. The good news is that German AI research is receiving outstanding international recognition.

Germany is in an excellent starting position because the six national AI competence centers funded by the federal government cover the entire spectrum of AI. We need "All of AI" because it is not yet clear which AI solutions will be necessary. Germany should make even greater use of this unique selling point in the future to identify research topics with high disruption potential and tackle them in a coordinated manner. Current scientific issues must, therefore, be pursued to make important contributions to economic and social challenges and, at the same time, accelerate the transfer of these results. It is about shaping a future in which AI is used for the benefit of people, and it also means that we must always be aware of the associated ethical responsibility.

Germany is home to excellent research across the entire spectrum of AI. I am convinced that the combination of knowledge-based and data-based AI with other (sub)disciplines, especially robotics, offers great opportunities for Germany and Europe. Such "integrative AI," which interacts intelligently with its environment and especially with humans and proves to be safe and suitable for everyday use in different domains, offers enormous potential for success.

We should keep an eye on the medium and long-term significance of new AI research fields and push forward the key future topics of AI. Particular emphasis should be placed on the reliability and explainability of AI. This field of research, called TrustedAI, aims to ensure that AI systems are reliable, safe, robust, fair, inclusive, and transparent. This includes designing AI systems with intrinsic guarantees, using external tools to analyze AI systems, human understanding of AI systems, and human interaction with AI systems. Among other things, this can be achieved with neuro-explicit AI models that combine traditional symbolic methods with neural models and thus make the results of deep learning systems explainable and comprehensible. Germany has excellent prerequisites in the field of TrustedAI.

AI systems must recognize human intentions and adapt to human requirements. The aim is to create a shared understanding and perception between humans and artificial systems. This shared perception improves the benefits of AI tools and promotes human-robot collaboration, which relieves workers and ensures product quality. However, these collaborative applications are not just limited to industrial production, which is vital for Germany, but are also of outstanding importance for ensuring nationwide healthcare and the quality and affordability of outpatient care.

German AI research also addresses AI-specific methods of software verification, approaches with a higher research component such as quantum computing or neuromorphic computing models, resource-aware new algorithms, software architectures and data structures, and is committed to sustainable AI. Bridging the gap between AI algorithm research and hardware design is essential for embedded solutions, such as those required in robotics. Germany should refrain from relying unprotected on the stability of supply chains, which are a prerequisite for the necessary computing infrastructure. It also should pursue more than just AI approaches that are currently very prominent in the media.

German AI research focuses on the application domains. When a research field meets an application domain such as Production & Industry 4.0, Medicine & Health, Environment & Energy, a future field is created. There is a tremendous social and economic need at these intersections, and AI skills are particularly in demand. Germany should make even greater use of this potential in the future. We should, therefore, make a concerted effort in German AI development to focus more on big-bet projects, sometimes also referred to as moonshot projects, and address significant challenges in which AI pursues clear and ambitious goals that have considerable application potential and opportunities to benefit science, business, and society. Such projects will only be successful in large consortia where subject-specific and interdisciplinary excellence work together over a longer period towards a common goal. Such projects require a high investment volume and can only be realized together with partners from science and industry and with the support of the public sector.

German AI research focuses on the application domains. In addition to scientific excellence and transferability, AI research topics that make people's lives safer or better naturally play a special role. The aim is to establish international beacons for reliable and trustworthy artificial intelligence so that the technological advantages do not become social disadvantages. In this way, Germany is helping to strengthen Europe's AI sovereignty and preserving the possibility of an actively self-determined future.

Germany should make much better use of its research results than before, set significant trends, help shape them, and become more visible internationally. Ultimately, it is also about attracting talented minds and being even more competitive internationally. This also includes hosting outstanding AI conferences in Germany. For example, our DFKI colleagues in Bremen have succeeded in bringing the World Conference on AI – IJCAI 2026 – to Bremen and, thus, back to Germany after more than 30 years. We can build on this and should consider which other conferences with global impact potential we want to bring to Germany.

German AI research attaches great importance to compliance with ethical standards. Consequently, responsible AI is an essential field of research in its own right. At DFKI, we are committed to defining and implementing safeguards and ethical guidelines, advocating the creation of industry-wide best practices for responsible AI, and supporting the introduction of relevant norms and standards. We need AI research with socio-economic relevance aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations.

Although there are many challenges, Germany is on the right track. We can build on the strategies and structures already developed and concretize the goals and operational measures now. This will involve both intensifying excellent research and implementing a successful transfer to the economy and society.

German version published on 14.12.2023 at: