Mr. Abolhassan, you earned your doctor degree in computer science at Saarland University and you have known DFKI since its founding in 1988. In July 2021, you became a member of the DFKI Supervisory Board, and a few weeks ago you became Chairman of the Supervisory Board. What priorities do you want to set in the coming years?
That's right, I have followed the development of DFKI from the very beginning from close quarters. That's why it's a very special honor for me to now be Chairman of the Supervisory Board. Once again, I would like to thank all members for their confidence in me! In my new function, I want to act above all as a link between theory and practice. In my view, DFKI is doing first-class research. However, I think that we can transfer scientific findings to people's everyday lives even faster. There are still a few hiccups here and there. That's why I would like to advocate greater exchange between science and industry. If we succeed in this, everyone will benefit from the great potential that AI offers - institutes, companies, society as a whole.
You have been working in various management roles for major ICT companies for 35 years. What expectations does economy have of European AI research?
AI is a real game changer. In the next few years, it will unleash its disruptive power across all industries and create a broad range of new opportunities. We must not leave this field to the Americans and Asians. As Europeans, we must seize the historic opportunity and play a key role in shaping this technology of the future - according to our own ideas and values. We must work together to ensure that AI is developed and used ethically. To this end, we at Deutsche Telekom, for example, have defined clear guidelines for dealing with AI: It should always expand and complement human capabilities, not restrict them. Ultimately, we need trustworthy AI that promotes human intelligence instead of replacing it. And this is where the European research network "CLAIRE" can make a very valuable contribution.
In 2020, you wrote the book "Superpower Human - Why Humans Make the Difference in Customer Service." What should AI offer so that humans can work in an even more customer-oriented way?
My motto is “Think digitally, steer empathically.” You should only use digital technologies like AI if they offer real added value to the customer or employee. For example, when the AI chatbot offers quick answers around the clock. Or when the AI system suggests solutions to the employee in real-time during the conversation with the customer. Digital technologies are wonderfully suited to relieving people in the service department of simple, repetitive tasks and providing them with targeted knowledge. But when it comes to important issues, people still make the difference - with all their experience and empathy. No AI can replace that. Ultimately, inspiring service requires an intelligent mix of people and machines.
In many German states, computer science has become a mandatory subject. How important should AI and robotics be in a curriculum? And are schoolchildren prepared for a world in which AI systems are used on a daily basis?
This has my full support! AI and robotics are the future, which is why elementary knowledge should already be taught here during school years - naturally in all federal states. Unfortunately, we still have a lot to catch up in this area in Germany. Students are very interested in these topics if they are taught appropriately. I see this again and again at the RoboNight in Saarland, which we as Deutsche Telekom have supported for years. The competition is organized by the htw University of Applied Sciences Saar. Teams of pupils build Lego Mindstorms robots that have to solve various tasks. In this way, they gain insights into the construction and programming of robots in a playful way. And I can tell you: The teams are all very enthusiastic and ardent to get down to business.
Does AI actually support you in sports?
As a passionate runner and cyclist, I do indeed regularly track my activities with my iPhone and Apple Watch. And I find it exciting that the possibilities now go beyond simple tracking. More and more apps are using artificial intelligence to make workouts healthier and more efficient: Based on my personal goals, performance data, habits, and health parameters, the AI creates an individual training plan for me. And it subsequently adjusts this plan on an ongoing basis if, for example, I get sick or don't get enough sleep. Just like a real trainer, the AI pays attention to my athletic development and my health at the same time.
Soon you'll be able to switch off from your job and digital issues for a few days. How do you celebrate Christmas?
Quite analog and traditional, in fact. We celebrate with family and friends like many in the Saarland: with a real Christmas tree, delicious food and good conversation. I deliberately put my cell phone aside during the holidays to recharge my own battery ;-)
Mr. Abolhassan, thank you very much for the interview!