Richard von Weizsäcker Forum 2018

To play a role in the 21st century, or at least to have some relevance in today's globalized world of politics and economics, we must act together as Europe”, said President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble in a conversation with the fellows. From 7 to 11 October 2018, the Richard von Weizsäcker Forum reunited former, current, and future fellows of the Robert Bosch Academy. In Berlin, they discussed current global challenges with international guests. The subsequent three-day study trip took the fellows to Stuttgart and Karlsruhe to talk to German interlocutors about how Germany is preparing itself for the future.


On the first evening, Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, welcomed the fellows to the foundation's Berlin Representative Office: "In a world in turmoil, the Richard von Weizsäcker Forum has particular significance. The confidential exchange within the community of fellows facilitates solution-oriented cooperation and strengthens the international network of renowned experts on issues of global relevance."


The first part of the forum "Fellows in Conversation Day" focused on the effects of technological change on politics, society and economy. How digitalization will influence our civilization was discussed by Paolo Benanti, Associate Professor in the Department of Moral Theory at Pontifical Gregorian University; Olaf Groth, Professor at HULT International Business School and CEO of Cambrian LLC; and Lorena Jaume-Palasí, Co-Founder and Executive Director of AlgorithmWatch. The discussion was moderated by Melinda Crane, Chief Political Correspondent at Deutsche Welle.


"Artificial intelligences are changing the world: every human activity, from medicine to national security, is undergoing profound transformations. Through technology, we change the world and even ourselves to inhabit the world. The question of our identity joins the ethical one. When a question arises with an AI, it responds autonomously: it is a sapiens machine. But of this autonomy - who answers? Who set it up? Who is using it? Who sells it? Who bought it?" (Paolo Benanti)


"We should be careful not to be distracted by dystopian hype about an AI super-intelligence taking over the world and instead realize the tremendous opportunities for both human and economic growth that flow from the evolution of specialized, narrow AI over the next 20 to 30 years. Yet, it is also true that power, trust, and values in and between our societies have started to change significantly because of machine learning. So, we should get used to and welcome thinking machines as valuable partners toward “symbio-intelligence” (symbiotic intelligence with machines) but we need to also ensure that this relationship gets shaped in a human-centric way, respecting our human goals, identities and purpose". (Olaf Groth)

Lorena Forum 2018

"Artificial intelligence is a collectivist technology. The mathematical formulas under AI are expressions of the social. AI does not understand individuals, it only knows collectives and categorizes human beings into fine granular profiles. To evaluate the social and ethical impact of AI, we need to look at it with an architectonical view. Many effects will not be detectable by analizing the impact on individuals, but collectively. Actually AI is a new technological tool to build infrastructure in new fields. This is a challenge specially for European democracies; from a law dogmatical point of view, European democracies only know of individuals and only grant fundamental rights to them". (Lorena Jaume-Palasí)


The implications of technological change for politics and the world order were discussed by Thomas Carothers, Senior Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jeanette Hofmann, Professor of Internet Politics at the Freie Universität Berlin; and Andrea Römmele, Dean of Executive Education and Professor for Communication in Politics and Civil Society at the Hertie School of Governance. The panel was moderated by Anna Sauerbrey, head of the opinion page at the daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.


"The last fifteen years of rapid developments in communications and information technology coincided with a global trend of democratic recession, undercutting the hopeful earlier assumptions of a technology-driven great leap forward for democracy. Technology should not get a heavy share of blame for democracy's current global woes. The causes are many, ranging from the political consequences of economic slowdowns to the strangulation of democratic transitions by systematic corruption. But unfortunately, for every democratic innovation that new technologies seem to make possible - like new forms of citizen-government interaction - there is a matching dark side of new technological tools for the many postmodern authoritarians who are increasingly asserting global influence". (Thomas Carothers)


"The Internet has re-distributed authorship and, as a result, gives visibility to political views that mainstream mass media used to ban". (Jeanette Hofmann)


Following ethical and political aspects, discussions concentrated on the relationship between economy and technological change with Marcel Fratzscher, President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), and Branko Milanovic, Visiting Presidential Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University New York.


"We need to distinguish between the likely effect on jobs and on income inequality. While I think that individual occupations may be affected as machines (robots, AI) do some jobs more cheaply and more efficiently than people, we should not disregard the likelihood of many new occupations and jobs that it will create. We cannot forecast what these jobs will be – no more than we could in the past. The effect on the overall number of jobs may thus be very different from the effect on individual occupations. Regarding what may happen to income inequality, I am more pessimistic. A very likely increase in the share of income accruing to capital will raise inequality because capital is heavily concentrated. So, the measures to check the negative effects of automation should be directed towards prevention of further inequality". (Branko Milanovic)


"Technological change does not only create opportunities, but it also challenges in particular people who are less skilled and less able to adjust. Smart policies should not try to prevent change, but rather focus on creating opportunities and improving inclusiveness. This requires a fundamental change in social policies that focuses on improving ownership as well as preventing the abuse committed by a few market players“. (Marcel Fratzscher)


The "Fellows in Conversation Day“ was followed by a study tour on how Germany is preparing and positioning itself for the future. It started with a background discussion with Peter Frey, Editor-in-Chief of ZDF television.


"The trust that people in Germany have in the truthful reporting of public broadcasters is still high. In times of pressure and crisis, the established media is being trusted even more. Our most important task is to stabilize the center of society with arguments, images, and critical interviews. We must create a counterweight with our well-researched facts and solid background information against erroneous reports, rumors, and hate messages – not only on TV, but also online and on social media platforms". (Peter Frey)


“To play a role in the 21st century, or at least to have some relevance in today's globalized world of politics and economics, we must act together as Europe”, said President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble in a conversation with the fellows.


With members of the German Bundestag the fellows discussed the political challenges that Germany expects in the years to come. 


Among those present were: Niels Annen, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office; Steffen Bilger, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure; Mark Hauptmann (CDU); Stefan Liebich (The Left); and Tobias Lindner (Alliance 90/The Greens).

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Von der Spree an den Neckar: In Stuttgart und Umgebung trafen sich die Fellows mit Experten und Entscheidern, die Deutschlands Zukunft einschätzten.

During lunch, Theresia Bauer, Minister of Science, Research and the Arts of Baden-Württemberg, discussed how Germany is prepared for the future in science and research.

"Germany’s economic turnaround has often been credited to labor market and welfare reforms, but the increased investment in education, research, and innovation has been potentially even more important for long-term growth. This is especially true in Baden-Wurttemberg, where we not only invest heavily in science and academia, but also grant our researchers the trust and freedom to do their best work – thus opening up perspectives for a promising future". (Theresia Bauer)


The guided tour through the Stuttgart 21 site gave fellows insights into one of the largest transport and urban development projects in Germany.


How can the success of the German economy be explained? Is the German economy innovative enough? These and other questions were discussed in a round table with Frank Terhorst, member of the Executive Leadership Team and Head of Crop Strategy & Portfolio Management of the Crop Science Division of Bayer AG, and Anette Bronder, Managing Director Digital Division and Telekom Security at T-Systems International GmbH.


The round table was moderated by Torsten Riecke, International Correspondent of the daily Handelsblatt.


During a dinner with representatives from politics, business, and civil society in Baden-Württemberg, the fellows gained insights into the debates at the state level.


Among their interlocutors were: Michael Blume, Commissioner of the State Government against Anti-Semitism, and Ronald Grätz, Secretary General, German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations.


The next day, the tour started with a visit to SAP in Heidelberg. In conversation with Bernd Leukert, Member of the Management Board, and Ina Schlie, Senior Vice President Digital Government, the fellows learned about the company’s innovation policy.


"Sustainability of resources is one of the biggest challenges of our time. We have a unique opportunity to harness digital technologies, and the societal shifts they trigger, to help address environmental issues and redesign how we manage our shared global environment”. (Bernd Leukert)


In Karlsruhe, the fellows visited the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) and met its Chairman and Managing Director, Peter Weibel.


At the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), they talked to Thomas Hirth, Vice President for Innovation and International Affairs.


At the end of the day, Ferdinand Kirchhof, Vice President of the Federal Constitutional Court, exchanged his views with the fellows in Karlsruhe.


The meetings and discussions during the Richard von Weizsäcker Forum gave the 50 fellows from more than 20 countries new perspectives and insights.

"The admirable quest for perfection in the German economy was on display at every turn. But German economic satisfaction and political paralysis could combine to remove the incentive and the ability of Germany to change and adapt in the European framework. Germany alone cannot meet the geo-economics and strategic challenges from China and the US and the threat of violence from the South and Russia". (François Heisbourg)


“The study tour offered a rare opportunity for fellows to understand that Germany's culture of innovation is distinct from that of the U.S., China, or other countries and why, despite many challenges, the German economy remains world class". (Daniel Hamilton)


"As it was the case since its inception the study trip has been again a great opportunity to dive into the complex reality of Germany from a specific and very important angle. This time we got to know more and understood better how science, industry and policy-makers are preparing the German society for the challenges of the new age". (Sonja Licht)

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The Richard von Weizsäcker Fellowship was established in honor of the former German president who served for many years on the Board of Trustees of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. As the largest event of the Robert Bosch Academy, every fall the forum reunites the community of its former, current and future fellows.