1st published in the German newspaper Handelsblatt on January 8, 2020 – translated by DeepL.com. Photos: Pixabay
Looking at the world sometimes gives the impression that things seem to be much better outside Europe. Examples? The world’s largest airport, Beijing-Daxing, goes into operation after four years of construction, while at BER, construction continues after 13 years. The coffee house chain Luckin Coffee, valued at $4.5 billion, will replace Starbucks as No. 1 in the Chinese market by the end of the year, two years after its foundation. Digital platform companies such as Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Tencent & Co. have left the traditional commodity and industrial groups behind in terms of value.
What made these American and Asian companies so big? Absolute willingness to implement at high speed, massive state and private investments, sometimes industrial policy intervention, huge, scalable domestic markets and a just-do-it mentality favour economic and technological development alongside a number of other factors.
Is Europe, on the other hand, in a downward spiral? Is the continent now losing the much-discussed second half of digitisation, which is mainly about the digitisation of industry, now that the B2C race seems to be lost?
The recent history can also be told in a different way. The financial crisis of 2008/2009 has shown how valuable Europe’s and especially Germany’s strong industrial core is. A highly specialised, excellent SME sector and the leading groups from mechanical, plant and vehicle engineering to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries are anchors of stability. With Industry 4.0, the vision for the future of value creation comes from Germany, and there is a worldwide competition for its widespread introduction.
The strength lies in product innovation, especially in complex products such as machine tools, medical devices, vehicles or building services engineering. Germany also has world market leaders in engineering and in production and automation technology. Despite all the negative predictions, Germany has further expanded its strength in networked physical platforms with the integration of IoT, data and services in industrial environments and has secured a very good starting position. The German research landscape also holds an internationally good position in areas critical to success such as semantic technologies, machine learning and the digital modelling of products and users. And let’s not forget that the companies in the country have produced outstanding software products for the fast, reliable and scalable processing of big data and the integration of business processes.
While Germany wants to consolidate its pioneering position as the world’s supplier, the USA is relying on its expertise as a global networker and China is relying on short decision-making paths, capital intensity and a large domestic market in which it can scale quickly. In this situation, it is important that we concentrate on our strengths and resolutely tackle the digitization of industry and SMEs. However, this requires a much faster entry into the emerging B2B platform markets.
In Europe, we stand for a liberal value system, both economically and politically, which, as in the past, has proven to be the decisive differentiating factor in the medium and long term. The debate on the use of data is conducted in Europe in good tradition at an extremely high level and this in the good understanding that digitisation is not coming over us, but is made by people and is intended to serve them.
It is therefore the right moment to take a decisive step towards the future and to open up Europe’s path. To do this, we need a large, homogeneous domestic market that will make us almost competitive with the USA and China. We also need substantial investment in digital infrastructure and cybersecurity, as well as training and further education. Both competitive regions currently have the power to set standards in digitization as well. The goal of the European Union to create a single digital internal market is laudable, but final implementation is still pending. This implementation, however, is the important and very concrete next step in order to be able to achieve the competition-relevant scaling effects and to be able to play a competitive role in data-based business model innovations.
The second half is running and nothing is lost.
About the authors
Jochen Werne (48) is a member of the Executive Board and Chief Development Officer of Prosegur Cash Services GmbH, as well as a member of the Artificial Intelligence Learning Systems Platform and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.
Dr. Johannes Winter (42) heads the office of the Learning Systems Platform and the technology department at the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech).
On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, Managing Director Dr. Stefan Hirschmann and his team from VÖB-Services organised an inspiring BANKENNETZWERK networking event “Digitisation and digital competence in banks” with an auditorium of 70 banking professionals.
Learning from history is crucial to understand the current societal changes triggered by technological progress. It‘s the basis to be able to make smart strategic decisions in a fundamentally changing business environment.
Some examples in the keynote referring to Professor Niall Ferguson‘s inspiring book „The Square and the Tower“. Enjoy some of his insights here
The Digital Summit (previously the National IT Summit) and the work that takes place between the summit meetings form the central platform for cooperation between government, business, academia and society as we shape the digital transformation. We can make best use of the opportunities of digitisation for business and society if all the stakeholders work together on this.
The National IT Summit was renamed the Digital Summit in 2017. This was to take account of the fact that digitalisation comprises not only telecommunications technology, but the process of digital change in its entirety – from the cultural and creative industries to Industrie 4.0.
The Digital Summit aims to help Germany to take advantage of the great opportunities offered by artificial intelligence whilst correctly assessing the risks and helping to ensure that human beings stay at the heart of a technically and legally secure and ethically responsible use of AI.
The Digital Summit looks at the key fields of action within the digital transformation across ten topic-based platforms. The platforms and their focus groups are made up of representatives from business, academia and society who, between summit meetings, work together to develop projects, events and initiatives designed to drive digitalisation in business and society forward. The Summit will serve to present the results of the work that has been done in the past, to highlight new trends and discuss digital challenges and policy approaches.
Looking forward moderating the Panel Discussion on “Digital Platforms for new AI-based Services”
It has been pleasure being guest author for the DIGIPRAKTIKER, Finanz Colloquium Heidelberg.
What role does the human factor play in times of exponential technological progress?
Author: Jochen Werne, Director Business Development, Product Management, Treasury and Payment Services at Bankhaus August Lenz & Co. AG
The only constant in history was, is and remains change. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450 was a milestone on the timeline of human development. Today we still take note of this invention, which was considered an innovation at that time, but we have long lived surrounded by smartphones and cloud applications, in which we can store the most private information and retrieve it from anywhere in the world. Today’s change is being driven by a veritable digital revolution.
Digital change already has fundamental consequences for individuals and their lifestyles, but it is developing its full potential when it comes to interacting with our social environment. In times of smart robotics and maturing systems in relation to artificial intelligence, the question arises again and again what role humans play on the stage of these technologies. Is he …
First published in German at LinkedIn Pulse on July 20, 2019. Please find article and sources in this link. Publication in English language pleas find below
On the role of cash in a modern society between technological progress and freedom
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, one of the most important writers of the 19th century, impressively describes in his works the great existential and spiritual conflicts in which mankind was caught at the dawn of modernity. Not only his observations during the turbulent times of the upheaval of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, but also his personal experiences are an essential part of his work.
At the age of 28 and at the beginning of a promising career as a writer, Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years in a Siberian prison camp. The reason for this was his participation in meetings of the Petraschwezen, an intellectual circle that spoke out against tsarist despotism and serfdom. In his novel, “The House of the Dead”, which also describes Dostoyevsky’s own experiences in Siberian captivity, he formulates the sentence that was later much quoted: “Money is coined liberty”. The sentence describes the vital relevance of the possibility of a free exchange of goods in an unfree environment – and this through coined cash money.
More than 150 years have passed since the first publication of the work. Europe needed to go through the age of Enlightenment, the experiences of two world wars and a long cold war to become a peaceful and very liberal place for its citizens. A place which is putting the dignity and freedom of the individual first.
The freedom in our payment options has also multiplied thanks to technological progress. It is part of our everydays life to pay the morning croissant at the bakery, the new monthly ticket for the subway or even the use of public toilets – even without cash. Technological progress, the smartphone revolution and also our user behaviour made this evolution in payments possible. “Digital payments” have become part of our progressive society. However, the aspect of not having money physically tangible sometimes entails interesting and also unwanted aspects.
Society in upheaval
Like Dostoevsky, we also live in a time of extreme social, economic and political upheaval. An age in which exponential technology developments, industries and business models are changing radically and countries competing for dominance in areas such as artificial intelligence. It is a time when transformation is the new normality and an agile corporate culture is the key to success. In these times, for many it became clear that, “Everything that can be digitized will be digitized.” And thus the question inevitably arises whether this also applies to the first “Instant Payment” solution humans invented, one of the earliest and most sustainable achievements of civilization – cash.
Germans love affair with cash
If we look at Germany, cash is still one of the most popular payment methods and – culturally speaking – will probably remain for quite some time to come. According to a survey by the Bundesbank, 88 percent of German citizens continue to regard cash as their preferred means of payment. This cultural imprint can certainly also be traced back to modern history and the personal experiences of the Germans with their money. Beginning with the traumatic experience of hyperinflation during the Great Depression of 1923 and the resulting deep-rooted German understanding of the importance of a central bank independent from politics.
A painful experience, which states even today – like Venezuela – live through again and again and whose causes are often identical. In Reinhard and Rogoff’s bestseller book “This time is different”, this phenomenon is brilliantly explained using an analysis of 800 years of international economic history.
The positive image of (cash) money in Germany was impressively advanced after the end of the 2nd World War. From the currency reform of 1948 and the beginning of the economic miracle with 40 D-Mark, which every German was allowed to hold physically in his hands, to the 100 D-Mark welcome money at the reunification in 1989. These personal experiences paired with a consistently brillant independent work by the German Bundesbank – which always gave the population the feeling of having a strong, stable and secure own currency – are all German experiences, which were literally “obvious” and shaped the cultural reference of the country and its citizens.
The current freedom of our payment options is certainly good, as long as we consumers are free to decide which means of payment we pay with. Discussions about a possible restriction of citizens’ freedom of choice, for example through the abolition of cash, regularly call on intellectuals to take a warning position. The poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, for example, has the following opinion on the subject of “restriction”: “Those who abolish cash abolish freedom”. Also former Deutsche Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele said at a conference in 2015: “Abolishing cash would hurt consumer sovereignty — the free choice of citizens about their payment instruments“ and “Government agencies do not have the right to tell citizens how they should pay.”
Having “physical power of disposal” over money, i.e. holding the banknote in one’s hands, immediately establishes a much stronger relationship for the value of something than a number on a display. More than ten years ago, the US scientists Raghubir and Srivastava in their essay for the “Journal if Experimental Psychology: Applied” described that the degree of abstraction often poses a problem when it comes to means of payment. They found a correlation between the indebtedness of individuals and the use of credit cards.
In Germany, the trend towards digital payment became apparent for the first time last year. In this period consumers in the stationary retail sector spent more money on checking and credit cards than in cash, as the trade research institute EHI recently announced.
However, this does not mean that customers will soon only pay by card or smartphone, the experts emphasized at the same time. Three-quarters of all retail purchases continue to be settled in cash. When it comes to the highly sensitive issue of “money”, many consumers continue to find it difficult to trust the comprehensive healing promises of an omnipresent digital world.
In order to ensure that cash and book money continue to be equally available, the players involved in the cash cycle, such as CIT companies like Prosegur, ATM operators like IC-Cash, banks like Bankhaus August Lenz et al., are working concentrated to make the provision of cash at all locations even more efficient and cost-effective. Both the providers of cash solutions and those of digital solutions experiment therefore with the latest blockchain and AI technologies to reach the before mentioned goals.
Technological vulnerability and fall-back option
Especially in extreme scenarios, such as catastrophes or other failures of a digital infrastructure due to cyberattacks, natural events or simply technical failure, it becomes clear how cash – by its very nature – proves to be actually the most robust payment method. Ultimately, it is not tied to electricity, digital infrastructures, passwords or other technical features – it is simply available. An interesting recent anecdote occurred in Sweden, which is one of the most advanced countries in cashless payment. A country where even the traditional church collection is now equipped with a card reader. At the Bråvalla music festival 2014, for example, the memory chips on the admission tickets went on strike. Thousands of thirsty fans sat on dry land and had to write out promissory notes for their drinks by hand. An experience that can be observed again and again when paying at the checkout, when the magnetic stripe of a card or simply the card reader does not work and the views of the people standing around in the queue are impatiently looking at the payer and trying to catch a glimpse of the name on the card of the supposedly non-solvent unlucky fellow.
Data Protection Best Practice
In an interview with Rheinische Post in February 2017, Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Association of Consumer Groups (Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen), said “Cash is data protection in practice”. He added: “Unbarred figures leave traces of data that can be used commercially to create a consumer profile. This data may be illegally “fished” by third parties.” Now Müller points to nothing new here and opponents of cash, use the argumentation to underline that the supposed anonymity of cash can be used for illegal business and transactions and that the suppression of cash stands above the protection of privacy. But since the first publication of the interview, the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the recently imposed $5 billion fine against Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal and similar events, the sensitivity of the European population with regard to data protection and privacy has grown substantially.
In the closing sentence of his speech at the Cash Symposium 2018 of the Deutsche Bundesbank, the former judge of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Prof. Dr. Udo Di Fabio, underlined the probably most important point in the current discussion about cash. He said that in principle it is “not to be underestimated” that every citizen has the souvereignity of the free disposal of his money – of his personal “exchangeable assets”. He further added that this is particularly true when “financial privacy” is considered legally imperative. In other words, a society whose entire assets would be managed in digital form only, could also exercise only limited individual control over its money and would have to ask itself, “whether the state would be entitled via its central bank to carry out a controlled devaluation through negative interest rates, accounting discounts or fees on credit balances”. Prof. Di Fabio further points out that this would then not only be a property encroachment, but as a result possibly also the imposition of a special levy, which is permitted in the German legal system only under narrow conditions.
For young Fjodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky the conversion to book money in the Siberian prison would have meant the withdrawal of his individual sovereignity over money, so that he would not have had any more the fortune of using cash for the exchange of goods and other things. He describes the quintessence of this situation as follows: The suffering of prisoners who don’t have money is 10 times greater.
Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the intellectual serious discussions about cash and civil liberty rights would delight Dostoyevsky, with his experiences in an unfree society.
Our open and liberal society is characterised by the fact that we have and continue the discussion about “Coined Liberty 2.0” at this level.
The speaker this morning is Jochen Werne, a graduate banking and marketing specialist. As director and authorized signatory, he is responsible for private banking and corporate banking at Bankhaus August Lenz & Co. AG in Munich. He is guest lecturer at universities and colleges, keynote speaker at banking and innovation conferences, author and co-author of books and articles on leadership, innovation, KI, FinTechs, Cyber Security and much more. He is a member of the platform for artificial intelligence “Learning Systems” initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and advising the German Federal Government as well as of the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House, ambassador of the Peter Tamm sen. foundation and is listed by Focus-Magazin as one of the AI experts in Germany. He is the founder of the Global Offshore Sailing Team GOST and co-founder of the NGO Mission4Peace, which is dedicated to historical research, building international diplomatic relations and promoting international dialogue.
The participants will also get to know the Diplomatic Council (DC) this morning. It combines a global think tank, a business network and a charity foundation in a unique organization with consultative status at the United Nations. Stephanie Stoerk, Chapter Director DC Stuttgart, explains what distinguishes the Diplomatic Council from all other networks and what advantages it offers its members.
Breakfast is open from 8:30 am. At 9:00 a.m. we start our official program (whoever comes earlier has time to eat in peace), which lasts until 10:30 a.m. (including questions and answers). In between there is always the possibility to eat from the rich breakfast buffet.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
Der Redner an diesem Morgen ist der diplomierte Banking- und Marketing-Spezialist Jochen Werne. Er verantwortet als Direktor und Prokurist das Private Banking sowie den Corporate Banking Bereich bei der Bankhaus August Lenz & Co. AG in München. Er ist Gastdozent an Universitäten und Hochschulen, Keynote Speaker auf Banking- und Innovationskonferenzen, sowie Autor und Co-Autor von Büchern und Artikeln zu Leadership, Innovation, KI, FinTechs, Cyber Security u. v. m. Er ist u. a. Mitglied der vom Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung initiierten und die deutsche Bundesregierung beratende Plattform für Künstliche Intelligenz „Lernende Systeme“ sowie des Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House, Botschafter der Peter Tamm sen. Stiftung und wird vom Focus-Magazin als einer der KI-Experten in Deutschland geführt. Er ist Gründer des Global Offshore Sailing Teams GOST und Co-Founder der NGO Mission4Peace, die sich der historischen Forschung, dem Aufbau internationaler, diplomatischer Beziehungen sowie der Förderung eines internationalen Dialogs widmet.
Darüber hinaus lernen die Teilnehmer an diesem Morgen das Diplomatic Council (DC) kennen. Es verknüpft einen globalen Think Tank, ein Business Network und eine Charity Foundation in einer einzigartigen Organisation mit Beraterstatus bei den Vereinten Nationen. Stephanie Stoerk, Chapter Director DC Stuttgart, informiert, was das Diplomatic Council von allen anderen Netzwerken unterscheidet und welche Vorteile sich daraus für die Mitglieder ergeben.
Das Frühstück ist ab 8:30 Uhr geöffnet. Um 9:00 Uhr starten wir unser offizielles Programm (wer früher kommt, hat also Zeit, in Ruhe zu essen), das bis 10:30 Uhr andauert (inklusive Fragen und Antworten). Es besteht zwischendurch jederzeit die Möglichkeit, sich vom reichhaltigen Frühstücksbuffet zu versorgen
Banking Professionals are faced with many new challenges as PSD2 & Instant Payments in Europe at center stage which are driving automation and Innovations. It will be a great pleasure representing Bankhaus August Lenz with a keynote on the importance of the combination of all aspects of HUMAN, DIGITAL & CULTURE to create valuable business models for future banking. Looking forward joining other Top Industry Experts to tackle these topics with them.
Artificial intelligence is finding its way into the highly regulated world of banking. And not only GAFA Silicon Valley high-tech companies see it as the technology of the future, but also FinTechs and established banks. How it came to this, what possibilities and limits there are at the moment and why humans will remain irreplaceable not only when it comes to money – the commentary
by Jochen Werne, innovation and transformation expert Munich private bank Bankhaus August Lenz
Original published in German in the IT-Finanzmagazin (31 July 2018). Translation by DeepL
After “FinTech”, “Blockchain” and “Crypto”, “AI” is the new buzzword in the banking world. Whether chatbots in the digital customer center or self-learning algorithms for highly complex investment strategies are being discussed – the omnipresence of the term suggests that the integration of artificial intelligence into one’s own business model seems to be virtually vital.
Artificial intelligence and big data are currently the strongest and most vibrant innovation trends in the financial sector …
… was also one of the guiding principles of Prof. Joachim Wuermeling, board member of the Deutsche Bundesbank, in his speech on “Artificial Intelligence” at the second annual FinTech and Digital Innovation Conference in February 2018 in Brussels.
The choice of the conference venue, which like rarely any other city combines both a belief in progress and a deeply rooted European tradition, can hardly be more symbolic of the forthcoming change. In fact, the topic is by no means new: the development towards an increased use of so-called non-human intelligence is based on approaches from the 1940s – with the invention of the first computers
Artificial intelligence: revolution as a reaction to mountains of data?
But what is now possible in times of exponential technologies is in fact nothing less than a revolution. The financial industry is sitting on a valuable mountain of data, the extent of which is currently difficult to estimate. The maturing AI systems would not only make the preparation and processing of this data easier, but also much more cost-effective, faster and more targeted. Data already collected could become the most valuable raw material and a resource due to the technological leaps in the field of AI, which, in combination with the enrichment of external, non-structured data, must be “usable” in a meaningful way.
The industry is asked to use private data in a sensitive way for the benefit of the customer, – a goal that should certainly apply to all AI-based approaches.
To find meaningful regulations for the handling and the effects of the use of AI on society, economy and thus on our life and the work of tomorrow is the task of politics. The fact that this topic is taken very seriously is evident not only in national initiatives such as the German Platform for Artificial Intelligence “Learning Systems”, but also in the European Artifical Intelligence shoulder-to-shoulder approach, which is being pushed forward by France and Germany.
“Digital hand holding” in the event of a financial crash is not enough
At present, it is still too early to say which operational areas of the financial world will sooner or later be supported – in part or even entirely – by the use of AI systems. However, the financial crises of the past have shown this time and again:
Trust is crucial when it comes to money. Trust in the markets, the banking system and the human contact as an intermediary in a complex issue”.
However, the banking industry knows very well from its own experience how easy it is to loose customer’s trust. An experience that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook recently also had to make in connection with the Cambridge-Analytica scandal. As with every new technology and every new approach, the same applies to the topic of “intelligent” systems: a lot of trust, coupled with half-knowledge and a big dash of emotionality results in a popular trend cocktail, which, however, bears a certain risk of headaches on the following day.
Jochen Werne is the authorized signatory responsible for Marketing, Business Development, Product Management, Treasury and Payment Services at Bankhaus August Lenz & Co. After two years as navigator of the sailing training ship ‘Gorch Fock’, the international marketing and banking specialist completed his studies as client coverage analyst at Bankers Trust Alex. Brown International and in Global Investment Banking at Deutsche Bank AG, he has worked on numerous projects in other European and American countries. In 2001, he joined Accenture as a Customer Relationship Management Expert in the Financial Services Division before joining Bankhaus August Lenz & Co. AG in Munich, where he has since been responsible for various areas of the institute. As part of the Innovation Leadership Team of the Mediolanum Banking Group, a member of the expert council of Management Circle and the IBM Banking Innovation Council, Jochen Werne is a keynote speaker at numerous banking and innovation conferences.
“An analogy for business leaders in the financial industry that compares the challenging times of today’s technological enterprise transformation with the changes during the time of the industrial revolution when steam ships ended the centuries-long era of sailing ships.”
In 1971, the BBC began broadcasting a series on the history of James Onedin, who, as captain and later as shipowner, lived through the stormy times of industrialisation and the conversion of the entire industry from sailing to steam navigation. The series, which takes place in Victorian England in the second half of the 19th century, describes in a special way the subtleties of the interplay of a changing market. New technologies, new skills of market participants, increased conflict potential between entrepreneurs and managers and reorientation in an environment of shrinking margins – special challenges for those who tried to continue their business as before: with sailing ships.
The captain is responsible for bringing his ship, crew and cargo safely and within a specified time and financial framework to the port of destination. But what if the ship is no longer able to do this and the competition suddenly moves across the blue oceans with completely different ships? What if the shipowner does not have the capacity to trust the new technologies or simply does not have the financial resources to re-equip his fleet? And what about the crew? Does the crew has the necessary skills to sail on the new ships?
Many captains of banks and financial institutions seem to have this scenario all too present. E.g. due to declining customer traffic in bank branches, the high costs for a broad branch network are hardly to be paid today. Germany as a financial centre is “overbanked”, interest rates in the basement – the conditions in Germany for successful banking have never been as challenging as they are now. To this end, customers are continuing to drive change in the industry with their changing demands on digital tools.
Outwaiting a problem or tackling it
The complexity of economic changes has been enormous in every epoch, the difference to current upheavals lies in the temporal component. If companies do not react immediate to market changes today, they might loose their customers faster than ever before. In such disruptive times, all those involved want an “efficient” change process. The only problem is that the term “change” is so omnipresent that it is often perceived as stress and overload. As a result, many levels of management fall into one of the following situations: either they try to sit out the situation and leave change to their successors, or they push many, often less effective measures in an attack of blind actionism. Active, thoughtful and vital change management is often neglected.
More entrepreneurial thinking
Processes of change require both superiors and employees. If the existing situation cannot be improved or adapted at any vertical level, it must be questioned. Concluding, this means for all those involved that situations must always be reflected and corrective measures initiated at an early stage.
Understanding the corporate culture is vital for a successful transformation
In many companies, however, this need for action, which has a high potential for conflict, is often insufficiently communicated. In some places there is a lack of interest for employee issues, a lack of error and conflict culture and a minimal willingness to change. If banks neglect these issues, change processes threaten to fail on a broad basis. This means that managers in a disruptive environment have a natural need for action. The implementation of new strategies, systems and structures and early adaptation to changing market situations are vital factors for survival. A well-known quote by former US President Wodrow Wilson (1913-1921) is particularly valid for today’s highly competitive financial sector: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
Those companies that create the change will share the large financial services market with the new market players and use instruments that did not exist in the classic banking of the past.
Just like James Onedin, who for the longest time was an advocate of classic sailing ships, finally added a modern steamship to his fleet. And to facilitate the change for himself personally, he named the ship after someone he loved.
Almost every day, experts in the media try to create a historical analogy for us in order to explain the dynamics and speed with which changes are taking place today at all levels of our lives – from private consumption and our working world to international politics. Often analogies are drawn to different decades of the 20th century. The prominent British historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson contradicts these comparisons and sees an analogy rather in the effects that the invention of the printing press in the 15th century had on our lives and on our society. Only that today the changes due to exponential technologies and the Internet take place much faster.
For us as the HUMAN Factor, these comparisons are incredibly important. In times of uncertainty, they help us to better assess the changes and thus at least maintain a certain reassuring feeling of security and explainability. However, if we do not succeed in setting the right filters in times of social media and “information overload”, we run the risk that this feeling of understanding does not materialize and that we all too easily become victims of supposedly simple explanations and “fake news”. Ferguson uses a striking example to illustrate that this is not a new phenomenon and that serious technological changes have also brought major and often turbulent changes to society. In times of the invention of book printing, knowledge was spread more cheaply and a broad part of the population gained access to higher education. One of the first books to be printed in large numbers was the Bible. But also other writings, like “Malleus Maleficarum” or in English the “Hammer of Witches” became famous. The “Fake News” book served to justify the persecution of witches, appeared in 29 editions and has been second place on the book bestseller list for 200 years.
At the latest since the end of the 1990s, since the mass “democratization” of the Internet, our lives have been shaped by the exponential progress of modern technologies. The associated digitalization – the DIGITAL Factor – is not only a technical and economic challenge, but also a societal one. However, the enlightened man began, not to accept everything that a “Beautiful New World”, sometimes reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s novel, promises. This is shown by citizen projects such as the so-called “Charter of Digital Fundamental Rights” of the European Union.
The word “exponential” automatically hides the logical conclusion that change will take place even faster in the future. These changes affect almost every industry and what is seen today as a billion-dollar future market can quickly become a basic business with significantly lower costs and thus significantly lower profit margins tomorrow. The camera chip of our smartphones costs today only about two to three Euros, a Spotify subscription, and thus the access to an incredible amount of music, only a few Euros a month.
The conclusion for companies in the 21st century is simple: Those who do not understand these exponential dynamics of technical development or do not take them sufficiently into account in their business model can quickly lose touch – not only with customers but also with potential business partners. But why is it so difficult for us to correctly assess the development potential of the technologies? The answer: People think linearly. This is why technologies are usually overestimated at the beginning of their development, but tend to be underestimated in the long run. This was first described in 1965 by the Intel engineer Gordon Moore – later known as Moore´s Law, one of the essential theoretical foundations of the “digital revolution”. In times of exponential technologies, our society risks a split between the group of people with an affinity for digital and digital natives and a group of people who have growing difficulties with the speed of change of our time. The latter have not learnt to keep pace with fast-moving digital innovations due to their low affinity, age or lack of points of contact in everyday life.
Throughout history, new technological possibilities have always come with threatening concepts that have been published and discussed on all media channels available during this period. Today it is: “total transparency”, “transparent consumer”, “constant availability” or even job loss due to ongoing automation and artificial intelligence. At the social and state level, attempts are being made to counteract such fears, to increase competitiveness and to involve the population in the process of change. Two of the many good examples referring to Germany are the strategy on artificial intelligence put in place by the Federal Government and the Platform for Learning Systems initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
It is important never to forget, that every change – even if the trigger is a rapidly developing technology – requires a certain time horizon to be implemented and to create broad acceptance. Here the “CULTURE Factor” often comes into play. One example is cash. While the Scandinavian countries, above all Sweden, are about to digitalize their payment systems to a large extent, in Germany currently about 80 percent of all transactions are carried out with cash.
In every business model, global trends need to be identified, changes need to be driven, and local conditions need to be taken into account in order to be successful in this market. The same formula applies to societal change. Especially when it comes to creating an agenda for the use of new technologies for the benefit of our society.