Autonomous Systems: Angela Merkel and Johanna Wanka accept the High-Tech Forum’s report

Autonomous systems enable the development of self-driving cars, intelligent robots and interconnected infrastructures. Together with Reimund Neugebauer, Co-Chairman of the High-Tech Forum and President of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, acatech President Henning Kagermann handed over the report of the Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister for Education and Research Johanna Wanka during the CeBIT. The report analyses Germany’s opportunities and also aims to initiate a social debate. Johanna Wanka announced a forward-looking project on this topic.

acatech president Henning Kagermann and Reimund Neugebauer, President of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, hand over the report of the Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister for Education and Research Johanna Wanka

Autonomous Systems are able to make independent decisions and master increasingly complex tasks. Artificial Intelligence and the ability to learn make them autonomous. Autonomous systems present a core technology of the networked economy. They support humans at work and in their private everyday lives. Over 60 experts from science, industry and civil society developed implementation-oriented recommendations within the Expert Forum for Autonomous Systems. These have been received by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Minister for Education and Research Johanna Wanka during their tour of CeBIT with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

On the occasion of the report handover Minister Wanka emphasised: “We have an excellent basis in Germany in research and also in industry concerning autonomous systems. We must make every effort to translate this into marketable products. For this purpose the Federal Ministry for Education and Research will be taking a close look at the Expert Forum’s recommendations and launching a platform to quickly advance the work in this field with targeted measures. We will be setting up a forward-looking project on this topic shortly.” Forward-looking projects of the Federal Government focus on societal and technological trends and formulate specific research and innovation policy models.

Why Germany would do well to develop autonomous systems

The report concludes that Germany’s strength in the areas of artificial intelligence, industrial automation, sensor systems and mechatronics can make it a leading supplier of autonomous systems on the global market. The development of autonomous systems requires a modern, diverse industrial structure – a strength which Germany would bring with its flourishing small and medium-sized businesses and many other relevant suppliers. Even so, these businesses and start-ups need to be involved as early and comprehensively as possible.

Autonomous systems can promote good work but may also cost jobs. They can aid the transport system but also actually cause more traffic.
The Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems therefore advocates engaging in dialogue with society early on, saying: “Autonomous systems must prove themselves as providers of valuable, safe and reliable service to society. The autonomy of technology is always secondary to the autonomy of the human. We want to develop autonomous systems in Germany with this goal in mind and introduce their application to the economy,” said Henning Kagermann, acatech President and Spokesperson of the Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems.

The Expert Forum recommends that the Federal Government include autonomous systems in the list of forward-looking projects. It will take a major national effort in the European context to position Germany as technology leader in the area of autonomous systems. This will require not only promoting key technologies but also establishing a legal framework which fosters innovation, and a dialogue with citizens in particular. After all, the moral and ethical aspects of the digital age must have a firm footing in our society”, said Reimund Neugebauer, President of Fraunhofer and Co-chair of the High-Tech Forum.

The focus of the report by the Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems is on four key areas of application. Industrial production, road and rail transport, smart homes, and the use of autonomous systems in hostile environments were analysed with a view to the technological requirements, framework conditions and possible social challenges. Wolfgang Wahlster, CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), said: “In the future humans and autonomous systems will work hand in hand in teams where human and artificial intelligence complement each other. It is crucial that autonomous systems also steadily improve their capabilities through their machine learning.

Acatech and DFKI, in collaboration with the Deutsche Messe AG, exhibited some examples of networked autonomous systems from various fields of application at their booth at the CeBIT fair (Hall 12, Booth B63). An autonomous excavator machine, – a walking rover for space exploration, the control centre of an autonomous ship, intelligent assistant systems for rail systems, and the Franka robot, which is able to work without a cage. The Expert Forum on Autonomous Systems is one of eight expert forums in the Federal Government’s High-Tech Forum. The innovation policy advisory committee consists of 20 high-ranking members from society, industry and science. The High-Tech Forum has monitored the implementation and further development of the High-Tech Strategy since early 2015. The Forum presented its findings to the Federal Government in May 2017.

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