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Digital credit scoring: How data analytics decide to whom to lend and not to lend money

When we open a bank account, apply for a loan or sign a mobile phone contract, we are usually asked to agree to a credit check – in Germany for example with Schufa. Those who request such a score about us hope to get a reliable statement about whether we are likely to meet our financial obligations. But how does this information come about? Big Data and Artificial Intelligence make it possible to use completely new strategies for this question, with which more individual, possibly more precise or even “fairer” scores could be created. This is where FinTechs come in, which – unlike Schufa – could basically use our entire digital footprint for their scores: Automated processes find patterns and correlations with which aspects of all areas of life can be translated into financial data. Whether the results, which include not only income and payment behaviour but also musical tastes and jogging routes, always correspond to reality is one question – another is whether personal characteristics play a role that are actually affected by the ban on discrimination. Because, as studies show time and again: AI models seem to systematically discriminate against socially disadvantaged groups. And loan sharks can also profit from this automated perpetuation of social injustice, depending on the legal situation.

Katja Langenbucher is a professor of civil law, commercial law and banking law at the House of Finance at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. One of her research focuses is the usage of artificial intelligence in the financial sector. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, the law expert explains the considerations behind the development of new types of AI models for scoring, which problems they raise or might help to solve, and where regulatory needs arise. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Langenbucher discusses differences between scoring providers, also in international comparison, and which justice problems require an open democratic debate, also at the EU level.

Episode 32 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Katja Langenbucher of Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, 31 January 2023
Further informationen:

Link to Katja Langenbucher’s guest article „KI-basiert ermittelte Kreditausfallrisiken mit Vorsicht zu genießen“ in Börsen-Zeitung: https://www.boersen-zeitung.de/kapitalmarktforschung/ki-basiert-ermittelte-kreditausfallrisiken-mit-vorsicht-zu-geniessen-91ff697a-673e-11ed-a8ee-76a419d2158f

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Biochemistry meets computer science: How we can store digital data in DNA

Up to now, there are no forms of long-term digital archiving: the longest-lived hard disks and tapes are intact for no more than 50 years. After that, the data that was stored on them is lost. And even if chips and hard disks seem to be getting smaller and smaller, their compactness will reach natural limits at some point. At the same time, more and more important processes are taking place in the digital realm, we are collecting more and more digital data and developing new ideas and concepts to integrate information technologies into everyday life and technical processes. Our culture is also expressed in the digital, digital values and works are created. So the need for innovative storage media that can be used flexibly on the one hand and last for centuries and millennia on the other is there. One promising candidate in the search for solutions is DNA. How is it possible to translate digitality into this biochemical substance? And what new possibilities do then arise?

Prof. Dr Robert Grass researches and teaches at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences at ETH Zurich, where he works in particular on making DNA usable as a storage medium: He has co-developed a process in which DNA remains preservable in tiny glass beads for many millennia – and at the same time can be read when needed. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the scientist and inventor explains how this is done, what challenges exist and what future visions he and his colleagues have for the development of this new storage technology. He describes possible applications for industry and business on the one hand and the archiving of digital as well as digitised cultural assets on the other. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Grass discusses analogies between natural and technical processes and which difficult tasks absolutely must be solved if archives – especially digital ones! – are to be not only intact but also understandable in the distant future.

Episode 31 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Robert Grass of ETH Zurich, 20 Dezember 2022
Further informationen:

Link to film of the European Patent Office presenting and explaining the work of Robert Grass and Wendelin Stark as part of the European Inventor Award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–4B0Pg4pf8 (English and French subtitles available)

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Looking into your own financial future: Digital Pension Transparency

Who has a feel for or let alone knows the financial situation they will face when old? Especially when retirement is still a few decades away, it seems impossible to really plan ahead for it. And so we wait. And again and again, we put off the question of whether our money will be enough. Especially when we fear there might be a significant gap. In fact, many people don’t realise that they have to become active themselves in order to make a living in their old age. And when one realises the problem of a “pension gap”, what can actually be done? The situation is utterly complex : savings, assets and possible insurances are just the start. Inflation and the development of the housing market also come into play. For non-experts, the topic easily comes across as too demanding – hence, a typical case for digital aids. Is it possible, factoring in data, constraints and individual factors, to compute forecasts and even alternative scenarios for someone’s pension?

Andreas Hackethal is professor of finance at the House of Finance at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M. The economist researches household finance. And at Goethe-Universität, he is developing an elaborate app for simulating one’s own financial circumstances in old age – the “pension cockpit”. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, Hackethal explains why it is so difficult for many people to get a good idea of their own financial future and how an app can help to close such knowledge gaps. He describes how the complex app project came about and what is important when it is implemented. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Hackethal discusses how it affects your decisions today when you know their effects on your future pension, what opportunities this opens up for individuals and families – and what political consequences it can have to make pension gaps transparent.

Episode 30 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Andreas Hackethal of Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a.M., 30 November 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the article on the “pension cockpit” in the magazine Brigitte (in German): https://www.brigitte.de/academy/finanzen/rente-berechnen–so-geht-es-12798828.html

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Gaming culture for everyone: people, debates and a billion-dollar market

What may once have been a gaming scene of insiders has long since been adopted by the full spectrum of society. Across all age groups and social classes, most Germans play video games – to relax or to shorten waiting time, as a serious hobby or even as a profession.  But not everyone who plays games would also like to describe themselves as a gamer. Although video games are recognised as a cultural asset, their public perception still seems to be dominated by the prejudice of the male, rather young gamer who spends far too much time with Shoot ’em ups – which in the worst case make people aggressive, but in any case are a waste of time. The large group of gamers and developers, however, is much more open and diverse; the gigantic range of video games is correspondingly versatile. So what do the gaming worlds look like today? What happens  apart from the infamous first-person shooters? And is gaming always “just” about entertainment?

Rae Grimm is Head of Digital Publishing at Webedia Gaming GmbH and responsible for their magazines GamePro, GameStar and MeinMMO. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert for video game cultures describes which facets gaming offers today and what characterises different scenes. She explains what constitutes innovation, what is important to gamers and developers and what innovations and debates occupy the gaming world. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Grimm discusses the social significance of video games and video game criticism, the gaming industry – and the uneasy feeling that chatting with AI-based, digital “friends” can give you.

Episode 29 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Rae Grimm of Webedia Gaming GmbH, 8 November 2022
Further informationen:

Link to Rae Grimm’s report “Wie ich ein Wochenende nur mit KIs geredet und fast den Verstand verloren habe” https://www.gamepro.de/artikel/ki-mental-health-verstand-verloren,3378382.html

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Digital playing fields in music production

It has been ages since listening to music did require being in the same place as the musicians themselves. However, digitalisation has absolutely transformed the production, availability and consumption of recorded music. And alongside with it, the music market: we have become used to as good as any piece of music being available at any time, and – at least in private – practically free of charge. If we wish to experience music as something exclusive and special, we have to seek or create such opportunities consciously and intentionally. With the possibility of recording and distributing music via streaming platforms, however, it is not only our relationship to music as a cultural event that has fundamentally changed: Digital technologies are bringing about a variety of upheavals in music production itself; a development that is perceived, evaluated and embraced – or refused – in very different ways by musicians and fans alike.

Sociologist David Waldecker researches and teaches at the Media Studies Department of Universität Siegen and has intensively studied how music is produced in audio recording studios. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert explains the significance of the studio and its respective technical equipment for music production, both historically and in a contemporary context. He describes the possibilities that digitality offers – both for amateur music makers, who can now independently produce their own music, and for professional musicians and producers. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Waldecker discusses the tensions that can arise between digitality and authenticity and how digital technologies shape our listening habits. And, after all, what importance does the distinction between “analogue” and “digital” actually have when we engage in making, listening to and experiencing music?

Episode 28 of Digitalgespräch, feat. David Waldecker of Universität Siegen, 18 October 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the article “Machine Learning in Context, or Learning from LANDR: Artificial Intelligence and the Platformization of Music Mastering” by Jonathan Sterne and Elena Razlogova:
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2056305119847525

Link to David Waldecker’s book “Mit Adorno im Tonstudio” on the sociology of music production:
https://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-5701-2/mit-adorno-im-tonstudio/

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Hacker Attacks and IT Management: Insurance against Cyber Risks

The number of attacks on IT systems has been increasing for years. They target small as well as big companies, state institutions as well as private individuals. The damage they cause can be enormous, not only in financial terms: in digital-ised environments, resilient IT is a key requirement for trustworthiness. Effective and reliable operation of production and supply chains depend on it and so does the data security of customer, patient and business partners. Everyone who consciously engages with digitality knows this and is aware of associated risks. Nevertheless – as studies show time and again – in many cases too little is in-vested in IT security. And although there are insurances specifically against “cyber risks” on offer by now, by no means do all companies whose integrity depends on IT security purchase them.

Florian Salm is an expert for cyber risks at Gothaer Allgemeine Versicherung AG and a lecturer at the University of Hamburg. Ulrich Greveler is Professor of Applied Computer Science at the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences and, as an IT security expert, also a consultant and assessor for cyber risks. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, these two experts explain from a technical and insurance perspective what constitutes “well made” IT – and how companies can implement it. They explain how insurance companies help – not only in the event of an incident, but also in closing existing security gaps before something happens. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, they discuss why IT security is still difficult to implement in many companies, who bears responsibility for the security of systems in a networked society – and what it means that some risks of future technologies and large IT projects are not insurable.

Episode 27 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Florian Salm of Gothaer Allgemeine Versicherung AG and Ulrich Greveler of Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, 27 September 2022
Further informationen:

Link to Ulrich Greveler’s website: https://www.ulrich-greveler.de/english
Link to survey “Gothaer KMU-Studie 2022: Cyberangriffe größte Bedrohung für Mittelständler”: https://presse.gothaer.de/pressreleases/gothaer-kmu-studie-2022-cyberangriffe-groesste-bedrohung-fuer-mittelstaendler-3182062

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Rare Raw Materials and Electronic Waste: On the Materiality and Recycling Problems of Digitality

Digitalisation, like our economic model, is geared towards growth. But to what extent does the resource consumption of digitality grow when more and more things have to be available faster and faster? It quickly becomes clear that digitality is not “immaterial” at all when you think of the many raw materials we use for it. And the demand is growing all the time. In Europe and Germany, we hardly notice the luxurious hardware of the digital. Raw materials usually only become a public issue here when they are not available in the usual way. For us, what counts most is the increasingly powerful technology that we consume or take for granted as part of our environment. We are used to regularly buying new devices because the old ones can no longer keep up with the successor models. Supposedly “obsolete” items that could continue to be used or at least recycled then often disappear in a drawer or simply in the trash.

However, the resources for new smartphones and laptops – especially metals – are usually mined elsewhere in the world at great expense. Or poorly paid workers recover them from scrap devices, possibly using methods that cause harm to nature and people. Industrialised countries like Germany have only recently started to promote their own efficient recycling practices for e-waste. These projects are complex. They promise paths to a more ecologically sustainable digitality, but also react to geopolitical developments. And whether they achieve their goals – less dependence and more sustainability – depends not only on technical progress in the field of professional recycling.

Mathias Schluep is managing director of the World Resources Forum and an expert on environmental sustainability in the resource cycle. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the environmental engineer explains where our use of resources for digital causes damage to the environment and people’s health, describes places and structures that are affected and how international projects and cooperatives are tackling these problems. It describes what opportunities for recycling exist and how well they are being implemented. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Schluep discusses political motivations for a sustainable use of valuable resources and also what role – and power! – consumers have in this matter.

Episode 26 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Mathias Schluep of the World Resources Forum, 9 September 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of the World Resources Forum: https://www.wrforum.org/

Link to an SRF-documentary about the former e-waste scrap heap in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, feat. Mathias Schluep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DFjA2Y1RXU

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Death, mourning and legacy: What changes through digitality?

Death poses great challenges to each and every individual. Whether it is to understand and accept one’s own mortality or to integrate the death of an important, perhaps beloved person into one’s own continued life. Just as digitalisation is changing our lives, it adds new dimensions to the end of our life. On a practical level, tasks arise in the care of estates, which raise their own technical, legal and also ethical questions through online accounts, identities on the net and digital communication traces. But mourning and remembrance are also seeking and finding new – also more individual – ways of expression in digital spaces by expanding the physical places, temporal boundaries and established patterns of our rituals.

Stephan Neuser is Secretary General of the Bundesverband Deutscher Bestatter e. V. and a lawyer. He experiences on a daily basis the changes that digitality brings to the way people deal with death. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert provides insights into new possibilities, requirements and needs that are leading to a change in funeral culture and answers questions about the digital estate. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses digital forms of mourning and remembrance culture, how they tie in with existing practices and motifs – complementing or reinterpreting them – and what significance the “analogue” retains in the process or also: acquires anew.

Episode 25 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Stephan Neuser of Bundesverband Deutscher Bestatter e. V. , 16 August 2022
Further informationen:

Webseite of Deutscher Bestatter e. V.

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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What is the Darknet and what happens there?

The term “darknet” is usually directly associated with crime in the public mind. However, very few people know what exactly this word means, what functions and structures it denotes – and even if a different impression can easily arise: according to our jurisdiction, neither surfing nor operating sites on the darknet are illegal per se. On the contrary, the infrastructure of the darknet is also used for purposes that are not only in line with democratic law, but can even prove to be important instruments for strengthening democracy, preserving individual freedom and protecting privacy. Corresponding arguments come up again and again in debates about possible interventions or even a de facto ban of the “anonymous internet”. So does the darknet simply have “bad” and “good” sides? And do we have to live with the fact that this technology, as long as it serves whistleblowing, political opposition or good journalism, also fosters serious and most serious crime?

Dr. Kai Denker is a philosopher, computer scientist and historian. He researches and teaches at the Institute of Philosophy at the Technical University of Darmstadt and has also dealt intensively with the Darknet. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, the expert on net cultures explains technical basics and gives an impression of possibilities the Darknet offers for different users with different intentions. He discusses with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring why many net activists defend the darknet in its current form despite its bad reputation, which basic values play a role in this context, which technical aspects of the darknet are crucial for its democracy-promoting functions – and which others could possibly be dispensed with in favour of fighting crime, at least in theory.

Episode 24 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Kai Denker of the Technical University of Darmstadt, 5 July 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the Website of the Tor Project:
https://www.torproject.org/

Link to an article on the Website of the BKA (from 2017):
https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Reden/DE/vogtArtikelDarknet.html

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High-performance computing on issues of the future: The German Climate Computing Centre

If we want to keep climate change within tolerable limits and foresee the changes we will face, then we must make climate as calculable as possible. Climate research has therefore become increasingly significant in recent decades, for policy makers as well public discourse. How do scientists arrive at the results that we perceive as scenarios, forecasts and warnings? Part of the answer is: on the basis of simulations, for which mathematical climate models have to be combined with large amounts of data. In Germany, researchers have had access to the German Climate Computing Centre (DKRZ) in Hamburg since the late 1980s – a high-performance computing centre that is maintained by the public sector specifically for the purpose of climate research and which, in addition to computing time on optimised supercomputers, also offers broad support and services for its users. What exactly happens at DKRZ and how does it differ from other high-performance computing centres? What contribution does it make – to science in Germany and in international cooperation? Could modern technologies such as quantum computers or machine learning help us to understand the climate better and more quickly in the future? And: What does the climate impact of climate computing look like?

Prof. Thomas Ludwig is a computer scientist and heads the German Climate Computing Centre (DKRZ). As a scientist, he also researches and teaches at the University of Hamburg. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert for scientific computing presents the mission of this special computing centre. In the process, Ludwig also explains how high-performance computing has developed since the 1990s and how the interaction between scientific modelling and the possibilities offered by state-of-the-art supercomputers leads to breakthroughs in climate research. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Ludwig discusses what concrete benefits the results of climate research and data collected in the process can bring to other scientific communities and the public, whether research infrastructure receives too little attention – and why it’s not such a big deal if incorrect weather forecasts become a little more incorrect through machine learning.

Episode 23 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Thomas Ludwig of the German Climate Computing Centre, 14 June 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the Website of the German Climate Computing Centre: https://dkrz.de/en

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.