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Bonus episode »Shifting Perspectives«: In conversation with the makers of the Digitalgespräch

The first Digitalgespräch was broadcasted on May 26, 2021. Three years and 50 episodes later, the podcast has established itself as a space for open and scientifically informed discourse on topics relating to “digitality”. To mark this small anniversary, we would like to pause for a moment and reflect – which is why the two hosts of Digitalgespräch, Petra Gehring and Marlene Görger, have switched sides for this episode.

The aim of the Digitalgespräch is to shine a spotlight on complex fields of action so that “the fog of big buzzwords clears”. The method: Gathering specific knowledge from various fields of work and research perspectives in discussions with experts and slowly putting the pieces together. In this way, many diverse facets of the digital came onto the agenda: smart contracts, digital forensics, the restoration of digital works of art, the handling of sensitive research data or mourning and dying in the digital age.

Considering the complex field of the “digital”, is a picture beginning to emerge, a connection, a coherent insight? Or is the number of pieces growing faster than it is possible to put them together? In the bonus episode, the two makers talk to the two ZEVEDI science editors Eneia Dragomir and Konstantin Schönfelder in the small recording studio in Darmstadt. After 50 episodes of Digitalgespräch, where has the fog lifted and where did we hear about things that may only come to the attention of a wider public in the future? What went well, what didn’t go so well and what can we expect from the next 50 episodes?

Marlene Görger is a physicist and philosopher of technology and has been working at the Centre Responsible Digitality since 2020. Petra Gehring is Professor of Philosophy at the Technical University of Darmstadt and Scientific Director of the Center.

Bonus episode: Digitalgespräch with Petra Gehring and Marlene Görger, April 24, 2024.

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A “Virtual Human Twin” made from Personal Data? On the Way to the Future of Healthcare

The term “virtual twin” originates from engineering. There, it describes digital models that are used to map, optimise and simulate real technical systems or processes in what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Such models are widely used today. What has not yet been realised is the idea that, in addition to technical systems, individual people or groups could also have such virtual representations from which their “system states” can be read. Such a holistic model could be used to optimise the overall state of “health”, for example. A large amount of data and complex software would be required to create such a “twin”, maybe even including “behaviour”. Corresponding ideas exist, and some of the visions go so far as to imagine the digital image of an entire person with body data and mental characteristics. The hope is that it will be possible to predict the development of a person’s state of health or plan individualised treatment in the event of illness. A “virtual human twin” would also be able to provide behavioural advice for optimal bodily functions and performance. It would potentially accompany its human counterpart throughout its life, measure it and also shape it through its influence. Until now, such ideas have been regarded as mere pipe dreams by experts. However, the EU is now actually planning to introduce “European Virtual Human Twins” for the medical care of its citizens – in any case, the path for this opening up. Is such a vision compatible with our current data protection laws? And what does this mean for a socially just and democratic healthcare system if it is to respect different lifestyles and values?

Malte Gruber is Professor of Civil Law and Philosophy of Law at Justus Liebig Universität Gießen and specialises in information law and the law of the digital economy, as well as technology law and the law of life sciences. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert describes which concepts of “virtual human twins” play a role in current debates and developments, what motivates the EU Commission’s initiative and which legal and social questions arise if corresponding visions are to be realised. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Gruber discusses realistic scenarios between hype and dystopia, which aspects are still receiving little attention in the current debate and what the vision of the future medical product “virtual human twin” reveals about our current relation to our bodies.

Episode 50 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Malte Gruber of Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, 16 April 2024
Further informationen:

Zur Ankündigung der “European Virtual Human Twins Initiative” der EU Kommission: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/virtual-human-twins

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

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Tax Investigation with Artificial Intelligence: Panama, Pandora and more

Using artificial intelligence methods, it is now possible to compare, systemise and analyse large and large collections of files in very different formats. This is also a milestone for investigating authorities: IT experts can filter out relevant information and establish connections from data sets that would be impossible for investigators to sift through and process without technical aids. A famous example of such a gigantic data set and its successful handling are the so-called Panama Papers: a data leak that contained around 11.5 million documents or 2.6 terabytes of data in 2016 and documented cases of tax fraud and money laundering worldwide. Since then, several more such leaks have emerged, such as the even more extensive Pandora Papers in 2021. For investigators and authorities, this meant the need to identify those emails, databases, PDFs, images and other files that were relevant to their own jurisdiction from millions. AI is arguably what ultimately made the prosecution of the offences uncovered in the data possible in the first place, and the underlying technologies have been developing in leaps and bounds ever since. AI is clearly a powerful tool for state action, which can easily be used to find a needle in a haystack. In a democracy governed by the rule of law, it is all the more important to determine the purposes for which AI may be used.

Christian Voß is Head of the Forschungsstelle Künstliche Intelligenz (FSKI), which was set up at the Kassel tax office in 2019. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the computer scientist and AI expert explains how this institution came about, what its tasks are and how AI supports tax investigations. He describes the measures required to analyse leaks such as the Panama Papers, how software solutions are developed for specific problems, what knowledge specialists need and how his interdisciplinary team works together with other agencies and also the university. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Voß discusses conflicting priorities between data protection and criminal prosecution, the value that open source solutions bring and whether not only crime but also the rule of law is being challenged by technical progress in the IT sector.

Episode 49 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Christian Voß of Forschungsstelle Künstliche Intelligenz (FSKI), 26 March 2024
Further informationen:

Link to information on the dual study programme in computer science with a practical focus on tax investigation and IT forensics at the Kassel tax office: https://finanzverwaltung-mein-job.hessen.de/duales-studium/informatik-it-forensik-bsc

Link to the website IT HESSEN: https://it.hessen.de/

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The EU’s AI Act: How it came about and how it regulates AI

With the AI Act, the EU has launched the first comprehensive regulatory framework for “Artificial Intelligence” systems. An ambitious, challenging and urgent endeavour: Rapid technological development is taking place globally, and mostly outside of Europe. AI is already being used in all areas of life, with undeniable economic benefits, but also obvious risks for liberal democracy and its values. Which technologies are considered “Artificial Intelligence”, though, is not clearly defined. Rather, this fuzzy buzzword covers all kinds of IT and robotic systems with capabilities that go beyond those of conventional automation. A legal framework, such as the one that is about to be introduced in Europe, must be wisely drafted and flexible in order to do justice to this complex situation. Has the European AI regulation achieved this?

Domenik Wendt is Professor of Civil Law, European Business Law and European Law at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences and an expert on AI law. He has closely followed the development of the AI Act from the very outset, adopting both an academic and a practice-orientated perspective. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he describes the process the regulation has gone through: From the context of the EU commission’s first initiative and its underlying idea and objective, to the heated discussions between the stakeholders involved with their various interests and basic political stances, to the content of the final draft that is now set to be adopted. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Wendt discusses how the AI Act is perceived and evaluated internationally, whether critics are right to point out weaknesses, and how companies, lawyers and scientists have to take action in order to bring this abstract legal framework into reality.

Episode 48 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Domenik Wendt of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, 5 March 2024
Further informationen:

Link to the press release of the Federal Ministry of Justice dated 2 February 2024: https://www.bmj.de/SharedDocs/Pressemitteilungen/DE/2024/0202_KI-VO.html?cms_mtm_campaign=linksFromNewsletter

Website of Research Lab for Law and applied Technologies: https://www.frankfurt-university.de/en/about-us/faculty-3-business-and-law/research-and-transfer/research-labs/rellate/

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

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AI and Liability: Who is responsible for Mistakes made by Artificial Intelligence?

The risks associated with the use of AI are widely discussed. Examples range from possible misdiagnoses in medical treatment and discrimination in job searches to dangers for democratic systems or violations of human dignity. The possibly existential threats in particular, which are said to emanate from generative AI and which its creators themselves never tire of pointing out, are a source of heated debate. However, AI systems do not emerge and act on their own: Humans are always involved in their development, dissemination and use, at least for the time being, and humans still bear responsibility for how the systems are set up, what they do and what happens to the results. But are they also liable when mistakes happen? It is not easy to decide who is held responsible if an AI system causes damage, and our legal situation does not yet have any clear answers to this question. This is about to change soon: With the AI Act, the EU is currently in the process of establishing product liability for AI. What are the aspects which lawyers and legislators need to address when it comes to liability issues involving the use of AI? And how well is this upcoming AI law compatible or at odds with our existing understanding of the law?

Carsten Gerner-Beuerle is Professor of Commercial Law at University College London. The Law and Economics scholar is an expert in International Corporate, Private and Capital Market Law and has contributed to/weighed in on regulatory policies of the EU Commission and the EU Parliament. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he describes the unclear liability situation in which AI is used so far and how it affects current practice. He explains the legal background to this complex situation and describes how different legal systems deal with risks arising from the use of AI. Furthermore, he outlines the strategy the EU is pursuing with the AI Act. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Gerner-Beuerle discusses the characteristics of AI that distinguish it from “ordinary” products and how liability is usually addressed, the typical risks associated with the use of AI systems in general and the extent to which the concept of liability could nonetheless function as a regulatory instrument.

Episode 47 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Carsten Gerner-Beuerle of University College London, 13 February 2024
Further informationen:

Link to Carsten Gerner-Beuerle’s profile: https://profiles.ucl.ac.uk/64070-carsten-gernerbeuerle/about

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Arena of IoT: A Football Stadium as a Digital Real-World Laboratory

The so-called “Internet of Things” means that digital processes in our environment run as if by themselves. Networked devices trigger real events, collect a wide variety of data and, combined with sensors, microphone and camera technology, provide an unimaginable amount of information. This networking can make our work easier, or at least they change the way we work, and creates completely new everyday tasks, new opportunities, but also its own conditions affecting our lives: it transforms jobs and leisure activities, changes our mobility, how we communicate and – sometimes more, sometimes less subtly – what we focus our attention on. Actually implementing innovations here is an exciting and complex practical task. What opportunities do we have to try things out and negotiate, while at the same time utilising “real”, ready-to-use technologies? The stadium of the Eintracht Frankfurt football club has been serving as such a testing ground for the Rhein-Main region for some time now. A large sports venue and the management of football events as a laboratory for digitalisation – with respect for the traditions and values of the club and the demands of its members and fans. How this goal can be achieved and the ideas, projects and goals behind the project Arena of IoT are the subject of this episode of Digitalgespräch.

Dr Oliver Bäcker is head of the Arena of IoT at EintrachtTech, the digital subsidiary of the sports club Eintracht Frankfurt. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the specialist in innovation and technology management provides insights into specific projects and developments in and around the stadium. Bäcker describes the background to Eintracht Frankfurt’s particular digital focus, how the club’s values and interests are incorporated into the design of specific innovations and how members and fans are involved in the process. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Bäcker discusses which projects are attracting the most attention from politicians and the public, whether the sporting competition between football clubs is also extending to th field of digital innovation – and what significance the analogue experience continues to have and retain.

Episode 46 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Oliver Bäcker of EintrachtTech, 23 January 2024
Further informationen:

Link to information on EintrachtTech and the Arena of IoT: https://klub.eintracht.de/eintrachttech/digitalzentrum-arena-of-iot/

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Digital Forensics

Reading out data on a supposedly destroyed hard drive, dismantling the on-board computer of a car involved in an accident, finding hidden files on a smartphone – in the digital society, investigators often need the support of IT experts to solve crimes. There are special training programmes for “digital forensics” that combine technical expertise with legal knowledge. However, compared to the established practices of careful securing and intelligent evaluation of evidence, for which traditional forensics builds on the experience of entire generations of investigators and scientists, forensic computing is a very young discipline that has to be very adaptable: Innovations and new systems come with new classes of digital traces – but also challenges for research and practice in digital forensics, because forensic scientists and police officers must be trained for digitality in the long term.

Felix Freiling is Professor of IT Security Infrastructures at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and a member of the Board of Directors of the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt). In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the sought-after expert explains how to properly handle digital evidence and what else is part of digital forensics training, talks about practical examples and makes it clear where data is generated in our everyday lives that could be analysed if necessary. He talks about the role that falsifiability of digital traces plays in reality, whether AI supports investigations, how well criminals cover their digital tracks and where the knowledge of forensic computer science is still useful. Together with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Freiling discusses what the omnipresence of digital traces means for privacy, how responsible digitalisation can help think about crime on both a small and large scale – and what the digital equivalent of a DNA trace could be.

Episode 45 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Felix Freiling of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, 12 December 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the Research Training Group ‘Cybercrime and Forensic Computing’ at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg: https://www.cybercrime.fau.de/research-training-group-2475-cybercrime-and-forensic-computing/

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From policy debates to election campaigns: digital communication of political parties

Our everyday communication has become radically digitalised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, political parties and their members have also had to reorganise themselves: Entire party conferences were held virtually at times, and debates and decision-making also had to succeed with digital tools, which are now being retained and continue to supplement face-to-face dialogue. But even beyond the exceptional situation of a pandemic, parties are experimenting with opening up new opportunities for collaboration as part of modernisation measures. Attempts are being made to reach voters on social media, but above all to improve the inner organisation of the party through digitalisation. How the political parties in Germany are approaching their own digital transformation, what their priorities are and what their respective prerequisites are, of course, varies greatly: the number of members, budgets and different political guiding principles all play a role.

Isabelle Borucki is Professor for Methodology and Philosophy in digital transformation at Philipps-Universität Marburg and researches political organisations in particular. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert describes her observations from studies and surveys that provide insights into the current digitisation processes of political parties. She explains the similarities and differences between the parties and contextualises them in terms of their respective characteristics and framework conditions. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Borucki discusses how digitisation can make participation in political processes easier but also more complex, how members and established structures react to digitisation processes, what challenges social media poses for PR departments – and how parties have responded to the technical possibilities for digital election campaigns.

Episode 44 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Isabelle Borucki of Philipps-Universität Marburg, 21 November 2023
Further informationen:

To the “Campaign Watch” project of the NRW School of Governance: https://www.campaign-watch.de

To Isabelle Borucki’s website: https://isabelleborucki.de

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Digitality and the Democratic Mandate of Public-Service Broadcasting

In the age of the internet, television and radio have lost their status as monopoly mass media. However, the public broadcasters have retained their important role for democracy and their constitutional tasks: Primarily financed by the broadcasting fees of the citizens, they are supposed to inform, entertain, reflect diversity of opinion and different realities of life and be relevant to as many people as possible with a high-quality and diverse programme. For a long time, they have therefore also been present in the social media and on online platforms, with content elaborately adapted to special target groups and their media usage habits. However, the public function is not limited to programming, relevance and reach: the archiving of broadcasts as historical documents of current events is also part of this responsibility, as is the provision and maintenance of media infrastructure. The latter is not only used by the broadcasters themselves, but also by private media professionals – and is of central importance for disaster control. It is clear that the internet and digitalisation are creating pressure for transformation in many areas. What is working well, what still needs to be done – and what is at stake?

Florian Hager is the director of Hessischer Rundfunk, one of Germany’s nine regional public-service broadcasters. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he describes the urgent questions and challenges the broadcaster is facing. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Hager discusses the significance of the public broadcasters’ mandate in the face of digitality, where the course needs to be set, where the commitment of politics and society is required – and what role transmission masts and FM radios still play in 2023.

Episode 43 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Florian Hager of Hessischer Rundfunk, 31 October 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the hr-Act on the website of Hessischer Rundfunk: https://www.hr.de/unternehmen/rechtliche-grundlagen/das-hr-gesetz-v1,hr-gesetz-100.html
Link to the website of the German Broadcasting Archive:
https://www.dra.de/de/

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

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Critical Data for Science: Why a Research Data Act?

Public authority data, i.e. data that accumulates in the course of administrative acts or is specifically collected by public authorities for precisely defined purposes, is subject to special protection – for good reasons: personal data reveals a great deal aof personal information, and data on companies might be used to deduce their business secrets. Economic and social research however, is not concerned with individual cases. It looks for large social or economic contexts and therefore looks into government data as a whole. Individuals and companies become an anonymous data point in their statistics. The results of this research can inform political decisions, objectify public debates with provable figures and bring hidden developments to light – if researchers are given access to these data and have permission to link them with other date. Here, the current legal situation in Germany does not present a uniform picture. Practical hurdles in data access are also criticised by representatives of independent research. A negotiation process is taking place between those who produce and share data, those who want to conduct research on this data and the data protection authorities, who must ensure that information about individuals remains safe with the authorities.

Prof. Stefan Bender heads the Research Data and Service Centre of the Deutsche Bundesbank, which he also represents in the German Data Forum (RatSWD). The economist is an expert on data access, big data, linking data and data quality. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he explains what exactly makes government data particularly interesting for research, how data access is regulated today and where it needs to be improved. Bender discusses with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring which perspectives clash in the discussion about data access for research, where exciting new questions arise – and what a well-designed research data act (“Forschungsdatengesetz”) can improve.

Episode 42 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Stefan Bender of Deutsche Bundesbank, 10 October 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the website of the German Data Forum (RatSWD): https://www.konsortswd.de/en/about/ratswd/

Link to the website of the Consortium for the Social, Behavioural, Educational and Economic Sciences (KonsortSWD): https://www.konsortswd.de/en/

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