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Modelling, Simulation, Optimization – the Digitalization of our Energy Supply Network

Our everyday life is built on the certainty that electricity will be reliably available at all times. Fluctuations or even failures are not foreseen. When we are not dealing with disaster prevention or imagining doomsday scenarios, we rarely think about how vulnerable we are in our dependence on energy supply. Especially gas grids are not only huge and complex, but they change and require permanent readjustment and stabilisation. Further developing and optimising the energy grid with a view to new energy sources and changing priorities, monitoring its function and making it resilient to a multitude of risks is a highly complex task: we not only want to understand how different energy sources interact, but we also need to make reliable predictions and must be able to react immediately if something unexpected happens. This requires physical models, mathematical methods and data analysis – also in real time. Simulations and calculations take into account developments on the global energy market, the weather and the condition of the pipelines as well as the quality of energy sources or the consumption of industry and private households. How do you make this multi-dimensional system manageable?

Prof. Dr Alexander Martin is a mathematician. He heads the ADA Lovelace Center for Analytics, Data and Applications at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS and is founding vice president of the Technische Universität Nürnberg. In his work, he deals with modelling and simulation in optimisation issues and brings “Artificial Intelligence” into application. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert explains how our energy network is structured and what considerations underlie the models and methods with which he and his colleagues work. He describes the benefits of digitalisation, what data is needed and where AI can come into play. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring Martin discusses which objectives and political debates influence the development of the gas network – and which economic and ecological costs are associated with the collection, storage and use of data.

Folge 41: Digitalgespräch feat. Alexander Martin of Technische Universität Nürnberg, 19 September 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the profile of Alexander Martin on the webseite of the Technische Universität Nürnberg: To the profile of Alexander Martin on the website of the Nuremberg University of Technology: https://www.utn.de/person/prof-alexander-martin/

Link to the website of the ADA Lovelace Center for Analytics, Data and Applications at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS: https://www.scs.fraunhofer.de/en/focus-projects/ada-center.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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Precision Farming – the Example of Fruit Growing

Agriculture shapes rural areas like few other industries, and it secures our food supply. It is in all our interests that farmers and their employees can do their work in a good way. What this means in detail is, of course, controversial. Time and again, farmers are criticised because jobs on their farms are unpopular and food production, storage and distribution are associated with environmental and climate impacts. Of course we want ecologically and socially sustainable food for all people – and a well-functioning agriculture too. Digitalisation promises relief in the conflict between environmental goals with our demand for socially just production and availability of produce: efficient and networked farming has already arrived on many farms, as has fast access to knowledge and digital planning aids. Those involved as well as politician are convicted that agriculture must become more digital in order to become more sustainable. But is digitalisation alone sufficient to solve existing problems?

Dr Christine Rösch heads the research group “Sustainable Bioeconomics” at the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, ITAS at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The agricultural biologist and expert on transformation processes in rural areas explains in this episode of Digitalgespräch which objectives and necessities determine the digital transformation of agriculture, and why fruit-growing is a good example for understanding these processes. She describes which technologies are already widely used, in which innovations many hopes are placed and how well the implementation of modernisation measures is succeeding. Together with the hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Rösch discusses what opportunities digitalisation holds for a more sustainable agriculture, how organic and conventional farms use it, what far-reaching consequences and risks are indicated – and whether there is also a generation conflict to be overcome in the digital transformation of the job description “farmer”.

Episode 40 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Christiane Rösch of Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), 8 August 2023
Further informationen:

Link to Christine Rösch’s profile at ITAS: https://www.itas.kit.edu/kollegium_roesch_christine.php
Link to the DESIRA project discussed in this episode: https://desira2020.agr.unipi.it/
Link to informationen on the EU strategy Farm2Fork: https://food.ec.europa.eu/horizontal-topics/farm-fork-strategy_en

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

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How computers manage to deal with language independently

Powerful language models have become available to the broad world public, making the success of computational linguistics evident: Computer architectures have been developed there that are capable of processing intuitive human language. The behaviour shown by these systems is hardly comprehensible in detail, but the results they deliver are all the more impressive: Assistance systems equipped with these language models can be controlled and generate output as if they actually mastered language themselves – and their potential applications go far beyond the sensational chat bots that dominate public debates. However, GPT and related systems have by no means emerged suddenly. They are the result of a persistent learning process: first attempts to map language into algorithms failed in the mid-twentieth century not only because of a lack of resources or because crucial machine learning methods had not yet been developed, but also because the theories on how to abstractly grasp and systematise the meaning level of human language were insufficient. So what do developers of modern systems do differently from the pioneers of computational linguistics?

Chris Biemann is Professor of Language Technology at the University of Hamburg, where he heads the Language Technology Group and the House of Computing and Data Science. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert provides deep insights into the way modern language models are created and how they work, explaining linguistic theories that come into play. He makes comprehensible why the systems deliver such impressive results and describes what they can be used for in scientific contexts. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Biemann discusses what resources go into the development of such systems, what happens when language models are trained on nearly the entire internet – and what tasks computational linguists face now that they seem to have achieved their great goal.

Episode 36 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Chris Biemann of Universität Hamburg, 16 May 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the textbook “Wissensrohstoff Text – eine Einführung in das Text Minig” by Chris Biemann, Gerhard Heyer and Uwe Quasthoff: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-658-35969-0
Link to the website of the House of Computing and Data Science: https://www.hcds.uni-hamburg.de/hcds.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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Managing manifold data – the example of biodiversity research

Research on plant and animal biodiversity faces a technical challenge: data collections generated observing nature and in the environmental or life sciences are huge and constantly growing. However, data types and data sets differ greatly, depending on the research field and practical circumstances. For biodiversity research, however, heterogeneous knowledge must be consolidated and also shared – to solve ecological problems, one needs the large pictures. In concrete terms, the challenge can be described as: How to extract as much data as possible from countless spreadsheets, handwritten documentation, satellite images, living organisms or dried plants, so that researchers can access this resource conveniently via an online portal? One thing is clear: this is a mammoth task. And in addition to technical challenges, there are problems of data law and science policy to solve.

Dr Barbara Ebert is the managing director of the German Federation for Biological Data. She coordinates the development of a platform for research data on biodiversity research in the “NFDI4Biodiversity” project of the German National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI). In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the biologist and data management expert explains the hurdles that have to be overcome and describes the sources from which data come together, what they are collected for and how they become usable for further research. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Ebert discusses where negotiation processes take place, which needs are prioritised and whose interests must be taken into account.

Episode 35 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Barbara Ebert of the German Federation for Biological Data, 4 April 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the data management portal of the German Federation for Biological Data: https://www.gfbio.org/

Link to the website of the “NFDI4Biodiversity” project of the German National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI): https://www.nfdi4biodiversity.org/de/

Link to a presentation on the compilation of data for the Red List of fish species: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeO_PONc3oA

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

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Machine learning in environmental monitoring

Rapidly advancing climate change has consequences for ecosystems and landscapes. Observing and understanding these changes is crucial for minimizing damage through smart action. Environmental monitoring that provides reliable data on the condition of forests, soils and peatlands – with as few gaps as possible – requires cooperative research which combines knowledge about ecological concepts with modern, computer-aided procedures, providing methods and technologies to extend specific date obtained from certain areas to larger scales: Machine learning techniques can be used to correlate data that foresters, landscape managers, and nature lovers find visible and measurable in the field with satellite and drone imagery of larger spatial areas. In theory, spatial and temporal gaps in the data could be closed using those methods – provided the mathematical models behind them are understood and the initial data with which the “artificial intelligence” learns actually matches the ecological question.

Hanna Meyer is Professor of Remote Sensing and Spatial Modeling at the Institute of Landscape Ecology at the University of Münster. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert explains how environmental computer scientists work and what typical tasks and questions are. She describes what data is needed to correlate satellite and drone imagery with real ecological systems and how machine learning helps to fill gaps in the data. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Meyer discusses what the limits of this mathematical extension of field data are – and the dangers of trusting the models too blindly.

Episode 34 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Hanna Meyer of Universität Münster, 14 March 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the article “Qualität globaler Umweltkarten auf dem Prüfstand” in wissen|leben (WWU Münster): https://www.uni-muenster.de/news/view.php?cmdid=12772

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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 can small and large drones do? On the automation of airborne devices

Popular hobby or threatening combat device: the public perception of so-called “drones” seems to be shaped primarily by these two areas of application. As flying film and photo devices, they are operated mainly by amateur pilots for fun. However, in the lower air levels these inhabit, they are getting company: more and more drones are put to professional, civilian use. And the latter, sophisticated airborne machines differ not only in shape, size and weight, but also require new regulations and safety considerations. The civilian use of modern drones could be helpful for example in medicine, agriculture, environmental protection or for sea rescue. But in order to achieve this goal not only technical but above all regulatory and infrastructural challenges must be addressed. After all, all of these aircraft – including hobby drones – are part of civil air traffic.

Uwe Klingauf is Professor of Flight Systems and Automatic Control at the Technical University of Darmstadt and has been working in the field of aeronautical systems engineering for many years. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the expert on automated flight systems talks about the state of the art, exciting current trends and challenges for research and development. He explains which safety considerations accompany the introduction of drones in urban areas, which processes have to take place in this and which applications are most promising. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Klingauf discusses new use cases for automated aircraft, aspects that will determine which developments will prevail – and what has become of the hype surrounding parcel drones and flying taxis.

Episode 33 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Uwe Klingauf of Technische Universität Darmstadt, 21 February 2023
Further informationen:

Link to the information page “Drone Flight” of the German air traffic control Deutsche Flugsicherung: https://www.dfs.de/homepage/en/drone-flight/

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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.