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Fully automated agreements? What are benefits of „Smart Contracts“?

Even if not all of us are experts in civil law, we routinely enter into contractual obligations with each other in everyday life. Whether we buy bread rolls, take out life insurance or book a flight – we trust that we can rely on each other. And if something does go wrong, laws or even courts settle the dispute. At first glance, the internet as a market place doesn’t make much of a difference. We simply order online instead of by phone or postcard like our grandparents We click and everything from loans to share purchases is done in a flash. Nothing else changes – right? Perhaps it is worth taking a closer look. Because automation shifts balanced rules in the background of contracts that we often don’t even know about. And the hype surrounding smart contracts shows that digitality may have great potential to change our understanding of mutual obligation. Technology is supposed to make automated contract processing possible that, at least in theory, works without trust – neither in each other nor in governmental institutions. But to what extent would that be progress?

Nikolas Guggenberger researches and teaches at Yale Law School on the automation of law and its impact on society. Previously, the legal scholar was a junior professor at the Institute for Information, Telecommunications and Media Law at the University of Münster. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, Guggenberger explains where digitality makes a difference to our contractual practice and sheds light on the background to the buzzword “smart contract.” With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses whether sophisticated technology could replace the law and clarifies where German laws set limits to automation that the legal system in the U.S., for example, does not necessarily recognise.

Episode 19 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Nikolas Guggenberger of Yale Law School, 22 March 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the Information Society Project :
https://law.yale.edu/isp/

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AI in conflict: international norms for lethal autonomous weapon systems

Automation, especially with the help of Artificial Intelligence, should make all kinds of processes faster, more efficient and more precise. The aim is to bypass humans as a limiting factor and create competitive advantages. In the military, this takes on a directly existential dimension: for some years now, artificial intelligence systems have increasingly become part of military equipment and machinery. They can support, prepare or even independently carry out combat operations. In the military, this takes on a directly existential dimension: for some years now, artificial intelligence systems have increasingly become part of military equipment and machinery. Although corresponding negotiations were initiated at UN level in 2013, it has not even been decided among the states involved whether regulation will even be sought. The process is to be continued in Geneva at the beginning of March 2022, but even before Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, observers saw little chance of a productive process – the supposed advantage that militaries see in LAWS is too great for them to want to commit to renouncing it.

One of the observers of the negotiations within the framework of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) is Anja Dahlmann, head of Berlin Office of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and member of the International Panel on the Regulation of Autonomous Weapons (iPRAW). In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the political scientist explains the significance and status of the negotiations and outlines the positions taken by various states. She describes which weapons systems are at stake, how and by whom they are being developed and what we know about their progress. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Dahlmann discusses what regulatory attempts are aiming at and why they are being pushed forward despite all resistance. The interview was recorded on 17 February 2022, one week before Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Episode 18 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Anja Dahlmann of Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, 1 March 2022
Further informationen:

Link to Anja Dahlmann’s profile on the website of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy of Universität Hamburg: https://ifsh.de/en/staff/dahlmann

Link to Campaign to Stop Killer Robots : https://www.stopkillerrobots.org/

Link to iPRAW : https://www.ipraw.org/

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What is Gaia-X?

One hears the name “Gaia-X” more and more often. A new infrastructure is supposed to mediate in the conflict between data protection and growing demands for effective data use. But Gaia-X is also a word of hope in terms of industrial policy: innovative concepts for data sovereignty are to give rise to data products that are in harmony with European values and laws. Europe aims at finding independent, democratic forms of digitality. But how can this be done? In any case, given the market dominance of mainly non-European corporations that currently define the rules and standards of digitality, realising this vision will require an enormous joint effort. In fact, Gaia-X is already on its way and making great strides. However, details are still scarcely known outside expert circles. Therefore, the infrastructure on which the European data ecosystem is to be built is the topic of this episode of Digitalgespräch.

Boris Otto is Professor of Industrial Information Management at TU Dortmund University and Managing Director of the Fraunhofer ISST. In the context of the Gaia-X project he has held various central roles and thus has played a significant part in shaping the developments. In this episode of Digitalgespräch the expert and insider explains exactly what Gaia-X actually is about, which drivers, interests and conditions determine the design and how the progress – and ultimately the success – of the project will be measured. Together with ZEVEDI hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Otto discusses the effects Gaia-X can have for companies as well as private individuals and which hurdles will still have to be overcome.

Episode 17 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Boris Otto of Technische Universität Dortmund and Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST, 8 February 2022
Further informationen:

Gaia-X website: https://www.gaia-x.eu/

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Cookies, AirTags, metadata: Where does tracking lead?

We are potentially tracked wherever we use software. Whether we are surfing the internet or jogging with a smart watch on, we are aware of the fact that data about us and our behaviour are collected and processed for a variaty of purposes. Some of these are indeed intended to benefit us, for example when it comes to monitoring our health or when personalised services are supposed to make our lives more comfortable. Often, however, there are simply financial interests of third parties in the background: companies which make money from our data traces, criminal activities – or in the worst case surveillance measures of authoritarian governments. However: The full potential of increasingly elaborate tracking techniques unfolds only in the progressive networking and interconnectedness of our IT systems. This applies to the supposed benefits just as much as to the risks of misuse.

Matthias Hollick teaches and researches computer science at TU Darmstadt where he heads the Secure Mobile Networking department. In this episode of the ZEVEDI-Podcast “Digitalgespräch”, the expert explains which technologies are already being used today to collect and analyse data about us, which actors are behind those activities and what purposes they pursue. He discusses with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring the dynamics of the development of potential surveillance technologies, the tension between the benefits and risks of the tracking infrastructures that surround us, where and how regulations might make sense, and what perspectives this opens up for liberal, democratic societies.

Episode 16 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Matthias Hollick of Technische Universität Darmstadt, 25 January 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of Matthias Hollick’s department Secure Mobile Networks:
https://www.seemoo.tu-darmstadt.de/

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Counting with physics: quantum computers in reality

There are limits to the performance of even the most modern supercomputers, which science and technology will probably overcome with the help of quantum physics: With comparatively few quantum bits or qubits, it will then be possible to perform computing operations that the most powerful classical high-performance computers would not be able to cope with. This promises solutions for a number of practical problems in various fields of life and knowledge, likely releasing an enormous potential for development. The processes that will take place in these computers, i.e. how they will function, can only be described precisely in mathematical terms – quantum physics is not known for being particularly easy to perceive. All the more mysterious seems this new type of computing machine, which research groups all over the world are currently developing. In the race for success, international cooperation is just as important as aspiration to prestige and competitive pressure – and also the incentive provided by security concerns. Like any technological advance, quantum acceleration, in which the actual improvement achieved by quantum computers is expressed, is not free of risks for the digital society.

Prof. Dr. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch teaches and researches Theoretical Physics at Saarland University and is currently coordinating the development of a European quantum computer – the flagship project OpenSuperQ – at Forschungszentrum Jülich. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, the expert explains how the project came about and the goal it is pursuing, what distinguishes this novel technology and how a layperson can imagine computing with quantum systems. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses the tasks in which quantum computers promise great progress, how the practicality of quantum computing is developing at the interface between physics, computer science and engineering – and who could get access when and under what conditions.

Episode 15 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch of Saarland University and Forschungszentrum Jülich, 11 Januar 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of the project OpenSuperQ : https://opensuperq.eu/

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Communicating, progressing, enabling: How does a Digital Minister make politics?

For a long time, digitalisation was a process that progessed without systematic political control, releasing potential for drastic change in all areas of life. In recent years, however, a political awareness has emerged for the disruptions that have occurred. How effective digital politics can offer steering mechanisms for a digital transformation, fit to harness the potential of digitality for society while at the same time responsibly countering a wide variety of new risks – this itself is subject of political discourse. One strategy can be the introduction of dedicated digital departments or so-called “digital ministries”, which a few federal states have made first attempts on in recent years. Hence, digital politicians are emerging who are the first in their guild to level a completely new field.

Kristina Sinemus is the Hessian Minister for Digital Strategy and Innovation and one of the first dedicated ministers for digital matters in Germany. The professor of public affairs and former entrepreneur took over her newly created office at the end of 2019. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, Sinemus explains how she built up her department with its central tasks in terms of organisation, content and strategy, and what hurdles had to be overcome in the process. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, she discusses how priorities can be set in the complex field of digitisation, what role citizen dialogue plays and how political strategies regarding a state such as Hesse relate to European digital politics.

Episode 14 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Kristina Sinemus, Hessian Minister for Digital Strategy and Innovation, 14 December 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the Digital Hessen Strategy: https://www.digitalstrategie-hessen.de/dynasite.cfm?dsmid=513901

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Likes, ratings and smart assistants – risks of a digital “consumer democracy”

There is an obvious difference between a simple Like and a written-out explanation of a decision: the former is a mere preference that does not reveal any of its criteria, the latter is a justification for a judgement that one can comprehend and adopt or disagree with. Still, both emerge equally when people share their experience online to help others make consumption decisions. In addition, Likes and posted ratings  have a common competitor: the algorithmically generated, personalised recommendation. It is no longer oriented towards explicit human statements, but rather tracks user behaviour. In the extreme, machines automatically start the next suggested song or series without waiting for the user to actively decide. Here, users are no longer even expected to give a rating – the tracked consumer behaviour suffices.

Thus, there is a development from consumer discourse, in which justification is demanded and provided, to unfounded and hardly questionable expressions of affect, to an automated dynamic that no longer calls for reflection – critical consciousness moves further and further into the background and may eventually disappear altogether. Does this picture already apply to our habits today? How can such a shift be traced? And: Where is a society heading that leaves less and less opportunity for critical reflection in everyday life?

Prof. Jörn Lamla researches and teaches in the field of sociological theory at Universität Kassel and has been observing consumer platforms since they appeared on the World Wide Web in the 1990s. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he explains the changes that the practice of rating and advertising products has taken with the rise of Web 2.0, social media and algorithm-supported platforms, and how today’s forms of digital consumer society are shaking our self-image of the critical, sovereign individual. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses how consumer habits and different types of digital marketplaces affect democracy and self-determination, which interests are at play and what political challenges could arise from this.

Episode 13 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Jörn Lamla of Universität Kassel, 30 November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to Leopoldina‘s statement on digitalisation and democracy:
https://www.leopoldina.org/en/publications/detailview/publication/digitalisierung-und-demokratie-2021/

Link to Jörn Lamla’s expertise on critical evaluation skills as part of the JFF project Digitales Deutschland (in German):
https://digid.jff.de/kritische-bewertungskompetenzen-joern-lamla/

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From coin to crypto token: money, value and currency in the age of digitality

The European Central Bank is considering options for a “Digital Euro”. By this, the ECB is reacting to a development that has taken place beyond institutional financial policy in recent years: privately owned systems enable the transaction of values via the internet and thus open up our previous notion of money and currency to new, digital concepts. The question of what significance we should attach to this dynamic and what reactions are appropriate is becoming increasingly urgent. Many companies as well as individuals are already integrating digital payment systems into their financial strategies, others have been paying little attention to this possibility. International corporations are creating in-house alternatives to established money – which government institutions such as the ECB are countering by trying to find their own models for the introduction of “digital money”. To all this there is much more than the mere use of the internet for financial transactions, to which we have long become accustomed anyway. What is the new thing that is emerging here and what are the implications – for economies and for each individual citizen?

Martin Diehl is an analyst at Deutsche Bundesbank and an expert on payment systems and macroeconomics. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the economist and philosopher brings order into the terminology we use in the field of currency, value and money and explains current developments around blockchain and digital financial markets. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Diehl discusses the revolutionary ideas behind the crypto token and why Bitcoin is not a currency, what requirements money must fulfil and the role that trust plays in this.

Episode 12 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Martin Diehl of Deutsche Bundesbank, 16 November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the FAQ regarding the “Digital Euro” on the Website of Deutsche Bundesbank (in German): https://www.bundesbank.de/de/aufgaben/unbarer-zahlungsverkehr/digitaler-euro-haeufig-gestellte-fragen

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

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Smart urban development – and what municipal companies do for it

The sound of the word “Smart City” makes us think of sophisticated infrastructure and flawless networks, cutting-edge digital technology in every single corner – and also of a place elsewhere in the world or at least in the future, in any case far away. But our historically evolved cities and villages are presently becoming gradually digitalised and “smart” under our very eyes. “Digital Cities” show where this process could lead and how closely modernisation can be oriented to the needs of the population, local businesses and regional characteristics.

Klaus Michael Ahrend is a member of the board of HEAG Holding AG, a company that assumes central tasks of the municipal economy for the region of southern Hesse with its headquarters in Darmstadt. The professor of economics knows the requirements and goals in the development of digitality for cities and regions at close quarters and is actively shaping related projects himself. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he uses the example of the designated Digitalstadt Darmstadt to explain which conditions and values determine the digitisation of a city, what citizens actually benefit from and why the concepts of smart regions might be an even better idea. With the hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses how digitisation can be shaped regionally in a democratic process and what role a European perspective plays in this.

Episode 11 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Klaus-Michael Ahrend of HEAG Holding AG, 2. November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the website of Digitalstadt Darmstadt: https://www.digitalstadt-darmstadt.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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Genetic information in the digital age: the dispute over the Nagoya Protocol

Is digital information on gene sequences a natural resource – yes or no? This question is concerning the Nagoya-Protocol and currently being debated by the United Nations. The outcome of these negotiations will have consequences for research and development, as well as for global equity, because compensation may have to be paid to the countries of origin of the organisms whose genes are involved in the use of digital genetic information – usually poorer parts of the southern hemisphere. On the one hand, this agreement aims at strengthening the protection of biodiversity, and, on the other, counteracts the exploitation of the global South by the industrialised nations. However, once you start thinking about the concept of natural resources in a digital context, you quickly come up against contradictions and consequences unfavourable to all parties involved. This Gordian knot was already inherent in the respective concepts even before digitisation, but is now being tightened by it – a conflict that is difficult to resolve and which, in view of the rapidly advancing use and exploitation of digital genetic data, demands a quick and fair solution.

Anna Deplazes-Zemp is a philosopher and molecular biologist. She researches and teaches at the UZH in Zurich and is concerned with questions of bioethics and scientific ethics. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, she explains the concept of digital genetic resources, the background to the negotiations on the Nagoya Protocol and the major task facing those responsible. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, she illustrates the imbalances of the concept of a “digital natural resource” and discusses the urgent questions of justice that are affected by it and which considerations would have to be included in the development of a solution that actually achieves its goals: Protection and sustainable management of biodiversity and a fair balancing of global injustices.

Episode 10, of Digitalgespräch, feat. Anna Deplazes Zemp, Universität Zürich, 19 October 2021
Further informationen:

Link to text of the Convention on Biological Diversity: https://www.cbd.int/convention/text/

Link to the text of the Nagoya-Protocol: https://www.cbd.int/abs/text/

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