The National Ai Strategy: Germany's Human Centred approach
Germany has started planning how to fully exploit the potential of Artificial Intelligence in 2018 with a very carefully devised strategy to foster growth and competitiveness, while ensuring at the same time a responsible and trustworthy development of AI. This was described in the National AI Strategy, a large project that involves three Ministries: the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The three institutions have set up a consultative process with a diverse set of stakeholders, and in December 2020, in order to stay relevant and keep up with the evolutions of AI, they updated the National AI strategy, which is focused on three central goals:
- Secure Germany’s future competitiveness while making Germany and Europe leading locations for the development and application of AI technologies;
- Ensure that AI use and development are responsible and focused on the common good;
- Embed AI ethically, legally, culturally and institutionally through broad societal dialogue and active political efforts.
Since 2021 five billion Euros have been allocated to implement the AI strategy, including two billion euros dedicated to economic stimulus and a “future technologies” package that responds to the pandemic. The scale of allocated resources underlines the importance that Germany attributes to AI, but one very interesting and innovative aspect is the human-centred approach, which has the explicit goal of building the necessary trust among citizens and equip them with the training and skills to interact confidently and comfortably with AI in a professional context and in civil society. This is part of a wider digital skills programming of which AI literacy is a major component.
Introducing and co-creating AI applications in the workplace
A strong focus of the strategy is on digital empowerment in the workplace, after a study conducted by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and the Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research showed that in 2019 only 5.8% of companies were using AI technologies. The study attributes this to a lack of AI-specific expertise in SMEs and a number of projects have been launched:
- The Hubs for Tomorrow are supporting SMEs in the adoption of digital technologies and AI-based systems. The hubs use a participatory and co-creative method so that businesses can design processes with their employees.
- Experimentation and Learning Spaces: these are located within companies and administrations to enable organisations and their employees to develop and test solutions for the human-centred introduction and implementation of AI processes in the workplace. These spaces assist in the implementation and transfer of AI technologies, and also act as information platforms and are supporting SMEs in the challenges of the digital transformation. Researchers are monitoring the processes, challenges and opportunities to develop a scientific method that can be applied to other businesses.
- AI Coaches: To make new technologies like AI known among SMEs and to make the entry of those technologies into SMEs as easy as possible, AI-Coaches work directly with SMEs (over 3,400 in May 2020) to raise awareness of the technological and economical potentials of AI. The responses have been overwhelming.
AI, diversity and applications for Civic Society
More aspects and sectors of society are involved in the AI strategy: the KIDD project (AI in the service of diversity), starts from the assumption that algorithms can in fact discriminate. Digital systems should consider different perspectives and involve people with diverse backgrounds early in the design process. Participating companies test co-creative processes to introduce a digital system, thereby involving a diverse set of employees and experts. The ultimate goal is to develop a standardised “KIDD process” that avoids discrimination and enables a fair, transparent and understandable human-centred application of digital systems in business.
AI as a force for the common good: the initiative aimed at supporting civil society in developing AI skills and competencies to harness the potential of AI for good is called Civic Innovation Platform (CIP). Here stakeholders from different backgrounds can jointly submit their drafts for the development of a common-good oriented AI application via an online platform. Participants can come from diverse entities such as social organisations, municipalities, start-ups, NGOs but also individual citizens. Up to now, these stakeholders have been given little consideration in the funding processes. By including them, CIP is widening the set of recipients and ensuring an innovative approach to the development of human-centred AI. One positive result of this initiative is that involving civil society can foster widespread acceptance and trust in technology among the population.
What are the next steps for the German AI strategy? The goal now will be to institutionalise the evaluation processes and establish best practices.