Creating socially compatible technology

The Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation, bidt, has recently begun its work. Prof. Alexander Pretschner is Speaker of the bidt Directorate. He teaches computer science at the TU Munich and is also a Scientific Director at fortiss. In an interview, he describes the tasks of the bidt and explains the overlap with fortiss.

What is the mission of the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation?

The mission is to understand digital transformation and help society to shape it. bidt is working to enable a sound understanding of the different contexts so that decisions for the future can be made objectively. Do we wish to experience digital transformation passively and fearfully or actively embrace it? This is the big question that we are dealing with.

What are the main priorities of bidt?

It is important to us that the bidt is an interdisciplinary institute. Through interaction with the various disciplines, we want to understand the phenomenon of digital transformation. Our primary focus is on the following areas: economics and work, politics and law, as well as media and public communication. Other areas are of course conceivable for the future, such as education or medicine, but we cannot cover everything at the start.

Will the bidt also conduct research itself?

We have three research areas. Firstly, research projects that focus on Bavaria. These are carried out by consortia throughout Bavaria. Secondly, within the bidt, scientists will work on corresponding projects. The third type of research will take place in a think tank, where research staff prepare and condense research results to advise politics and society. We will develop appropriate dialogue formats in order to find out which questions people are dealing with and initiate social debates with selected topics.

Where do you see overlaps between fortiss and bidt?

fortiss solely conducts technical research. The scientists therefore contribute technical expertise. For example, they are concerned with how to organise artificial intelligence and how to deal with certain disadvantages in a reasonable way, such as in situations when intelligent machines have decision-making power. By contrast, the bidt deliberately has a social science orientation, whilst also being connected to technology: in which areas can it be applied? How can it be implemented in a socially compatible way? This means that on the one hand, we deal with the technology side, and on the other, we look at social aspects. The Free State of Bavaria has addressed this very well with the establishment and funding of the two institutions. It is a prudent use of resources to tackle current and future challenges. We appreciate that this happens on different levels.

How can fortiss contribute to bidt's social mission?

bidt's social mission is based on technology. We must understand and build on this technology, and that's what fortiss does. fortiss can apply to bidt for funding for projects with other partners. We have established mechanisms to exclude conflicts of interest so that participants can build technology together and understand the consequences that digitisation can have for society.

What are your responsibilities as chair of the bidt Directorate?

The bidt Directorate has ten members who cover different subject areas. The Directorate is responsible for content. The Executive Committee of the Directorate, to which I belong and who makes things operational, focuses on the three topics mentioned above, as well as on dialogue. Part of my job is also to represent the institute externally and to be the contact person for political representatives.

Where do you see the bidt in ten years?

I see it as a recognised research institute for digital transformation throughout Germany and in Europe. And I see it as the point of call for Bavarian politics when it comes to more in-depth digitisation issues.

And where do you see fortiss?

fortiss is recognised worldwide for software, systems and service engineering. The institute has existed for ten years. Of course, certain things need to be organised differently once you are no longer in start-up mode. I am looking forward to the next ten years at fortiss!