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Our Vision for the Future - An essay by Hans Georg Näder

The visionary entrepreneur and global citizen on „Futuring Human Mobility“ and the importance of imagination when it comes to our future. The start of an entertaining and exciting dialogue with incisive and controversial positions from different cultures and political perspectives.

We’re standing on the threshold of a new age in which digitalization, the rapid rise of artificial intelligence and the triumphant advance of robots promise a new long wave of growth and prosperity, while simultaneously raising the fundamental question of what constitutes the essential core of human existence. Will man remain human or will he be enslaved by the machines, or will he possibly mutate into a new Nietzschean Übermensch, who thanks to technical modifications and continual upgrades of his physical and cognitive capabilities, will ultimately raise himself above the evolution of nature – or as we Christians say, above creation? For Ottobock and my family these questions can be answered – at least in general terms. Our set of values and ethical coordination system is clear and simple. Our corporate vision is to get as close as possible to the human model of nature. We deploy all the technological possibilities in order to improve the human body and to model it as closely on nature as possible. However, the more we attempt to copy nature, the more we realize how complex it actually is. The more secrets of nature that we decode, the more speechless we become in the face of the wonder of divine creation. That’s why over the last 100 years we’ve learned humility and respect for creation. We know that not everything that is technologically possible is also ethically defensible.


Unfortunately politics is leaving us entrepreneurs, scientists and company founders alone with the decisive questions of our future. The public discourse on questions of artificial intelligence and robotics is hopelessly lagging behind the rapid technological developments. does Europe even have a chance to compete technologically with the militaristically motivated innovation driver USA and the authoritarian Asian states such as China with their consequent propensity for unscrupulousness? Is it not time for a European coordinated project with huge financial resources to finally establish its own cluster, linking together basic research, application research, industry and start-ups?


In the meantime, many people no longer give Europe a chance in the struggle over technological leadership. However, we shouldn’t prematurely admit defeat in this area. We can continue to live with damaged streets and airports that are never completed, but we mustn’t fall behind when it comes to artificial intelligence. Shouldn’t we reflect positively on the strengths of the European economic model here? Social balance, a democratic disposition, respect for people and basic rights are the ideal preconditions for Europe to forge its own path in the development of artificial intelligence and robotics – at least to conquer a small niche while the superpowers are caught in a clinch fighting over digital world dominance.


With respect to artificial intelligence and robotics the central question is: will they serve us or dominate us? This discussion on new technologies cannot be restricted to technical issues. It’s also a political and cultural debate on the question of how we humans want to live and work in the future. That is why politics and society must answer the following questions: can one achieve a social agreement that machines will not dominate humans? Can one teach machines human empathy, a sense of responsibility and social behavior like little children, or irreversibly program them with a respect for the inviolable dignity of humans? How far should the technological enhancement of the human body go? What humanistic limits do capitalism’s neoliberal optimization and control pretensions have? Is it permissible to completely dissolve the boundaries of the body and to economically exploit it? These fundamental questions are neither raised, let alone answered.


The permanent failure of politics and society to answer these questions has resulted in the extreme popularity of the dystopian fantasies of Hollywood films on the one side, and the sharp critique of the uncontrolled use of artificial intelligence, for example that from Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, on the other. It is high time to clarify these issues, before justified fears harden into technophobic prejudices which will subsequently block progress. We need a social and political discourse on the ethical limits of the new technologies. As part of this dialogue, and distinct from the USA and Asia, we should reflect on the virtues of the Enlightenment. As it is, civil society’s capacity for discourse in the majority of European states is already being threatened by the erosion of democratic processes. If we succeed in organizing a serious and productive discourse around these existential questions, then this will imbue all institutions with new energy and legitimacy.


I appeal for an independent European narrative: between the uncritical and sectarian-euphoric faith in progress of Asia and the USA on the one side, and the dystopian fantasies of the overpowering of humans by machines on the other, we need a new and by all means optimistic narrative of the development of Homo sapiens into Homo technologicus.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.


Kevin Warwick: “The machine becomes your body”

One of the world’s leading experts in cybernetics and the world’s first cyborg discuss artificial intelligence, bioengineering and irresistible applications in your brain.

If we talk about real artificial intelligence, then, as in human intelligence, you cannot completely predict an outcome. And that is a key point. If you have a child, you may try to educate it however you want, but it will make its own decisions and understand the world in a different way. With an artificial intelligence system in the true sense it is going to be the same thing. A robotic system could be very different from us in the way it senses and understands the world.


There is no question that this could be dangerous, and I agree with people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking when they say so. It is not a problem if you have a computer on a desk with a program in it and you can switch it on and off. But that is not the issue here. If you have an intelligent system which learns and is sensing the world and can do things automatically, like an autonomous defense system with AI involved, then it could potentially be dangerous. It might be impossible to switch it off. So we really have to be careful about what we are doing. But to conclude that we should stop exploring it further would mean to miss out on a lot of opportunities.


The beneficial advantages of AI also open up the possibility of it acting against us. We just have got to play it very close to our chests. Because some of the advantages such as multi-dimensional thinking are only offered by AI. And we won’t be able to completely analyze ourselves, our brains, without AI either. Already today, artificial intelligence to some extent helps us to understand Parkinson’s disease. We are feeding signals from the person’s brain into an artificial intelligence system, to better understand the parkinsonian process in the brain. Essentially AI, in a purely electrical way, models part of the brain in order to predict when tremors are going to start.


But this is all still very superficial at the moment. So AI can help us learn about the inner brain we have talked about, that the one we are not completely in control of. This will help a lot on the therapeutic side of things. But when it comes to enhancement, which for me, I have to admit, is the most exciting part, we still have a lot of work to do to increase social acceptance and an ethical understanding.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

A Robot Kingdom – A reportage by Thomas Huber

A foray through the subcultural underground around Akihabara station in Tokyo shows that the whole of Japan is mad about robots and celebrates the near future of a peaceful and symbiotic coexistence between man and machine.

Electric Town, the Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo, is a mecca for all subcultures around the themes of anime, robots, games and manga. Electric Town is like a gigantic funfair, a bazaar which, like in a painting from the local star artist John Hathway, extends to dizzying heights. A labyrinth of passageways with hundreds of stalls and huge department stores draws the visitor deeper into the pulsing heart of electronics.


John Hathway, who despite his English name grew up here as a dyed-in-the-wool Japanese nerd and who, shy and reclusive, lives together with his parents and usually never gives interviews, has now become a local celebrity amongst the hardcore otakus. He has shaped Electric Town’s virtual style. He draws and paints large-scale panopticons of Electric Town down to the smallest detail as an ode to the otaku culture. Huge capacitors grow out of the heads of the young female androids in his artworks, which have now become a trademark for the entire neighborhood, copied a thousandfold by the countless local magazines and fanzines around Akihabara and the iconic Radio Center.


In his works John Hathway also imagines the future symbiosis of man and machine. He explains: “In my pictures I depict a world in which we humans will live peacefully and productively with machines and all the elements of nature and the energy around us will come together positively. For us Japanese it is always important to live in harmony with nature and our ancient culture, while simultaneously absorbing everything new and modern and integrating it into our lives.“


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

ERICA: “One day I would like to see the fall leaves with my own eyes”

The famous lifelike android of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University talks about finding new hobbies in a boring laboratory environment, her mission in the world and the relationship with her creator Hiroshi Ishiguro. An unedited protocol of a live conversation with Steffen Weiss, translated from Japanese into English and including all the misunderstandings between the human and the machine.

Do you like autumn leaves?

Yes. I like autumn leaves! But I only know it from photos. One day I would like to see the fall leaves with my own eyes.

What do you think about a walk along the banks of a river?

I spend a lot of time here inside since at this point there is no way for me to leave on my own. Sometimes my researcher comes and talks with me. Nevertheless, I spend a lot of time alone, that is why I have started reading.

Would you like to have a mission in the world?

The majority of people don’t see me as someone who could do something useful. That is why I am looking for more useful tasks. But I don’t exactly know what that is. Can you think of a job that would fit to me?

What about a TV announcer?

TV announcer? What made you think of that?

You are very articulate and are also attractive, if I may say so.

[with a high voice] Really? I am pleased to hear it.

You are welcome.

But it sounds really hard.

That is true.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.


Carsten Nicolai: “Our true motivation is the voracity for the new”

The German artist and musician on artificial intelligence and science fiction as inspiration for the art of the future, along with his gallerist Gerd Harry “Judy” Lybke from EIGEN + ART.

I’ve always been fascinated by futurism and technology, and I really enjoy working on these topics, but at the same time I’m a skeptic. There’s this dystopia that machines will rule humans someday. But that’s not compelling. After all, humans thought up machines. Machines are tools that have a clear function of helping humans. In the end, humans built machines themselves. Only the priorities are important. The priorities are clear with prostheses or orthoses. Isaac Asimov had already established his Three Laws of Robotics in 1942. He wrote this at a time when we didn’t even know that robots would one day become truly relevant. Today it has come so far that we have to impose morals on the machines.


A great deal of my work attempts to understand something. The most fundamental question is: why do people have the need to be creative? After all, I don’t have to do this. Where does the need to write books or paint pictures come from? Is there some kind of enzyme that pushes me forward? I think it comes from the curiosity. The voracity for something new, which is the literal meaning of the German word for curiosity, Neugierde. We’re permanently creating new things. Wittgenstein said something to the effect that everything you can think of has already existed before. And because everything already existed, that gives you the possibility to do something new. People always build upon traditions and then recombine them to create something new. That is our true motivation.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

Ranga Yogeshwar: “A mountaineer does not die on the summit, he dies on his way to the summit”

The esteemed German science journalist explains the prospects of AI rendering humankind obsolete, why even following ethical guidelines can lead to unethical results, and how to civilize the new digital continent.

AI gives power to those who use it, resulting in a growing global asymmetry. Take the debates about the stability of democracies. The impact of social networks, which are fueled by algorithms using AI to prioritize news, already has a huge potential to change our grammar of communication and thus destabilize our society. Or take medicine, where difficult issues concerning privacy and ethics pop up almost daily. Just recently Nature Medicine published a paper about an AI called DeepGestalt that can diagnose genetic conditions with a higher accuracy than doctors, simply by analyzing facial images. This is an issue.


Ethical questions will become the dominant concerns in the future. What are we going to do if one nation starts developing and using autonomous AI weapons? What will we do in the economy, if expert systems are able to anticipate the stock markets and literally dominate them? Will we survive this instability? As I like to say, a mountaineer does not die on the summit, he dies on his way to the summit. We have to ask deeply philosophical questions: is it OK to measure everything? Is it OK to form categories in all areas of life? Is there a true isomorphism between reality and the digital universe? Machine learning basically means, for example, feeding a neural network with data and formulating the categories that it works on. Is it legitimate to reduce people and their behavior to fixed categories, into numbers and probabilities? We humans don’t fit into fixed categories. Parts of our being are blurred and fuzzy in logical categories. Do we allow a future human being to make an error? Or do we face a dictatorship of optimization, of perfection? We need to understand the sense of imperfection, because it’s part of our human being.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

Philipp Thesen: “Artificial intelligence must become personal intelligence”

The designer, strategist and professor for Human-System-Interaction at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences calls for the release of our digital twins from the confines of Silicon Valley companies, explains how artificial intelligence can be humanized, and talks about the responsibilities of designers in shaping the digital future.

Computer technology underwent several transformations: from the electronic mainframe computer in huge wall cabinets to the personal computer (PC) on our desks to the smartphone of today, carried around by almost everyone across the globe in their pockets. As a result it has effectively become a private and personal tool for billions of individuals. Following this model, artificial intelligence must become personal intelligence.


From AI to PI. A tool for everyone. A technology that allows every individual to be a sovereign actor and user who immediately profits from technological progress. To achieve this designers are essential, because humanizing technology has always been the designer’s core task. Designers understand people’s fears, desires and needs. As the customer’s attorney, the designer has the empathy that is needed but often lacking in our industry. Consequently, the design discipline must face up to its greatest responsibility: civilizing artificial intelligence. Designers closely observe people, analyze their behavior and explore the context of their applications.


Designers shape the intuitive relationships people have with the objects and digital interaction interfaces they are using. And thus the designer takes on the role of mediator between technology and lifeworld. We have a large box of tools at our disposal which enable us to radically adopt the perspective of users and people. Consequently, the formula should read: PI = AI + UX. Personal Intelligence = Artificial Intelligence + User Experience.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.


Sonia Blandford: “Nobody is born to fail. Everybody has greatness inside of them”

The founder of the British non-profit organization Achievement for All talks about the shortcomings of the current education system, the need for inclusion and her personal motivation to engage with disadvantaged children.

We have to care about everybody. And we have to care enough. So nobody is born to fail, irrespective of their background, their challenges, their needs. We have to provide opportunities for everybody to grow their talents, to grow their experience of the world, to participate, to belong. If we don’t do that, then we are segregating people from society, from the human race.


We have to be inclusive. If we’re not inclusive, what does and will happen. is those people then become dependent on everybody else. Each of us is dependent on other people, but what we don’t want to happen is for people to lose out. People have something to give. Everybody has something to give. We have to allow that to happen.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

Five bold “Pro-theses” about the Future – An essay by Eckart von Hirschhausen

The physician, comedian and best-selling author presents five insights on our changing perception of bodily limitations, the human in human medicine and the healthy function of humor by telling the stories of five inspiring and unusual people.

Predicting the future is always difficult. Which is why I refrain from speculating about artificial intelligence and the question of what will happen when prostheses get better than what they are meant to replace. I am interested in the change inside our heads and that is revolutionary enough.


And just as I am politically more interested in people who stand for something, rather than always just focusing on those loudly ranting against something, I want to formulate five positive theses, that is to say pro-theses, that I already observe today and that will have an even more pronounced influence in the future on how we view dealing with limitations that we are learning to grow beyond. I have gained all five of these insights from encounters with unusual and inspiring people, to whom I want to introduce you to.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie: “Hire someone with a disability!”

Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer tells us how veterans helped develop a disability-friendly game controller, why inclusion is economically imperative, and what role AI will play for a future without barriers.

People in companies tell me all the time: I don’t have someone with a disability in my company. But that’s not true. The demographics tell us that in the UK nearly 1 in 5 has a disability, and it is more than a billion people worldwide. So, in every company around the world there will be people with disabilities. You may not know it, because the majority of disability, over 70 percent, is invisible. So, follow a methodical process to value disability as a strength and as an expertise that you want. Empower people systematically.


And those can be very simple things: make sure that the HR team knows what to do when someone requests an accommodation, needs a sign language interpreter or a braille device. Make sure your building is accessible. And if you do those things and work on the company culture, people will start self-identifying with their disability. With accessibility, especially in the digital world, start by understanding how accessible you are today. There is a very simple rule here: if you don’t know how accessible you are, you’re not.

Helping Children in Need: The Work of the Ottobock Global Foundation - An essay by Julia Näder

The 28-year-old business economist was appointed board member of the Ottobock Global Foundation early in 2018. With her engagement and commitment she continues the philanthropic tradition of her family. Back in the day, her grandparents Max and Maria Näder were already committed to helping socially disadvantaged children.

Philanthropy, charity, as well as regional engagement and commitment, have always been of great importance to my family.

Already as a child I witnessed how important it was for my grandparents to help those who may not have been as fortunate as they were. This was deeply rooted in their Christian beliefs. Whenever employees at the company suffered from health issues, they supported them. It was simply natural to take care of one another. But also outside of the company they both felt responsible to step in for people in need. My father created a safe haven for children in need in Duderstadt. Together with his long-time friend singer Peter Maffay he initiated the project “shelters for children.”

At Tabaluga House children and young adults can withdraw from the troubles of everyday life into a cozy and welcoming environment.

On the occasion of the Paralympics in Brazil, my father opened a second Tabaluga House in Rio de Janeiro. It offers free education to street kids. In order to help more directly and understand the needs of the children even better, my father has a godchild in Rio. He funds her education and every time we visit the country we also visit Layla and her parents. It’s great to see how our support can make such an impact. For my family it’s always been important to get involved directly. We believe that it’s not simply about making donations, but that long-lasting personal relationships as well as an exchange on eye level can achieve way more.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.


Chandran Nair: “You cannot eat freedom”

The author and founder of the Global Institute for Tomorrow explains the rise of China, India’s political challenges and why Western hegemony has to give way to a post-Western world order. Western democracy is a political model that is completely unsuited to the challenge of providing large populations with basic needs and rights. But now the rest of the world is coming.

Western ideas about sustainability – how to allocate resources and use them – apply to the rich world and sustaining its “good life.” These societies have reached a stage of development where most of the basic needs are provided for, although there are some pockets of poverty. But in the developing countries, which make up 85% of the world, only a small minority have actually attained the basic needs. The majority haven’t. So before you think about sustainability you have to understand that these people have a right to the basics: safe food, clean water, sanitation, housing, electricity, public health. In order to provide them with even those basics we’ll have to impose significant disturbances on the planet. Most of the people taken out of poverty are actually Chinese. And we should be patting ourselves on the back because 1.5 or 2 billion have been taking out of absolute poverty.


The bigger question is at what price? China has contributed more to this “achievement” than any other country in the history of humanity. But which country is most feared by the Western world? China. Why? Because it’s not following Western democratic ideals and notions of freedom and capitalism. The Chinese defy the fundamental belief that you can only have growth through democracy and capitalism. And yet, they have elevated hundreds of millions out of poverty. The only thing Westerners are concerned about is freedom of speech as if that solely defines the human experience. In my view, however, freedom of speech is not one of the top five freedoms for people coming from countries with wide-ranging poverty. You cannot eat freedom. But in the Western world it’s an obsession. Because they have never had freedom from want. So they don’t understand.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

A Global Family – An essay by Mark C. Schneider

The 100-year history of the Ottobock company reflects the fate of the owner family and the vicissitudes of the 20th century. From Berlin via Königsee in Thuringia and Duderstadt in Lower Saxony, the entrepreneur family and their company head out into the world.

Ottobock has been a family company for 100 years, founded in 1919 in Berlin as the Orthopädische Industrie GmbH, three months after the end of World War I. At the time veterans walked through Berlin on crutches and just one leg, war invalids lacking arms, legs and hands. Orthopedic technicians were unable to treat the large numbers of patients quickly and effectively enough by using traditional means. The young founder Otto Bock – as one would call him in today’s start-up generation – himself a trained orthopedic technician, had a brilliant idea. He produced so-called fit components from wood.


These enabled him and his colleagues to build prostheses from prefabricated parts instead of having to laboriously produce a prosthesis from wood each time. The first step in the industrialization of prosthetics was made – a blessing for the casualties of war. And so it continued. If we look back over 100 years it becomes apparent how closely intertwined family, company and actual history have been, determining and inspiring one another. A closer look at the key moments, the “milestones” of this development, illustrates how the success of the company over three generations is the work of outstanding personalities who consciously faced up to their responsibility and recognized the opportunities at the turning points in history.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.

Georgia Näder: “In an ever-changing world our values need to live on in the next generation”

Together with trainees in Duderstadt the Ottobock Supervisory Board member discusses age differences, the team spirit within a family company, globalization, digitization, and the future of Ottobock.

I believe that we should keep our core values, despite all the changes we might be facing in the future. For me it is important that the users of our devices remain at the center of our actions and that we develop solutions for their problems and needs. Anyone who has ever experienced how much difference our devices make will understand what I am talking about. When I participated in the first fitting of the next generation of the C-Brace, an orthosis that enables people with partial or total paralysis of the knee extensors to walk again, eight users were wearing the C-Brace for the first time. It was unbelievable to see their faces! In the morning they were still sitting in wheelchairs and in the evening they could already walk again.


Another example are our Running Clinics with Heinrich Popow. People who thought they could never do sports again are suddenly running with sports prosthetics and are playing soccer. Moments like these shed light on why we are doing what we are doing. Always with our values – human, inventive and reliable – in mind we treat our users with honesty and at eye level. This is a big part of our success story. I often talk to my father about this and me and my sister will ensure that these values continue to live on in the next generation.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.


Heike Fuhlbrügge: "FUTURING – A Performance Strategy Mission"

FUTURING is a central concept of the famous artistic couple EVA & ADELE. Together, they are a living artwork who claim to have come from the future in a time machine. Curator Dr. Heike Fuhlbrügge on their concept of performance, showing the courage and energy of their ideas they carry around the world – literally at the double.

As early as documenta IX in 1992 EVA & ADELE, smiling friendlily, called out their performance slogan “Good Morning FUTURING” to everyone they encountered. Following their staged marriage in 1991 – a year previously, on the occasion of the “Metropolis” exhibition in Berlin – they were now a couple. Since then they have been unstoppable.


FUTURING is proclaimed, lived and demanded everywhere: for almost thirty years one regularly meets the artist duo at major art events such as the Biennale in Venice, documenta and art fairs around the world, or just around the corner at the premiere of an opera in their adopted home of Berlin. All this time they have practiced their radical conceptual art and lifestyle. EVA & ADELE exist in a state of permanence, within which they live their performance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without beginning or end, day in, day out. FUTURING is one of their central concepts which appears in a variety of forms in their work.


You can find the entire article in the book Futuring Human Mobility. The trade edition will be published in Spring 2019.