In a podcast interview with the German newspaper ‘FAZ’ on 31 July 2020 Sepp Hochreiter, Professor at the University of Linz (Austria), developer of the key AI algorithm LSTM, explained the background of his invention in the 90s. He also shared a revealing anecdote: At a conference in the US, Amazon people contacted him to tell him they only came to say thank you as his algorithms would help them increase their revenues by the billion, and invited him for a Mojito. He remarked that US companies know how to make billions and the European inventors get a Mojito. This is indicative and shows one thing: Digital sovereignty is not a question of technology but of entrepreneurship. I wonder whether this lesson will ever sink in with policy makers.
The German government launched its Corona Warning App on 16 June. By 3 July the App was 14.6 million times downloaded.
This is a good start, but more downloads should follow to increase the effectiveness of the App as its usage is voluntary. The current situation is paradoxical. The low infection rates will lead to low warning and people might think the App is not worth it. However, it is precisely when the pandemic is under control that the App is particularly effective as health authorities would not be overwhelmed.
The App works with Bluetooth connections and follows high privacy standards. For instance, it does not identify users, there are no location data, and whether to notify an infection is voluntarily. These privacy settings limit its epidemiological and public health usefulness, and this on purpose. The discussion in Germany was about maximising privacy. The question what is best from a health policy point of view came second. For instance, mandatory (i.e. centralised) notification of infections whilst still preserving anonymity would ensure a more complete exposure tracing.
This is something difficult to understand. Germans hand out their private data to US social media platforms but do not trust their own health authorities that are fighting a deadly pandemic. When Germany opens restaurants, they obliged customers to fill in paper sheets with their private contact data, open to everyone to see, and with no verification. Thus, either it violates privacy or is inefficient as the data are not correct.
The App does not integrate with a back office, which would dramatically enhance its usefulness. For instance, the health authorities cannot send a notification to the Apps of an infected person but people must call a hotline to find out the result of their tests.
Another point is the missing European integration of the various Apps. For instance, the German App would not recognise a positive corona test by the Belgian authorities.
Going forward, whilst the App is not a panacea, it is an essential tool to avoid a second wave. Therefore, let’s hope that more people will use it and that policy makers add a European solution.
On 11 March 2020 (just before the lockdown) I attended a meeting of the ‘Digital Transformation Council’ of the German Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz). The Prime Minister Manuela Dreyer chaired the meeting. The Corona crisis was already looming and influenced the discussion. For information: One of the globally most promising Covid-19 vaccine trials is being carried out by BioNTech, a company from this State. They partner with Pfizer with the aim to develop a mRNA based vaccine by end of the year.
I took away two insights. First, the changes on the labour market and the consequences for re-skilling of the workforce are their biggest priority. Second, the transformation of the automobile industry will have a big impact on their regional economy as many suppliers are based in Rhineland-Palatinate.
In my presentation I described the drivers of digital transformation. I stressed the need to distinguish digitisation (from analogue to digital), digitalisation (making existing processes more efficient), and digital transformation (re-designing processes, disruptive innovation). This classification allows to assess the ambition of a digital strategy. When a government or a company talks about transformation often they just refer to ‘digitalisation’. Transformation means much more. Here is an example: Sending email instead of a letter is digitisation. Selling online is digitalisation of a purchase. Building a market platform with integrated services transforms the retail business.
When you look at the automobile industry, they well understand digitalisation, making driving safer and more comfortable, but technologies will transform a substantial part of the car business into mobility service.
Minister for Economic Affairs Volker Wissing
Prime Minister Manuela Dreyer