Weizenbaum (Internet) Institut

Hier ist mein Blog Post zum Weizenbaum Institut, der kürzlich am openTA Blog erschienen ist (mit Dank an Ulrich Riehm und René König fürs Gegenlesen!):

Weizenbaum-Institut: Wird sein Name Programm sein?

Was zunächst als „Deutsches Internet Institut“ firmierte, wurde nun offiziell „Weizenbaum-Institut für die vernetzte Gesellschaft“ genannt. Im Mai 2017 konnte sich die Berliner Bewerbung einer Ausschreibung des Bundesministeriums für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) gegenüber starker Konkurrenz durchsetzen. Im September wurde das Weizenbaum Institut der Öffentlichkeit präsentiert und kurz darauf öffnete es seine Pforten. Das Institut besteht aus einem Konsortium, das die Freie Universität Berlin, die Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, die Technische Universität Berlin, die Universität der Künste Berlin, die Universität Potsdam, das Fraunhofer-Institut FOKUS und das Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung umfasst. Bis zu 50 Millionen Euro an öffentlichen Geldern stehen zur Verfügung, um in den nächsten fünf Jahren die ersten Schritte festzulegen (finanziert durch das BMBF). Derzeit sind mehr als 30 DoktorandInnen- und PostdoktorandInnenstellen ausgeschrieben; über 100 Stellen sollen es insgesamt werden. In wie weit der Name des Instituts das Programm bestimmen wird, wird sich in den nächsten Jahren zeigen.

Joseph Weizenbaum

Joseph Weizenbaum (1923-2008) war ein deutsch-amerikanischer Informatiker (die jüdische Familie emigrierte 1936 von Bremen aus in die USA), der als einer der wichtigsten Väter der künstlichen Intelligenz (KI) betrachtet wird. 1966 stellte er das Computer-Programm Eliza vor, das natürliche Sprache erstmals rechnergestützt verarbeiten konnte. Eliza liefert nach wie vor die Grundlage für gegenwärtige Chat Bots, die menschliches Kommunikationsverhalten simulieren. In Form von Social Bots sind sie heute in aller Munde, wenn wir an hitzige Debatten zu Fake News und zum postfaktischen Zeitalter denken.

Weizenbaum war also ein Pionier der zunehmenden Vernetzung der physischen und der digitalen Welt. Dieses Zusammenspiel von Technik und Gesellschaft soll im Zentrum des neu geschaffenen Instituts stehen. In seiner Selbstbeschreibung liest sich das folgendermaßen: „Die Aufgabe des Weizenbaum-Instituts wird es sein, aktuelle gesellschaftliche Veränderungen, die sich im Zusammenhang mit der Digitalisierung abzeichnen, zu untersuchen und künftige politische und wirtschaftliche Handlungsoptionen zu skizzieren.“ Um sich dieser Aufgabe zu stellen, wurden sechs konkrete Forschungsbereiche definiert: Arbeit, Innovation und Wertschöpfung; Vertrag und Verantwortung auf digitalen Märkten; Wissen, Bildung und soziale Ungleichheit; Demokratie, Partizipation und Öffentlichkeit; Governance und Normsetzung; Technikwandel.

Grundlagenforschung und Lösungen

Betont wird dabei der zentrale Charakter der Grundlagenforschung, wobei die „Exploration konkreter Lösungen“ ebenfalls auf dem Programm stehen soll. Als Teil der Digitalen Agenda der Bundesregierung wurde das Institut schon in seiner Ausschreibung als lösungsorientiert beschrieben. So weist Frau Schieferdecker, eine der drei GründungsdirektorInnen, in einem TAZ Interview zwar auf die „zunehmenden Risiken einer digitalen Vernetzung“ hin, meint aber gleichzeitig „viele Bedenken werden aus Unwissenheit oder aufgrund von fehlendem Verständnis überinterpretiert“. Dementsprechend beschreibt Frau Schieferdecker als eine zentrale Aufgabe des Instituts, „das Verständnis für den digitalen Wandel zu stärken“ .

Diese Haltung erinnert an das in der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung beschriebene „Defizitmodell“, das mangelndes Vertrauen in techno-wissenschaftliche Entwicklungen in einem Defizit an Wissen begründet sieht. Wissenschaft und Technik selbst werden dabei nicht hinterfragt. Zahlreiche Forschungen haben auf Grenzen dieses Modells hingewiesen und gezeigt, dass das Verhältnis von Techno-Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit viel komplexer ist. Demnach sei eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Wissenschaft und Technik erforderlich, die nicht allein durch Information und Aufklärung, sondern vielmehr durch Dialog und Partizipation erreicht werden kann (z.B. Michael 1992, Wynne 1992). Ganz im Sinne von Weizenbaum, der später als strenger Kritiker von gedankenloser Computergläubigkeit in die Geschichte der Informatik einging. So warnte er bereits 1972 in seinem ZEIT Aufsatz „Albtraum Computer“ vor blindem Vertrauen in Computertechnik und künstliche Intelligenz. Seit Weizenbaum beobachtet hatte, dass Menschen seinem Computer-Programm „Doctor“, das ein Gespräch mit einem Psychologen simulierte, intimste Details anvertrauten und als Ersatz für einen menschlichen Therapeuten betrachteten, forderte er einen kritischen Umgang mit Computern ein. In seinem Buch „Die Macht der Computer und die Ohnmacht der Vernunft“ (1978) rief er demnach dazu auf „Wissenschaft und Technik rational einzusetzen, statt sie zu mystifizieren“.

Kritische Aspekte?

In Zeiten von Machine Learning, Big Data Analysen und algorithmusgestützter Vermessung von Wissen, Arbeit und Körperdaten bleibt zu hoffen, dass sich das neu gegründete Institut auch mit kritischen Fragestellungen auseinandersetzen wird, selbst wenn diese wirtschaftlichen und politischen Interessen zuwiderlaufen sollten. Die öffentliche Finanzierung ist begrüßenswert in diesem Zusammenhang und unterscheidet das Weizenbaum Institut von anderen Institutionen wie dem Leistungszentrum Digitale Vernetzung, dem Einstein Center Digital Future oder dem Alexander von Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, die ebenfalls in Berlin angesiedelt sind.

Rechtliche, ethische, gesellschaftliche und ökonomische Aspekte der Digitalisierung „unabhängig und interdisziplinär“ erforschen zu wollen ist ein guter Anfang. Ob heikle Themen wie Quasi-Monopolstellungen im Internet, Kommerzialisierung von Wissen und persönlichen Daten, neue Formen von Ausbeutung durch digitale Arbeit oder die Gefährdung von Grundrechten durch US-Amerikanische Technologiekonzerne in diese Forschungsagenda einfließen werden, bleibt abzuwarten. Wichtig erscheint mir jedoch Weizenbaums Worte an dieser Stelle noch einmal in Erinnerung zu rufen: „Wir müssen einsehen, dass die Technologie unser Traum ist und dass wir es sind, die schließlich entscheiden, wie er enden wird.“

Bild: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Joseph_Weizenbaum

AOIR 2016, Berlin

internetrules_banner-11-1024x478I’m already looking forward to the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) conference in Berlin (6-8 October 2016). The overall theme of the conference is “Internet Rules!”. I’ll be part of the pre-conference workshop “The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technology Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance”; here‘s the program with its exciting line-up!! After one year of maternity leave this workshop will get me back on track.. hehe.

 

Internet & Society/ Berlin

The second event I attended, just last week, was the Inauguration Symposium of the “Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society” – also referred to as the Google Institute or Google-financed Institute (see its mission statement here). Even though I was a little skeptical at first, given the fact that Google sponsored both the Institute and the event, I greatly enjoyed the symposium! The first thing I realized when checking in was that a lot of technology would be involved in the conference.

The most stunning piece of technology was table cards with our names on them, but also QR codes identifying our profiles (we all had set up before going to Berlin). Whenever someone from the audience wanted to contribute something the QR code was scanned and the profile of the person was displayed on a screen (guess Patrik Svensson, director of HUMlab, would have loved this!). Right next to this screen was an even bigger screen showing the slides and an extended flip chart with a piece of paper on it – this was used to keep track of each session with a visualization, a picture summarizing the topics dealt with in the session (created by highly skilled illustrators!!). Moreover, there was a Google doc that collected notes and thoughts on the presentations, referees, and discussions. Given all this available documentation/ information a blog post on the issues treated at the conference seems to be almost obsolete.

That is why I’d like to share some unsystematic thoughts rather than a systematic summary of the conference (also because I missed parts of it). Altogether I think the four directors – Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, Prof. Ingolf Pernice, Prof. Thomas Schildhauer and Dr. Wolfgang Schulz -, together with the organizers, managed to put together a dense program with great speakers (especially on this short notice). I liked the workshop-oriented approach, even if it partly turned out to be more of an academic conference, than an interdisciplinary workshop. The combination of presentations and respondents worked out well and the chairs did a great job in general. My personal highlights were the sessions “Wisdom and Power of the Crowds“, especially Malte Ziewitz’s contribution on crowd wisdom and regulation, and “Dwelling in the Web: Towards a Googlization of Space” with contributions from Florian Fischer, Lonneke van der Velden, Robert Vogler, Tristan Thielmann; commented by Richard Rogers and others.

In the latter session the role of Max Senges, working in Google’s policy team and mediating between the new Institute and Google, as it seemed to me, attracted my attention. Whenever criticism of  Google was raised (e.g. its policy of border drawing in regions such as Tibet) Max Senges started to defend Google, which I found interesting and made me wonder what the overall agenda may be that Google followed with funding the Institute (an aspect that is still not entirely clear to me, but will only get clearer in the upcoming years, I guess). In this context an interesting question was raised by Senges at the very end of the symposium: How could the Institute and its research be evaluated beyond classical academic impact factors? (This question is not easy to answer, of course, but Cornelius Puschmann put up some interesting thoughts for discussion in his recent blog post)

The format of the last day was a little challenging. The idea was to have round table discussions in small groups debating/ reflecting results from the first two days together with stakeholders, who might not have been part of the symposium. Since the schedule was really tight this didn’t turn out so well, I thought. I thus decided to attended a workshop, where Cornelius and David Pachali presented the online platform (to-be) Regulation Watch and discussed it with the workshop participants to figure out what such a platform could/ should provide and who might contribute/ and why – which was fun. Besides the academic insights I got, I appreciated the really good food, drinks and, of course, the boat trip through Berlin by night, one of the highlights I got to experience together with Katrin Weller, René König, and others :)

And, last but not least, I loved to be back in Berlin, which is a truly great and vibrant city. Thanks to Axel Volmar for letting me stay at his place again, in lovely Kreuzberg!

If you got interested in the event more information could be found online: First, all the draft papers created for each of the sessions organized along the four directors and their topical foci. (The Google docs created at the conference and summarizing all workshops are only accessible to participants of the conference unfortunately). Second, blog posts on selected sessions, e.g. by Axel Bruns (SnurBlog), Judith Schossböck (Digital Goverment & Society) or Cornelius Puschmann ( Blog). Third, the visual representations of the sessions provided by Esteban Romero-Frías on his blog. And, finally, a link to the videos of the keynotes of the four directors and Eric Schmidt’s contribution.

suma awards 2011

Check out the SuMa Awards 2011 by the SuMa-eV. The SuMa-eV is a society with the central goal to assure free access to knowledge. In their doing they particularly focus on search engines, that have become central access points to the web and digital knowledge. Their central aim is to work towards a landscape of free, heterogeneous, and non-monopolistic search engines. More concretely, their goal is to raise awareness and information/ digital skills in the public and policy realm, but also to develop alternative technologies.

In addition to these activities they anually award works dealing with search engines or the future of digital knowledge in a more broader sense. That’s how they describe their call:

Our aim is to focus attention on search engines’ role in providing access to online information. The awards address all members of society: artists, scientists, journalists, parents, teachers – everyone who has something to say about the way search engines shape their information environment is welcome to send in contributions.

Our goal is to encourage public debate about the importance of our information environment for the future development of society. We want to spur innovative approaches to all aspects of search engines, not merely to the technical characteristics.

We welcome contributions in any format: text (scientific, journalistic, legal, literary, etc.), audio, video, multimedia, code, or any manner of artistic expression. They may take any style or mood, whether it be analytical, provocative, descriptive, or other. For inspiration, take a look at last year’s winners or at our project gallery. Anyone may take part – simply send your project description to: info@suma-ev.de.

The deadline is 30 June 2011. The prize is worth approx. 3000 EUR & the award ceremony will take place in Berlin, 28 September 2011. More infos on their website or my blogpost “my phd gets a suma award“.

What needs to be done

These are some thoughts on the SuMa conference in Berlin, that I originally posted on the HUMlab blog:

Last week I spent a wonderful time in Berlin. I went there to pick up the SuMa Award my PhD “Mediated Knowledge” (download) received from the “SuMa-eV – Verein fuer freien Wissenszugang”, which makes me very happy!! The society annually awards works dealing with the future of digital knowledge ranging from scientific research, artistical approaches, to technical contributions such as search engines (check out the application deadline in spring!). Besides my PhD, the search engine “NewsClub im Bundestag“, the online dictionary “Linguee“, the scientific search engine ”BASE” and the satire “Google Home View“ were awarded this year. More Infos on the SuMa society could also be found here.

The award ceremony took place on the 6 October as part of the SuMa conference. The central goal of the conference with the title “what needs to be done” was to find ways how the German/ European civil society may shape the future of the world wide web. The title of the conference indicates that the conference organizers, most importantly the director of the society Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann, do not only aim to discuss, but rather to actively participate in the shaping of digital futures. Guiding questions for this challenging undertaking are how could free knowledge exchange be assured? What do we, as a society, know when knowing is equated with Googling? How could transparancy, data security and privacy guaranteed? And what is the role of civil society?

To answer these questions different actors were invited to the discussion including information scientists, policy makers – both German and European, as well as members of the civil society such as activists, bloggers and journalists (for details check the conference programme). While the morning sessions were primarily concerned with the way network technologies change institutions and concepts such as libraries, magazines and knowledge/ information in a broader sense, the afternoon sessions were mostly dealing with privacy issues, data security and legislation. The collision of these different viewpoints clearly showed the challenges involved in creating a digital future meeting all our needs.

One of the challenges is to harmonize local regulations with global trends. US American companies such as Google or Facebook pose privacy issues, that reach the limits of European and local legislation, not least when thinking of contemporary debates around Google Street View. Another challenge seems to be the fact that politics is increasingly overruled by commerce. Regret was expressed amongst some participants that German legislation would be too strict and thus prevent German search engines to grow and compete with global players. But should the answer to that be a liberation of local regulations to compete with the US American economy? Or could (should?) countries such as Germany not rather figure as a critical voice in the global concert and strengthen alternatives to money-driven developments?

This question closely relates to the final discussion on the role of civil society in shaping our digital future/s. While the panel “what politics can do” did not really provide answers, the panel with proponents from the civil society seemed more promising to me. Initiatives such as the European hacker association “Chaos Computer Club” aim to bridge the gap between technical and societal developments, a gap that is no longer filled by science according to the speaker of the CCC Constanze Kurz (an interesting thought that needs further consideration when thinking of Google as a search engine, that originally grew out of the scientific arena, for example). As time went on the discussion crystallized around the question how to strengthen such initiatives. Lars Reppesgaard, the author of the book “Das Google Imperium”, asked whether a bigger, more prominent actor is needed.

Referring to Greenpeace he suggested “DATAPEACE” as a powerful actor, that may better fulfil the role of critically reflecting and actively contributing to the shaping of our networked world. I want to conclude with this suggestion and leave it to the readers to think it further. Since these discussions took place in the German context, it would also be interesting to hear about debates in other cultural contexts such as the Swedish one. Are there similar/ divergent debates? What could we learn from different contexts? Answers are highly welcome..

Personally, I really enjoyed the conference and all the interesting conversations! I want to thank the organizers for inviting and awarding me, and all the participants for sharing their thoughts – both in public and private discussions! Good luck with all your future initiatives and events, it’s important to keep asking “what needs to be done”, even if there are no simple answers to this question. Finally, I also want to thank my friend Axel for letting me stay at his place and showing me all the great restaurants and bars. Berlin is always worth a visit!