GOTO 2019 • Technology’s Impact on Humankind and Where We’re Headed Next • Marco Gercke
welcome Professor Dr. Marco Gercke he's one of the world's experts in technology impacts on human society how do you end up in a position like this what's your background well here comes the difficulty i don't have this strike career where i would just do one thing and uh and only one i've done different things in my life i found a couple of companies i told myself when i was very young developed a software um in the field of detection of medical diseases and then i started medicine in law for a while um did a phd started teaching uh was advising governments was advising international organization and i'm now an entrepreneur investor and still teach from from time to time this is this mix mixture that i think makes it interesting for for me to to combine those different disciplines and i guess the general interest in the world and our history and what does society yeah it is it is very important to to not only focus on one technical aspect but see the broader picture and what i'm always interested in especially due to my work for for governments is their real world implications of anything you're implementing when you have a new technology i for the the techie inside of me the person who previously coded sees the opportunities and the technical possibilities but if you see as a politician they have to implement it and when i'm drafting legislation policies for for countries uh i think about what does it mean to the people so bringing those different things together is i think very important if you look back through history we have had a lot of you could say global technology hotspots China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome throughout history what's the current hotspot in the world right now i believe first of all it's very important to keep in mind that there were previous developments and there were times when certain regions of the world were playing a leading role so this is not unique what we have right now i think globalization in general um leveled the playing field that it could be any region i always seen that india was playing a major role when it comes to services to digital services right now you can't really say i think there are indications that china is playing a very strong role when it comes to development and implementation of technology it's not like in the past where you would say china is just producing things as a factory of the world when you're looking at their investments in technology it's amazing it's it's very interesting to see that they're returning from a factory to actually the designers of services and what is maybe even more uh interesting is that they're actually implementing this technology in the everyday life of people so you could say it has a hotspot there certainly silicon valley uh is uh is important the entire field around stanford isn't is an important uh area um but europe also has has areas with great potential just look at Estonia I believe you can't really say their territories you would more look into entire regions or technologies where they are applied. India is for the time being the fastest growing country when it comes to population birth rates in the world still many of us have a feeling that only very few in India it's like the country is very divided there are poor regions and there are the industrial hotspots in India Do you see India taking over the globe? Will they succeed in making the entire country a frontrunner in the world technology-wise? I'm not sure i would say this i would first of all say that you find the same situation not the same but but similar challenges differences between those big regions and the more rural areas uh almost anywhere you find it in the united states when you're leaving the coast area and and turn towards the middle of america you find it in in europe you find it even in in states like germany uh where you have the eastern part of germany and the west and the previous western part of germany being complete different areas when it comes to infrastructure and standards of living and wages so i don't think it's only an issue of india but being a developing country there are certain challenges that i believe cannot be addressed through technology there is way more to this and and there is way more uh necessary to harmonize standards of living one of the challenges that we have all around the world is that the people are moving towards the centers they're moving towards large urban areas where you usually find jobs you find the services that you want what we need to need to ensure and this is where technology can play a certain role is that we're rolling out technology in rural areas that are currently disconnected and that can improve the standards of living there uh this can build good paying jobs in these regions and can maybe help countries large countries like like india but also develop western countries in further developing these rural areas i think that's very important what you're saying the human part of which we shouldn't forget about that and one thing that really defines Our identity here in the western world at least is what we're doing in our everyday life that's most often the first question you're met with: so what are you doing for a living? I suppose the future will change if we look at China for instance it's really a strategy funded from the very top of the government that we need to invest in AI because you will the society will change and machines will take over the jobs from human beings Is that a trend we see everywhere? Will machines take over the jobs and should we be afraid of that? first of all we've always seen ever since machines were introduced in work spaces that machines are taking over jobs there are some jobs that humans just don't want to do uh these are especially in in the in the field of production of cars when you just look in the old days there are things that machines can just do better because they can lift a car it's something we we can't easily do so i believe that this trend will will definitely continue the difference will be that it will not be the classical labor work the physical work where machines will take over but it will be more the intellectual work any any work whether it's accounting it's law anything you can imagine where there is a certain degree of repetition machines will be able to do better than than humans so we have to prepare for machines entering this field and that will have a disruptive effect just as the introduction of machines always had a disruptive effect just think about farming how many people were working in the farming industry how much more productive it is today with very very few people working in this field so the main difference that i see here is we can learn from the past history does not repeat but it rhymes and you can you can learn from those trends um and see there is the possibility to adapt to it there is the possibility for further development once you have erased jobs in other areas however it takes time and this time i believe we don't have the time it's not like 200 years of time to prepare for for moving from 50 work in the farming sector to 2 today we have significantly less time now and that requires the active involvement of politicians good policies to to cover this process and to make sure that this is not an unstructured development mainly driven by the industry but that this is a process where politics and administration is closely involved and ensures that we do not end up in a situation where a lot of people are losing their job and they don't know what to do and we cannot provide them with any jobs in the future How will an average working day look for my kids in 30 years will they work from 9 to 5? it is very difficult these days to predict what's going to happen in 30 years because the developments that took place in the in the last five years are so dramatic that if we are continuing at the speed or if the speed increases it is very difficult to even say what's going to happen in 10 years however i think that your kids will probably have similarities to your life in their life as well the only the only question is will the dominance of work that we have right now where you have the same job for 10 20 years and you're working from nine to five whether this is part of their life or if we see what we already see right now that more people are moving into different jobs that were unforeseeable in the future i mean if you told people 10 years ago okay you can upload your own videos on a video platform and you can make a living out of this and just no you can't you need a tv station you need expensive tv equipment to do this you you can't afford it now all you need is a good idea a cell phone and a platform where you can where you can sell your content this is this is available so maybe we see that it is not the traditional jobs that your kids are going to do and the difficulty is that our educational systems are still preparing them for the jobs that we used to have 20 years ago and not necessarily for the jobs that we're going to have that we have right now and that we're going to have in the future if we look at how we have been using technology since we started walking on two legs more or less we've been using technology to develop other technologies and use that technology to improve technology and develop technology Will we reach the point where the current technology starts to reinvent itself? Absolutely i mean we're already trying right now to use the technology that we have to develop its own things we've seen this successfully being applied we've seen this in the aviation industry where machines were designing parts that were not designed by humans but we're using technology that the technology itself designs something i think especially machine learning is offering great opportunities if a designer can go through 20 or 30 different designs every day and he has one year time to to do something he would always stick to what he knows to to the general things everybody does because it just has limited resources however if a machine can go through a million different op different designs in in just a day it can try new things and and we've seen that from the design of the antennas for satellites um to the design of components of houses and in changing the way we can build the entire architecture this is going to continue in the future and even higher speed and i believe it is good because for centuries what we're doing is things we learned we're trying to give pass on to the next generation we're saying this is the way you do it copy me and and you're good and i believe that these new approaches like machine learning enable us to say you know what we're going to sit back let a machine have a look at the process and maybe come up with a completely different approach that might be better than what we're doing all the time because we're so stuck in what we're doing Shouldn't we be afraid of that? When Google released AlphaGo Zero they had a machine that started with no knowledge at all and what they did was they let it play against the previous generation AlphaGo and over one night it reached the capability to beat its parent 100 to 0 so basically over 24 hours it learned 3000 years of history. At some point this really could accelerate I see especially this process of of machine learning as absolutely positive i'm not afraid about the fact that we're undertaking a different approach i i believe that too much in our world is based on past and and experiences we made it set in stone whenever you're trying to to break free from this development whenever you say i want to do something different than other people it's very difficult you as long as you're staying on the lane everything is fine as soon as you're saying i want to try something different it is it's a it's a problem it's not as easy and i believe our society has always made progress when people started to do things differently and this is how innovation comes so i'm not afraid about machines trying a different approach it doesn't mean that we need to do it it doesn't mean that at the end if the machine comes up with some crazy ideas where we say okay they might have certain advantages but we still like the old way we like to build our houses the way we always did and for historic reasons that's a good argument but just setting us free from the past from all the techniques that were given pass on from generation to generation is something where i think it offers opportunities to start with an empty page and say let's rethink it let's rethink how we build a building does it really need to look like the buildings that we've built throughout the time or can it look different and we've seen over the past that especially those buildings those architects that built buildings that look different from the usual building these are the ones that are sticking out right now this is these are the ones that we're conserving right now But what if the machine decides the same thing? Shouldn't we release ourselves from history? If you step on an ant on the street it probably doesn't change anything in the big picture What if a self-driving car decides that well getting rid of one human being doesn't really change anything in the big picture? That's correct that first of all it's not automatic that those principles and value systems that we developed will be applied by a machine if you would task a machine with driving through a street and it has a passenger in the back and there is a situation where it needs to decide between either hitting a human that is walking on the street or are driving into a wall and it would maybe kill the passenger in the back if you don't teach the machine value systems uh it would probably just say okay one human being less that's not an issue we have enough of them however we can implement these rules we can say there are certain rules it's exactly the same when you're designing a house you would you would tell the machine there are certain conditions uh there needs to be the possibility to place a bed in a room uh so you need to make sure that your concrete floor is suitable of carrying things a certain weight uh each square meter that's something that is absolutely typical and usual and i i believe that we need to make sure that these rules are well defined however with regard to many situations it is very difficult for us to formulate those rules so going back to my examples you have a self-driving vehicle it is there isn't a situation where somebody is just jumping on the road even if it uses its super advanced brakes it would still hit the person or it can crash into a wall and kill the passenger how would a human solve this problem it's it's it is basically impossible to solve this problem and therefore it's difficult to create a rule we cannot expect a machine to apply a rule that doesn't exist that we can't formulate so we should not go to the extreme when we're building those situations but just try to teach the machine in the everyday life where we want to apply it what are the rules that are applying and make sure that it follows just with regard to the human beings Exactly. At the end of the day I wouldn't like to make a decision of weighing one human being's life over
10 others. Should I go in that direction killing one or that direction killing 10? I wouldn't really like to make that decision but from a pure rational point of view which we tend to project on two machines, it should go for one rather than 10. well I don't i don't agree in this regard in most legal systems that I've been working in there is this principle that you wouldn't start counting you wouldn't say okay there is one human casualty there are 10 human casualties so let's go for the one human casualty we don't do this if you just say you don't teach the machine anything about ethical principles and legal principles it might come to the conclusion 110. it's better to go for one however you can add this layer of saying yes that might sound logic however the ethical consideration and one is as much as 10.
this is this is possible and we can even safeguard it we have the technology today to make sure that these ethical principles that we're implementing are actually really applied unlike with regard to human beings we're putting all kinds of things in our criminal codes and say this is not a lot this is not a lot and this is not a lot but people are still violating it these are the people some of them end up in prison and others not however we can use technology that we have today to make sure that machines do follow the rules and that we can afterwards verify whether it followed the rules um this this offers great possibilities i don't want to say it is without danger i don't want to say there are no challenges there are a hundred hundreds of challenges ahead of us but it doesn't mean that that we cannot address them or that we have to say we ignore this technology i believe it's an opportunity and apart from this it's out there it will be used anyway so why don't we go through a guided process where we're saying let's use let's develop principles let's apply them and let's make sure that we safeguard them Ethics and regulations is basically what we're talking about and i think it's no big secret that these are different in Europe and China Does China have an advantage over Europe when it comes to technology and applying technology and new technology into society? I first of all think my experience having worked with around 100 countries worldwide helping a lot of them to develop legislation regulations policies the there are not that many differences for example if you're looking at the criminal law system in china the code itself it's very much based on the german final cut they're they're great similarities that's that's the first thing however there are differences there are differences in in the way the political system works for example and things can more easily be implemented in china it's if you don't listen to your people uh if you don't have processes where people can stop certain developments by saying no no we we reject to the idea that there is a rail track here um or that um you're building something right in the middle of a protected area if if you don't have this of course the speed might be faster the question is if the society will accept this and if the society is happy with this and and how the society will respond to it i very much believe in the democratic processes i very much believe in the in the idea that we're having different interests that have to come together it's not only one decision maker who says i want to do it but i want to go through a process and therefore i'm i'm always worried when i see processes that are streamlined with regard to efficiency and you don't have different interests that also exist in china like they exist everywhere and that you don't have them reflected i don't want to want to bash china there there are very positive developments there there are things that we can see with regard to the use of technology where they increase safety where they increase the protection of of resources um but i believe that there are fundamentally different political systems and i am personally a strong believer in in democracy and strengthening democracy and i i also see in the western world that some countries are trying to streamline the processes when the president of the united states believes he has the power to decide whether to start a war or not or to impose tariffs and not include the congress that's also something where we don't need to point to china where we can also say well is this the right process on the other hand side if you're looking in europe endless debates um and where an agreement cannot be reached that can also not be the solution we need to we need to work on those fundamental principles but also uh accept that some countries are different and that some systems are different and none is superior to the other Are we becoming better at this looking back over the past 10, 20 years? I believe that we are living in a time that has never been as good before this is the best time to be alive and i believe that when you're your kids are 30 i still hope that this is also the best time in human history uh therefore i believe yes we're getting better and and these difficulties in in the process the need to debate and and having different opinions also in their opinions that you don't like uh political processes that you don't agree to political parties where you don't agree to having this debate is i think something very positive and to see that in the last european elections there are more people participating it's something very positive that's something where i think you can see that this is not a trend where the interest of the people is declining but where there is great interest and and we can encourage people to be even more interested and maybe the future will allow your kids in 30 years to spend less time working in jobs but more time participating in a democracy and sharpening the future Or maybe my kids in 30 years maybe they are in a world where machines are basically taking over most of the labor that is being performed by human beings today could we imagine a future where human beings are more entertainment for the machines? well if you want to be sarcastic you could say that is already the case because if you're just looking at some of the the situations you could interpret them in a way that the machines are already playing with human beings so when you're going to to youtube and watch a video you get recommendations and around 70 of the videos that are watched on youtube are based on recommendations a machine an algorithm was pointing you towards a video and when you start analyzing which videos are they pointing to sometimes it's really odd they're pointing you towards conspiracy theories you could say okay there's an algorithm playing with you seeing if you're gonna move into this direction if you can present your completely stupid videos and you're gonna watch them however i don't see it this way if you're looking down on the road right now there are cars driving humans they're not walking anymore they're driving when you're looking into how people navigate through a building they're going to a lift or an escalator machines are already a major part of our society i however don't think that this necessary means that we don't have a space i think it will just change the perspective it will open new doors because we don't have to do the work that we're currently doing it would allow us to to enter new spaces and say i'm gonna do work where previously we never had resources to do or very very few people are currently investing resources and we we're gonna see i cannot anticipate the future i don't know how it's gonna look like i'm worried about some of the trends i'm worried about too much decisions being taken machines and us being unable to verify what the machines are doing however in general i have a positive view into the future and and i believe that there will be more of a positive interaction and more active interaction right now my car does not necessarily interact with me i'm just driving it stupidly somewhere wouldn't it be nice if there would be more of an of an interaction of a dialogue between me and the technology that i'm using? In a maybe near, maybe distant future we will start colonizing Mars will that be a copy of Planet Earth or will it be a completely different civilization that we're building about there? I believe that in general things like traveling back to the Moon or traveling to Mars or even other planets in the future something important because it's inspiring us it's it's just taking us a step further i don't believe that building colonies on mars is the the future of mankind i i think it's uh it would be way more important to protect this planet and to make sure that we can survive on this planet than putting our hopes up that we will build up something new on a different planet uh there are significantly more resources required to build up something outside of this planet um then we would need to protect this planet and to do better here so um i think that a lot of people are putting hope on colonies in mars or traveling to other solar systems that have given up on this planet or that are not as optimistic with regard to the future of this planet i believe that the future of mankind is here and i'm i'm very much i'm very thankful for the current political movements all around the world with regard to putting more emphasis on protecting the environment we see this both in the united states within british political plans of the opposition party we see it in europe more cautiousness of the importance of the environment um more conscious of the importance of the environment environment by many people especially the younger generation so i think this is where our focus should be i'm open to all technical innovations let's send people to mars if if this drives innovation and then encourages people to look forward but the focus should be here One final question: If you became the president of Earth with unlimited power how should we spend our resources and technology? I'm a strong believer that my personal views um are not that important i'm advising governments all the time and i'm not trying to advise governments in a way that i want them to do what i believe is is right but what is right for the people and usually a politician of a small pacific islands knows much better with his people need than i do so i'm i don't come to places and and tell them that my view of the world should be what they're doing i don't know despite all my travel i don't know the world well enough to be able to say where where we should put our resources if you see it from from a perspective of a western country you might want to invest in in cleaner air having less traffic on the street if you're living in a rural area in a developing country where you don't have access to water they might say hey i i need some water first and if you're living in an area if you're living in one of those major uh metropoles in this world and you're struggling to earn enough money for your family and and send them to a college and enable them a better future most important thing for you might be i need income i need uh i need proper wages i believe we have in different parts of the world uh even in different within countries we have different priorities and we should address all of them there shouldn't be this one there isn't the one thing that we need to solve but there are a lot of micro things that we need to solve and i believe uh in regional power that the people that are close to the ground that have their boots on the ground in in dialogue with the constituencies with the people that are living there should determine what is really important Thanks for taking your time You're most welcome