New inno­va­tion strate­gies and tech­nolo­gies such as arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence were the top­ic of the expert talk with Bur­ton Lee.

„The glob­al eco­nom­ic com­pe­ti­tion between loca­tions is deter­mined by the capa­bil­i­ty for inno­va­tion.” With this state­ment, Pres­i­dent Michael Strugl point­ed on the chal­lenge that Upper Aus­tria is fac­ing: in order to obtain growth and pros­per­i­ty, the abil­i­ty of the local econ­o­my and sci­ence to devel­op new things and to make them ready for the mar­ket, must be pushed for­ward. To dis­cuss how this can be achieved, ACADEMIA SUPERIOR invit­ed experts to the VKB-Forum in Linz. (Watch the video here)

Universities have to become the core for future growth

The US-Amer­i­can inno­va­tion spe­cial­ist Bur­ton Lee from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty advis­es Upper Aus­tria on the devel­op­ment of a strat­e­gy for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. With a crit­i­cal view from out­side, he showed sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between the inno­va­tion sys­tems in Europe and the famous Sil­i­con Val­ley in Cal­i­for­nia. He spoke, among oth­er things, about the dif­fer­ent error cul­tures and the broad­er US-Amer­i­can def­i­n­i­tion of com­put­er sci­ence (in com­par­i­son to Infor­mat­ics) as two of the foun­da­tions for the suc­cess of the Unit­ed States.

How­ev­er, as the most impor­tant fac­tor for California’s high­er abil­i­ty to inno­vate, he con­sid­ered the dif­fer­ent posi­tion­ing of the uni­ver­si­ties in the eco­nom­ic sys­tem. In the US mod­el, uni­ver­si­ties are at the cen­ter of eco­nom­ic growth. Uni­ver­si­ties are not just research insti­tu­tions, but also enable their stu­dents and pro­fes­sors to imple­ment new ideas and estab­lish companies.

With suc­cess, as the exam­ple Stan­ford shows: since the found­ing of the uni­ver­si­ty, active stu­dents and pro­fes­sors have already found­ed more than 40,000 com­pa­nies. Although, of course, not every start-up sur­vived, there are names like Google, HP or CISCO among them, which cre­ate new jobs world­wide and are now among the largest play­ers in digitization.

In Europe, the bal­ance sheet looks quite dif­fer­ent. Accord­ing to Lee, because the rel­e­vance of uni­ver­si­ties for eco­nom­ic growth is rat­ed too low in Europe. Too lit­tle empha­sis is placed on entre­pre­neur­ial train­ing or activ­i­ty of stu­dents and pro­fes­sors. „Entre­pre­neur­ship should be a part of all the study plans, not just those of the busi­ness schools”, says Lee, who advis­es insti­tu­tions around the world on innovation.

In a pan­el dis­cus­sion fol­low­ing the keynote of Lee, inno­va­tion-pow­er and inno­va­tion-cul­ture were dis­cussed controversially.

Think beyond borders, build networks and lifelong learning

Julia Eschel­beck, who grew up in Sil­i­con Val­ley and is respon­si­ble for the area of co-inno­va­tion at CISCO Sys­tems, saw a way to strength­en the inno­v­a­tive pow­er, espe­cial­ly in the pro­mo­tion of think­ing over-the-bounds. „Estab­lished com­pa­nies that go beyond their struc­tures and coop­er­ate with start-ups in part­ner projects fueled their own abil­i­ty to inno­vate. Nev­er­the­less, this hori­zon exten­sion must already be anchored in schools in the minds of the peo­ple”, she said.

Matthias Fink from the Insti­tute for Inno­va­tion Man­age­ment at the Johannes Kepler Uni­ver­si­ty of Linz empha­sized that all per­sons work­ing in an inno­va­tion sys­tem are impor­tant for its suc­cess. Only in a net­work, inno­va­tions can be dri­ven for­ward. There­fore, the trust­wor­thy rela­tion­ships between peo­ple are a key fac­tor in the inno­va­tion process. „It’s not enough to just copy the Sil­i­con Val­ley. We need to devel­op our inno­va­tion sys­tem to fit our iden­ti­ty”, Fink added. He referred to the great prob­lems of East­ern Euro­pean states, which, after the com­mu­nist era, tried to sim­ply take over the US entre­pre­neur­ship and eco­nom­ic mod­el and thus large­ly failed.

Accord­ing to the JKU expert, anoth­er area that still needs to be improved in Aus­tria is life­long learn­ing. „It has to be estab­lished that one can’t just stop learn­ing in a com­pa­ny. You just can’t stand still. Even as a six­ty-year-old”, Fink is convinced.

Ensuring trust and protect data

Johann Čas, of the Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy Assess­ment of the Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ence, saw the great­est cur­rent chal­lenge that domes­tic pol­i­tics are fac­ing, in strength­en­ing people’s trust in the great advan­tages of new tech­nolo­gies and, above all, arti­fi­cial intelligence.

„There will be win­ners and losers on the labor mar­ket in view of the immi­nent dis­rup­tions by robot­ics and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Pol­i­cy must there­fore strength­en the con­fi­dence that all will ben­e­fit from the new tech­nolo­gies”, said Čas, and point­ing crit­i­cal­ly to a para­dox: „If arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence real­ly keeps what it promis­es, maybe many pro­gram­mer will even­tu­al­ly not be need­ed in the future.”

Christoph Wurm from the VKB-Bank saw inno­va­tion and devel­op­ment with­out an alter­na­tive, but for him, trust is a cen­tral point, espe­cial­ly in finan­cial trans­ac­tions. „Trust can only be built up with sus­tain­able mod­els, and pri­va­cy is a key issue here. The cur­rent need, to use and pro­tect data at the same time, cre­ates a mine­field that has to be dis­armed”, Wurm said.

Cultural change and knowing your own strengths

Bur­ton Lee, from the Engi­neer­ing School of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, stressed out that a change in the atti­tude to new dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies in Europe is need­ed. „Data is the new oxy­gen and soft­ware is the back­bone of every­thing. This must final­ly be accept­ed”, he said con­vinc­ing­ly. „Many peo­ple here say: ‘Dig­i­ti­za­tion is not a com­pe­tence of us. It does not belong to our iden­ti­ty.’ But Run­tas­tic, for exam­ple, orig­i­nat­ed in Upper Aus­tria. This proves that these com­pe­tences are here”, Lee said, and added: „Know your strengths and you will be even stronger.”

Combine creative-digital-competence with production-competence

Michael Strugl saw one of the pri­or­i­ties for the fur­ther devel­op­ment of Upper Aus­tria in com­bin­ing the estab­lished com­pe­tence-field of pro­duc­tion with the new cre­ative and dig­i­tal com­pe­tences. „We need to build on our foun­da­tion, but also we need to open­ly and coura­geous­ly build up new com­pe­tences,” says Strugl. He announced that a new Arti­fi­cial-Intel­li­gence-Lab­o­ra­to­ry with up to 200 researchers will be set up at the JKU-Linz. This will help to turn the coun­try into a Euro­pean com­pe­tence cen­ter for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. „We want to build up a clear strat­e­gy from basic research through applied research to inno­va­tions in companies”.