We live in a time when not only the future, but also our idea of the future is rapid­ly chang­ing. Dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies are increas­ing­ly influ­enc­ing our world. On the one hand, this makes the world in which we live more fore­see­able or even con­trol­lable – for exam­ple when try­ing to find out when signs of wear show in machines and spare parts have to be installed – but, on the oth­er hand, it is often more sur­pris­ing – for exam­ple in the case of unfore­seen influ­ences on opin­ion-form­ing process­es through dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels.

“OUR VISION OF THE FUTURE IS CHANGING VERY RAPIDLY WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES.”

In Daniel Kehlmann’s nov­el Mea­sur­ing the World he writes:“Whenever things were fright­en­ing, it was a good idea to mea­sure them.” The book is about the jour­ney of two Ger­man sci­ence genius­es who could not be more dif­fer­ent. Both are dri­ven by their thirst for research and want to dis­cov­er the world. The quote shows that our increas­ing “mea­sure­ment of the future” also comes from two cen­tral and deeply human instincts: the need for secu­ri­ty and the desire to dis­cov­er new things.

If we do not know what to expect, if we are uncer­tain about deci­sions, it is good to have tech­nolo­gies at our dis­pos­al that help us fig­ure out dimen­sions, clas­si­fy facts, form opin­ions, rec­og­nize pro­por­tion­al­i­ty and cat­e­go­rize out­comes. Insights gained in this way guide us in our reflec­tions, strate­gies and actions, thus cre­at­ing an alleged cer­tain­ty, which has some­times turned out to be mis­lead­ing. This inevitably rais­es the ques­tion: What if the tables turn? If the mea­sur­er becomes the mea­sured one? If it is not us who con­trol and influ­ence tech­nol­o­gy but the oth­er way around? Is mea­sur­ing and being mea­sured a give and take? Does “Mea­sur­ing the Future” lead to bet­ter results and under­stand­ing or does it only sug­gest a sense of secu­ri­ty?

Privacy: The whole picture

Pri­va­cy is an impor­tant and valu­able com­mod­i­ty. This is a polit­i­cal and social mis­sion. How­ev­er, in the face of tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties, most peo­ple, con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly, out of lack of knowl­edge or con­vic­tion, for con­ve­nience or lack of alter­na­tives, are less care­ful about their pri­va­cy. On the one hand, there is the pro­tec­tion of pri­va­cy, which is to be pre­served for cit­i­zens at all costs. On the oth­er hand, the idea of shar­ing data stands for bet­ter and more accu­rate analy­ses and pre­dic­tions for the ben­e­fit of the whole (“shar­ing is car­ing”). In between, there is a thin line for an open dia­logue between pol­i­tics, soci­ety and the econ­o­my. In order to cre­ate suit­able frame­work con­di­tions for the pro­tec­tion of the indi­vid­ual and the well-being of the com­mu­ni­ty, the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is required.

“WE SHOULD NOT JUST DRIVE BY SIGHT; WE ALSO NEED TO THINK AHEAD.”

Social robots with clear rules for man and machine

In the light of demo­graph­ic change, we face major chal­lenges in both the work­force and the care and wel­fare facil­i­ties. Social robots sup­port­ing these sec­tors could be a great asset for pre­serv­ing exist­ing sys­tems. As para­dox­i­cal as it may sound, tech­no­log­i­cal progress may be the key to more human­i­ty and dig­ni­ty in deal­ing with one anoth­er.

A pre­req­ui­site for the suc­cess of this devel­op­ment is a clear set of rules for both robots and the peo­ple they should serve. One goal must be to devel­op mod­els togeth­er that are eth­i­cal and respect­ful toward one anoth­er.

The sum of two worlds

In times like these, play­ing off the anal­o­gous against the dig­i­tal world is a step in the wrong direc­tion for both worlds. The dis­cus­sions repeat­ed­ly empha­sized that one should not com­pare exist­ing faulty sys­tems with per­fect dig­i­tal solu­tions, but with equal­ly faulty but per­haps bet­ter over­all dig­i­tal solu­tions. Is it jus­ti­fied to ask for 100% acci­dent-free self-dri­ving vehi­cles as long as peo­ple cause far more acci­dents than that on the roads? The point here is to place the mutu­al expec­ta­tions and hopes for new tech­nolo­gies in a real­is­tic frame­work.

The ques­tion will be: How can we inte­grate these new tech­nolo­gies so that our soci­ety remains appre­cia­tive, sym­pa­thet­ic, open, able to give and take crit­i­cism and respon­si­ble? Only then will we suc­ceed in mak­ing the sum of the two worlds yield more than its indi­vid­ual parts.