Merkel seeks to fast-track Germany’s AI superpower status

Germany is pumping EUR3 billion into AI as confidence in traditional exports falters.
16 November 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved the funding. Source: AFP

Pitted against countries such as the US and China, Germany has a technology gap when it comes to developments in artificial intelligence (AI), and Angela Merkel is setting out doggedly to close it.

The German Chancellor has approved the spending of more than EUR3 billion (US$3.39 billion) to be invested in AI capabilities until 2025, as well as 100 professors to lecture on the subject, as it seeks to play catch-up with other global superpowers.

The funding could lay the groundwork for the development of hundreds of AI-focused startups within the next five to ten years.

While Germany is an established market for industrial innovation and manufacturing exports, it’s at risk of becoming victim to this “traditional” model’s success, notes Reuters, with solid nine-year growth leaving many businesses too busy to focus on digital transformation.

In what’s expected to be her final term in cabinet, Merkel said that developments in the field were vital for the country’s future prosperity, telling press: “the aspiration is to make ‘Made in Germany’ a trademark also in artificial intelligence, and to ensure that Germany takes its place as one of the leading [AI] countries in the world.”

While Merkel has pledged EUR3 billion, she has also assured additional funding will be provided by regional governments and expects that initiatives born as a result will see substantial investment pour in from the private sector.

Along with the creation of 100 university chairs set to focus on AI processes and advancements, additional research centers will be set up to complement existing facilities in the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), where it will seek to provide “attractive” working conditions and pay, particularly for overseas talent

The decisive move by the government follows extensive lobbying by some more than 100 companies to relax the country’s data protection laws and outdated research structure, which has hampered Germany from putting any competitive AI startups on the world stage.

“The volume of usable, high-quality data must be significantly increased if the goals of this strategy are to be met,” reads the document, but urges that citizens’ rights to data protection must also be preserved.

Germany’s minister of state for digital affairs has been appointed to coordinate the government’s digital strategy, who has been vocal in her belief that the country’s perceived economic security by traditional means has hindered its progress towards technological advancement.