Gesche Joost is helping build The Internet of Things at the Design Research Lab in Berlin. The IT designer tests technology innovations everyday and develops new forms of man-machine interaction from them. A year ago, the holder of an endowed professorship at the Telekom Innovation Laboratories was named "Digital Champion" for the German government. We spoke with her.
The scientist and politician Professor Dr. Gesche Joost hails from Kiel. Since 2001, she has been a professor at Berlin University of the Arts, specializing in design research, and took up her post as holder of an endowed chair at T-Labs in 2011. At the beginning of 2014, she – along with 26 representatives from other EU member states – was appointed a "Digital Champion" by the EU Commission. We spoke with Gesche Joost about her new tasks and visions as an Internet ambassador.
You became a "Digital Champion" at the beginning of last year. What are your main tasks as an Internet ambassador for the federal government?
Gesche Joost: As an ambassador, I create a link between the Digital Agenda for Europe and the strategies in Germany. The "Digital Champions" should not simply be members of the government, but also be able to accompany the process critically. We meet around three times a year and tackle Digital Agenda projects. The most recent one is the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs, which revolves around the future of digital work. That's an issue of extreme importance in Europe when it comes to combating youth unemployment in Southern Europe. Digital jobs can offer genuine future prospects here.
Where do you see overlaps between your work as an IT designer involved in research and as a Digital Champion?
Gesche Joost: I myself am a designer and head of the Design Research Lab at Berlin University of the Arts. I deal with technology innovations there everyday – we test them here in the lab and develop new forms of man-machine interaction from them. The Internet of Things is thus being built here in a very practical manner. I derive my vision of a digital society from this experience. I'm aware that the new technologies are often far removed from the everyday life of many citizens and can also give rise to fears. That means we have to keep on building bridges and getting people on board in order to make technologies useful and understandable – after all, they're supposed to help us in our everyday life. I put this idea into practice in my role as an Internet ambassador – building bridges, including people, highlighting the opportunities of the digital society.
You and your team at the Telekom Laboratories and University of the Arts in Berlin conduct research into how society can be protected against digital risks and traps. Can you describe your scientific work in more detail?
Gesche Joost: In my work as professor, I carry out research into new forms of interaction between man and machine. Among other things, that involves interactive clothing that helps the people wearing it in emergencies or can be used in rehabilitation. Nothing is possible without the Internet in my research. Prototypes of a networked society are created – in other words, examples of how we can make our everyday life easier with technical systems. As part of my research, citizens are integrated in development from the outset, such as the elderly or people who suffer from dementia. That's called "co-design" because everyone is included as equals in the process – as a designer, user, expert, layperson, etc.
What importance do innovations such as those developed in the Telekom Laboratories have for the digital society?
Gesche Joost: Cooperation in international and interdisciplinary teams between university and industry such as we practice in the T-Labs is a key approach to discovering new things. Open innovation is the concept which helps ideas pick up steam and turn into a market success. The T-Labs bring together bright sparks with completely different backgrounds to develop ideas for the future. That's a key factor for the digital society so that we can benefit from digitization and it develops into a growth market – throughout Europe as well.
Should greater focus be put on their research approaches as digitization advances and to what extent do innovations actually help strengthen the digital society?
Gesche Joost: It's important to include people with very different backgrounds in developing technology: The old and young, women and men, families, people with handicaps, etc. The starting point for all developments must be diversity so that new technologies can be designed for everyone and exclude nobody. I'm guided by the vision of an inclusive digital society.