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Primal fear of all things digital

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Timotheus Höttges, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deutsche Telekom AG, underlines the importance of a public discussion on the chances and challenges of the Digitization.

Timotheus Höttges, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deutsche Telekom AG

Timotheus Höttges, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deutsche Telekom AG

Cars that decide for themselves whether their passengers would rather drive into a tree than another person. Students, who search online for the best teachers in the world and recommend them to others. Robots that take care of people entrusted to them – perhaps with more patience than relatives could. The changes are knocking at the door thick and fast. Not everyone is enthusiastic about this, many have concerns about the changes digitization will bring to their lives. We should tackle the subject. Shutting the door is not an option. The new digital world has been around for a while.

And we as Deutsche Telekom are a driver of Digitization ,: through network expansion, cloud services, smaller and larger partnerships, and so on, and so forth. At the same time, we will be amazed by all the digital innovations in our everyday lives. The digital revolution is underway. Sometimes keeping up is easy, other times we stumble along.

Because when we talk about digitization, this also includes the issue of impact assessment and digital responsibility. Why are we doing this? What are the benefits? What are the risks? Who wins and who loses? As an economy, as a society, we feel an obligation – purely from an economic perspective – to make sure that the course of progress is a good one, or that it causes as little harm as possible.

We need to talk about exactly what digital responsibility can look like. No one individual can decree it – no one company, no one institution, no one government. We can only develop digital responsibility together.

In some areas we have already done this. Take data that is processed outside of Europe. Our clear position is that we believe in the Internet of short distances. Data must not be diverted through other judicial areas while traveling through the Internet. And big data? Only with anonymized or pseudonymized data. It is a good thing, therefore, that after more than three years, the institutions of the EU have agreed on a "European General Data Protection Regulation."

But digital responsibility means more than this. Precisely because the digital revolution has only just begun and we can only begin to guess at its consequences.
"Don't eat that third piece of cream cake, in 10,000 similar cases, one in three people was sick afterwards." If a computer analyzes comparable situations in seconds for an upcoming action, can it then dictate behavior? What if it belongs to a health insurance fund? Or is part of a team of doctors?

On health issues in particular, we are unsure about the future. Deciding to live healthier lives, in doubt about degrees of individual freedom. Often there isn't just one answer. Or the answer changes as the technology advances.

Many people find digitization and the never-ending revolutions overwhelming. After all, we are talking about the primal fear of an analog world of all things digital. It affects all areas of our lives: work and leisure time, education, health, sport, faith, ethics – right down to the very question of what makes a human human, what sets us apart from the machines and the animals. The reflex here is to say it's better to stand still, or even retreat, than to push forward. But this won't stop progress. And we can only shape the unknown by learning more about it, not by ignoring it.

That is why, over the course of the year, we want to hear what experts from the worlds of science, politics and business have to say on the subject - via telekom.com and social media. We the members of the Board of Management will also get involved, asking questions like "Should robots care for us?" "Do smartphones make us stupid?" "Do electronic brains make better bosses?"

In general, of course, we are looking to work out the opportunities presented by digitization for society – without concealing the risks. We want to break down fears about change and show that we can help to shape the future. We are not powerless to act. Digitization can and will create new prosperity. But we need to act now to make this possible. Also with a view to the dominance of U.S. and Asian corporations. We are not powerless to act.

And now for a little intellectual exercise: When machines, when artificial intelligence is on a par with us in terms of thinking and making decisions, what will it actually think of us? So let's not stumble into digitization, but rather use the time to discuss digital responsibility.

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