Since the beginning of February, it’s official: the Artificial Intelligence Center Hamburg e.V. (ARIC) and homePORT are joining forces to drive innovation in the metropolitan region. Among other things, ARIC and homePORT want to demonstrate AI-supported production innovations on the Urban-Tech-Playground in the port. The focus is on implementing real-world use cases and testing new technologies in an exciting infrastructure.
We spoke with Alois Krtil, co-initiator and managing director of ARIC, and gained interesting insights into the founding process, current developments and further goals of ARIC. You can also find out what Hamburg’s Senator for Economic Affairs Michael Westhagemann has to say about the smart city and what still needs to happen to prepare Hamburg for the future.
homePORT: ARIC means Artificial Intelligence Center Hamburg. Can you briefly explain what the motives were for founding ARIC in 2019? What were your goals?
A: We founded ARIC to enable the metropolitan region to benefit from the key technology of artificial intelligence (AI). There was no player that bundled and made accessible the distributed knowledge in the field of Artificial Intelligence in business and science and consequently there was no central contact for companies for this important key technology. We had seen that the topic was in high demand, especially in the past four years, but at the same time there was a lot of uncertainty and ignorance in this regard.
With ARIC, we wanted to provide companies and society as a whole with an independent point of contact that would demystify the topic of AI and help them learn about and use AI themselves. In the area of continuing education, our goal was to make knowledge about AI available to as many interested parties as possible.
homePORT: What experiences did you have during your startup phase?.
A: We very quickly received a great deal of support from business and academia, as well as from the FHH. Even in pre-opening, we had so many inquiries that we first had to sort through them and work through them one by one. After just a few weeks, we were able to build up a large interdisciplinary AI community and get started with the experts, but also beginners. This showed that our concept was a complete success and that we could scale quickly. After the first founding year, we ourselves were surprised at how great the need for application and implementation knowledge in the field of AI was and how many interested participants had joined in our formats. In the meantime, we are at more than 1000 active players who design formats in ARIC, participate in them, take part in trainings and carry out projects.
homePORT: Were there “resistances” to your initiative or did you otherwise reach your limits during this intense time?
A: Fortunately, there was no resistance. We had selected our founding participants and supporters very carefully, so we were able to unleash energy together very quickly and get going in an agile manner. Our non-for-profit DNA was also very helpful. But as with probably every founding of a completely new organization, you always run into limits when the demand from day one is so great – the staff capacities, the development of an agile structure and process organization, the format development and delivery, etc.
homePORT: Which of the goals you’ve set have you already been able to achieve?
A: We have already been able to help many SMEs on their AI journey and support them with their questions. And have initiated collaboration projects with 13 different universities. We are also pleased that we have already been able to gain so much experience with our formats of our three strands of action INFORMATION, IMPLEMENTATION and CONTINUING EDUCATION. More than 8000 participants have been able to take advantage of our offerings at workshops, good practice events, webinars, blended learning modules, etc. This has resulted in a large community, which we are now continuously expanding and also linking internationally, including through our two new satellite locations in Tallinn/Estonia and Prague/Czech Republic.
homePORT: What role did and still does your network play?
A: Our international network, which is also constantly expanding through our members, is essential for our work. AI is a complex topic that requires critical mass of expertise and minds. Only through international collaboration can you really look beyond your own nose and transfer knowledge and technology. That’s why we are co-founders and at the same time participants in international AI networks.
homePORT: On January 29, you spoke with Hamburg’s Senator Westhagemann about smart city issues. This shows that with ARIC you were also able to win and mobilize urban stakeholders for AI topics. Can you tell us about the most important points of the conversation for you?
A: We have seen that FHH has a smart head in Senator Michael Westhagemann, who has a very close eye on the necessary changes in the area of digital transformation of a future metropolis and brings a good understanding of AI.
In the conversation, we were able to establish the need for investment in “basic building blocks” (building blocks) of digitization in the smart city sector, e.g., a digital twin or a digital ID. This applies to municipal companies, but also to the private sector. Both are part of a smart metropolis and should collaborate. But the importance of appropriate and pragmatic regulation and data governance was also discussed. Without this, many initiatives will not be operationalized and might only end up as proof-of-concept (PoC).
Another important point in the conversation was access to knowledge and, in that context, data literacy – knowledge and skills in data usage, processing, storage, etc. Only education and training in these areas helps to gain an understanding of AI and other key technologies, to demystify the topics and to be able to ask the right questions. Open educational opportunities as well as healthy communication about the possibilities and also the risks help.
homePORT: What do you hope of the further positive response of the conversation?
A: On the one hand, we are looking for greater awareness of the need for a digital AI-supported transformation of the location, whether in the service sector or when investing in hardware. After all, this can have a decisive impact on the resilience of a city like Hamburg in the future. On the other hand, we would like to encourage interested companies, universities and other institutions to participate. We would be happy to initiate even more forward-looking interdisciplinary projects and learn together.
homePORT: What goals and plans do you have for 2021 and the following years?
A: We want to open up access to AI for everyone. And at the same time advance specific knowledge and application domains in AI. For this, we need (general) entry formats, but also very specific expertise and offerings. Therefore, in the coming years, we would like to focus on application fields relevant for the location and create more impact with AI there. At the European level, we will advance human-centric AI, because the metropolitan region can also benefit greatly from these methods in its transformation. We want to put ARIC on the AI map internationally as early as 2021 and establish it.
In this context, it is important that the stakeholders are open to change and actively shape it; otherwise, efforts will fizzle out into one-off activities. We would like to see people walking this path together and everyone doing their part to invest in the future.
homePORT: homePORT is delighted to have such an experienced and strong partner as ARIC in its network. What do you expect from the cooperation?
A: We are very pleased that ARIC has found a partner in homePORT to jointly test and further develop innovations in an urban environment. Hardware-based technologies in particular need a real tech playground where people can try out and work under realistic conditions. Our algorithms and software-based AI applications can be observed and experienced in the real world, so to speak, at homePORT; among other things, this also helps demystify AI through practical tangible use cases that every citizen can experience for themselves. The homePORT team is also an ideal format partner, e.g. for joint events and workshops, as well as a multiplier with a strong network.
homePORT: Dear Alois, we thank you for your time. Here’s to a good cooperation!
Hamburg has numerous coworking spaces, but a special place to try out and experiment with hardware-based innovations in such a location as the Port of Hamburg is missing for the technology-oriented startups here at the site.
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