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German scepticism towards data sharing and data collection requires a special focus on AI

5 March Danish Embassy meeting copy

In early March, all TEFs were gathered in Berlin to discuss and showcase the opportunities - the so-called service catalogues - that SMEs have for testing products based on AI.

As part of the TEF meeting, TEF DK (the Danish organization for providers of physical and virtual testing facilities as well as SMEs) was in Berlin with a small business delegation. In conjunction with the large partner meeting for all TEFs, a separate program was organized for the Danish delegation on the second day of the visit in collaboration with TEF DK, DTU, and DI Digital to gather knowledge about the opportunities in Germany for Danish companies.

The Danish embassy welcomed us in the fine spring sun at the beautiful, shared Nordic embassy complex in Berlin-Tiergarten. Here, the Danish Trade Council delivered three presentations focusing on digitalization and AI, as well as export opportunities in Germany and advice on how The Trade Council can assist companies. The presentations provided an overview of:

  • Public digitization and the use of AI in Germany, and the status of the tech industry in general.
  • Mobility trends in the digitization of the transportation sector (cars, railways, autonomous buses and trams, and shipping).
  • The energy sector and digitization.

The presentations unanimously showed that many things are happening in Germany, but there is a significant difference in the level of digitalization among municipalities and states. This information was also put into perspective in a presentation by Fabian Landua, Urban Data Scientist at the Data Competence Center for Cities & Regions - DKSR - a spinout from the research institution The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Introduction to Germany's AI ecosystem

After the embassy visit, the delegation headed to the Charité hospital area in Berlin-Mitte, which is also the headquarters for one of the TEFs; TEF-Health. Here, the delegation met with the innovation hub KI Park and Germany's industry association for companies with products based on artificial intelligence (KI Bundesverband). Both organizations are very eager to continue the dialogue with TEF DK and CitCom.ai TEF.

KI Park was established two years ago as an innovation hub aimed at helping to bring AI solutions to the market faster. Among the founders, you will find several leading European industrial giants, such as Volkswagen, and several research institutions.

KI Park organizes events throughout Germany and has an office in Stockholm, Sweden, with plans to open offices in other countries.

"You cannot confine artificial intelligence to just one country or place. AI topics are everywhere. And if we do not engage in other parts of Europe, then we are missing out on something. Our mission is truly to create European leadership in AI," says Evita Milan, Innovation & Partnership Manager, KI Park, Berlin.

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The German AI organization KI Bundesverband represents 450 startups and scale-ups. The companies are all based in Germany, developing European AI solutions. Daniel Abbou sees a rapidly developing market but also a need to strengthen the collaboration in Europe around smaller companies as part of a European AI innovation ecosystem:

"On one hand, I see flourishing startups and scale-ups in Germany. I see young people with great ideas who are committed to developing European AI products. And on the other hand, I also see the challenges posed by the big market competitors and other players in this industry who have a real advantage in terms of funding and other resources," says General Manager of KI Bundesverband, Daniel Abbou.

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A need to rethink or reconsider data sharing and data harvesting

After the meetings, Joost Haugmark Jensen, Secretary of TEF DK's board and Senior Consultant at DI Digital, summarized some of the key points, where privacy and data especially stand out.

In the energy sector, for example, Denmark is more advanced with, among other things, “smart meters” (remote consumption meters). These meters, along with flexible electricity pricing, enable electricity customers to monitor their consumption. As a result, customers can save money by utilizing flexibility and using electricity when it is cheaper. Similarly, utility companies can use data for planning purposes in addition to promoting more even consumption.

Although the EU desires the rollout of smart meters across the entire EU - as part of the green transition - Germany has a slightly more pragmatic approach to implementing EU legislation, as they are much more cautious about how much data is shared. Due to recent negative experiences with surveillance, Germans have a particular privacy concern, and therefore caution in sharing sensitive personal information persists. This was evident in the presentations at the Danish embassy.

"In international export contexts, Danish companies may need to rethink or reconsider data sharing and data harvesting in relation to their business model or communication. It is necessary to be able to explain very clearly how data is collected and make it clear that data is collected within the legal framework," says Joost Haugmark Jensen.

That was precisely something that Fabian Landua, Urban Data Scientist, Data Competence Center for Cities & Regions - DKSR, spoke about during the embassy visit, as the company works on creating sustainable and resilient municipalities through strategic use of data and AI:

"People are really hesitant to use it (tools based on AI and private data) as a resource. But mainly after we have shown examples of how it is used, how we use it, and being transparent about similar open-source tools, they understand what it can do. It is also part of our task to help people understand how data can function".

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Joost Haugmark Jensen also points out that Denmark and Germany face the same challenges in mobility, where, for example, the railway networks in both countries require significant upgrading, including digitally.

"It will be interesting to follow the German plans for digitalization and the ambitious plans for a general overhaul ("generalsanierung") of the German railway network, as presented by the embassy. It is a great example of how urban AI solutions can contribute to the EU's ambitions for simultaneous digital and green transformation”.

"The presentations have given us a good overview of the digital progress in Germany, for example, regarding intelligent solutions for cities. It is a market that may seem a bit chaotic, but there is a prerequisite and a need for it. Particularly, the German KI Marktplatz will be interesting to follow. At the same time, there are key players in the ecosystem that are important to know and are open to closer collaboration," concludes Joost Haugmark Jensen, TEF DK.

In this context, he points out that DI has 20.000 members across industries, while DI Digital has 900 members spread across software, electronics, AI, and cybersecurity, among others.

Dansk Erhverv: The TEF DK collaboration is an important piece

The Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv) is one of the members of TEF DK and was also part of the trip to Berlin.

The organization has over 18.000 members and is involved as a slightly different type of partner in the TEF DK collaboration compared to companies that develop artificial intelligence or provide testing facilities, explains Joen Magieres, Political Consultant at Danish Chamber of Commerce:

"While we certainly support the goal of developing responsible artificial intelligence based on European values, we also need to spread the message and raise awareness about the testing facilities - not only in CitCom.ai, which TEF DK belongs to, but also with the other TEFs within healthcare, agriculture and food, manufacturing, and the newest addition, AI hardware”.

"We need to ensure that our companies connect with relevant testing facilities and establish the right partnerships - and through that, fulfil the expectations of the TEF collaboration and other initiatives, such as EDIHs and the AI Office, which they work together within the field of AI in the EU," he says.

The Danish Chamber of Commerce's market for digitization, technology, and telecom represents around 1000 tech and digitization companies. Among others, they need to be aware of the value proposition of a secure testing environment that can support the development of European and Danish AI solutions based on European and Danish values.

It also has implications for the AI coalition, where Danish Chamber of Commerce has gathered Danish companies across sectors with knowledge, experience, and perspectives on artificial intelligence to map out opportunities and challenges for Danish businesses and provide policy recommendations to strengthen Denmark's global position in the field.

Today, Danish companies vary greatly in their progress with AI-based solutions. Many are considering development but lack facilities to ensure the quality of their products. Smaller companies may also lack knowledge about regulations and what is permissible.

"The TEFs will be essential in terms of disseminating the opportunities for assistance on multiple fronts," says Joen Magieres.

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5 March KI Park meeting copy