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Steinbeis expert Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Norbert Höptner appeals for more openness to technological developments

PCs. Laptops. Smartphones. GPS. We’ve come to accept the technology behind these devices without even thinking about it. Fly-by-wire. Autonomous cars. Drones. At this point, lots of people start to raise an eyebrow and look a bit skeptical. Operations without surgeons. 3D-printed human organs. Experimental food. If they haven’t already, now most people in German society activate the “conventional thinking and methods” button. But why? Because we lack the know-how to understand these new technologies. Because we don’t invest time in trying to understand them. This isn’t just wrong, it actually poses a threat to the positive development of our society.

I’ll get to the point: This is not an appeal for people to see all new technologies – and the products that they give rise to – as good per se. But it is a call for people not to simply form their opinions based on some sort of random “insights” shared in places like the social media.

Emerging technologies are almost always pieced together on a “multidisciplinary” level, so let’s call them Technology*. Of course it’s surely not possible for everyone to have a specialist knowledge of all disciplines. There’s much too much knowledge out there for everyday people to keep track of everything – despite Wikipedia and co. So we need people who can explain Technology* to us and make it accessible. We also need the possible fields of application pointed out to us so we can gain a tangible grasp of how society will be able to use this Technology* to discuss opportunities and threats. Experts need to be involved, so questions can be given concrete answers. And everything needs to take place within a framework of trust, moderated in a “neutral” way, factually, with objectivity.

If you’re starting to think, “Great, I’d like to be involved in that – but I wouldn’t know where,” than I have a nice surprise for you. Experts at the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute have found a way to offer such a format within a “forum of trust.” And the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour, and Housing is providing the required means for our project as part of an initiative called the Macro Testbed – Technologie*Begreifen (“Grasp*Technology”). To get a grasp of what we’re doing online, search for #techourfuture or go to www.techourfuture.de (or turn to pages 17 and onwards).

What is the benefit of people looking more closely into technology topics? Well for a start, you feel better. You also feel in a better position to decide something based on knowledge when you don’t just see a black box in front of you, but understand what’s in it. It helps you deal better with the fear of “losing control” in your life. And this helps deal with the phenomenon of feeling “angry out of helplessness.” Jobs in the hi-tech industry are more appealing when you can discern the benefit you deliver to society through your own work. And last but not least, creating transparency in the fields of technology and engineering is an important part of active democracy.

Which is why I suggest the following: Sit down with relatives, friends, and co-workers – over a coffee, beer, or glass of wine – and talk about Technology* rather than the weather!


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Norbert Höptner (author)
Research Fellow
Ferdinand-Steinbeis-Institute (Stuttgart)

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Norbert Höptner studied Signal Engineering at Darmstadt University of Technology. In 1982, he gained a PhD in digital signal processing systems at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He was first appointed as a professor at the former University of Applied Sciences in Karlsruhe in 1989. During his time there, he founded the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Signal Processing Systems and aside from focusing on teaching and research, he also became increasingly involved in technology transfer. In 1992, Höptner moved to Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences, where he was the founding rector of the department of electrical engineering. From 1995 until 1999, he was prorector and director of the Institute of Applied Research (IAF) at the university. He then spent four years as chancellor of the University of Design, Engineering, and Economics in Pforzheim.

In 2002, Höptner became the Commissioner for Europe for the Minister of Economic Affairs in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and he was also director of the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum based in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. Since July 2018, he has been working at the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute, part of the Steinbeis Foundation, with a focus on “making technologies tangible.”