About a year ago, Frankfurt’s Lord Mayor Peter Feldmann had the impulse to launch an AI initiative. With the aim of turning it into an association, i.e., to institutionalize it. Stefan Jäger, a speaker in the Lord Mayor’s office and honorary board member of the association, let us know what Feldmann had in mind: “As always with new technologies, citizens have difficulty imagining what artificial intelligence actually is in this case. Some people are afraid. The association wants to acquire and share knowledge. Only transparency will make people curious.”
And Dr Thorsten Pötter wants to help him do so.
An interesting combination
Dr Thorsten Pötter is not only Chief Digital Officer at Samson, but also a member of the advisory board of AI Frankfurt Rhein-Main e.V. An interesting combination. Because Pötter stands for Samson AG, which has 2,000 employees in Germany and is represented in over 40 countries. And Samson produces, in short, positioners and valves of all kinds for the process industry. (Almost) everyone needs Samson valves to control the flow of liquid in pipes.
And this is precisely the reason why Pötter sits on Peter Feldmann’s advisory board of the AI Frankfurt Rhein-Main Association: “Whether I’m talking about liquid flows or data flows doesn’t matter,” says Pötter, who holds a doctorate in chemistry. “Both circuits need to be regulated."
And so it is obvious why he is a suitable candidate to help put Feldmann’s AI visions into practice. Because he knows where AI can help and where it cannot, and he thinks that valves are an excellent way to explain this. “We can, of course, build even better valves to control liquids. Or we can take another complementary approach: We use AI to determine where our customers can start to effectively control the entire plant."
This is not a crash course in pump technology
But it is a crash course in thinking differently. According to Pötter, AI takes value creation to a whole new level. Because many stakeholders are involved in AI. Anyone who cares about AI must get out of their siloed thinking. Singularity was yesterday. But does that mean you have to found an association right away? Yes, he believes that you have to. For two reasons: Firstly, AI is also a political issue. And secondly, the topic needs education in the market. And Lieschen Müller also belongs to the market.
Samson has the competence for both dimensions in-house. “And in this sense, we can contribute something," says Pötter. "But we are also convinced that there are still so many facets to this topic that can only be solved in a larger community. This reminds us of the fluid circuits in the process industry, which need valves for regulation, but also pumps, for example. And only the coordinated interaction of valve and pump provides the solution for the customer; both must be considered together in the interest of the customer. If you want to solve this with AI, we need everyone on board if possible."
The importance of community
And by the community, the chemist really means everyone: business and politics. The importance of politics and the local authorities in this environment is enormous. Pötter thinks that we need digital enlightenment.
In many places, Germany is very anxious about AI and digitization. Pötter wants to see more of the opportunities and less of the fear. “Politics can help here. But in my opinion, this should go beyond the monetary aspect such as subsidies. Politics should influence how such technologies can be used for the benefit of all. Of course, each single application has its flip side. You just have to look at it, too. But the clarification I am calling for is that the benefits and risks must be balanced out."
And in this respect, politicians are sometimes a bit reserved in their approach. This may also be due to the fact that our executive doesn’t know exactly what AI is. So first of all, politicians need to enlighten. And Samson also wants to support this, in part, in the form of Dr Thorsten Pötter on the advisory board of the AI Association of Peter Feldmann, the Lord Mayor of Frankfurt am Main.
Industry is one player among many
But isn’t the most important agent in this enlightenment drive the industry after all? That’s where the know-how seems to lie. And if politicians are enlightened, they can then enlighten their people. “Well, that’s classic industrial thinking,” Pötter counters reluctantly. Why? “I think we have a social issue. The industry is one player among many." Pötter prefers to rely on the responsible citizen. And yet he actually compares the digital enlightenment with the sexual enlightenment of the past.
“I always like to stay in this analogy. After all, it wasn’t the industry that did that for society. This enlightenment came out of the people themselves. At some point, we learned that no one gets pregnant from kissing. And that’s how it has to be with all the digital services and elements. AI must be a self-education tool, together with industry and politics. But never original.”
So the chemist is convinced. We have to educate ourselves. Easier said than done. But there is also something democratic about it. In his opinion, politics and business come into play when a balance has to be struck between opportunities and risks. And how do they both do that, Mr Pötter? “About the different application scenarios, use cases.”
And this is how he sees his role as a member of the advisory board of Feldmann’s association. He does this primarily with examples. He likes to point out where artificial intelligence has been in use for a long time. The advocate of facts wants to achieve grounding. He wants to show where these new technologies have established themselves unnoticed over the past 10 years. A form of objectification of an emotionally charged topic. And most of all he would even like to see this AI become a legal entity. This would give the ethics discussion a clearer direction.
“I admit my opinion on this is quite radical in some places.” And again he takes an example. And again it is one from history. But this time it’s not the sexual enlightenment, but the industrial revolution. Revolution is always good to evoke a different way of thinking: “At some point, companies were defined as legal entities and limits of liability were introduced. It’s conceivable that we could do the same with artificial intelligence. It is conceivable that we will possibly need a third legal entity or an entity called artificial intelligence."
Visions of jurisdiction
And then how do we want to sanction self-propelled cars? “Through the loss of value. The car is deleted or its memory is reduced." The man is a critical contemporary. His honesty makes him so likeable. That’s why we ask at the end: Tell me, does every company really have to use AI, or couldn’t you honestly say: "No, we don’t need AI, we just need what we have.
“No, not everybody has to participate. Not so long ago, we drove the fourth industrial revolution and digitalization through the village, and now we are doing it with artificial intelligence. But, if we take a closer look, all these issues go in the same direction, namely to standardize processes to minimize errors. And probably for many companies, a decent analytics engine is enough to create value from data."