Direct government support for industrial research and innovation in Germany has traditionally been strongly geared to so-called cutting-edge technologies. This refers to technologies that represent significant progress compared with the state of the art, whose development is associated with high costs and risks, and which promise great growth potential. For highly developed industrial countries such as Germany, keeping pace with the development and early application of cutting-edge technologies is a prerequisite for securing international competitiveness in the long term.
Typical examples of cutting-edge technologies today are biotechnology, nanotechnology, materials technologies, optical technology, aerospace technology, information technology/microelectronics and individual fields of environmental, energy and transport technologies. Active government support for cutting-edge technologies in Germany dates back at least to the 1950s. The most important instruments are the specialist programmes of the federal ministries, supplemented by institutional measures such as the establishment of state research organisations to carry out R&D in the corresponding cutting-edge technology fields. The German government’s High-Tech Strategy published in 2006 continued this tradition. This also applies to the new High-Tech Strategy 2020, which aims to achieve a stronger link between major social and economic trends and challenges and the development of new (cutting-edge) technologies.
Despite decades of funding for cutting-edge technologies in Germany, innovation research has repeatedly found Germany lagging behind in these fields of technology and has called for even more intensive funding. There are complaints that the importance of cutting-edge technology in the German innovation system and within German industry is too low, as structural change towards cutting-edge technology is progressing too slowly. As a consequence, growth opportunities would be missed and Germany’s future position in international technology competition weakened. In its first report, the Expert Commission on Research and Innovation also wrote: “Germany’s innovations are mainly geared to established industries. Growth potential in future markets is currently not being sufficiently tapped, although research in Germany offers a good basis for this. Research and innovation in cutting-edge technology must be promoted more strongly” (Expert Commission on Research and Innovation).
Against this background, this paper addresses the question of the significance of cutting-edge technologies for the German innovation system. It also deals with the relationship between cutting-edge technologies and other sectors, such as the use of cutting-edge technologies in non-research-intensive industry or in services for innovation. The usefulness and practicability of differentiating between cutting-edge technologies and traditional technologies will also be discussed, with R&D intensity also being viewed critically as a central indicator for identifying cutting-edge technologies.
Furthermore, it is discussed to what extent a focus of innovation promotion on cutting-edge technology is appropriate and whether other fields of technology and forms of innovation should form equal or even priority focal points of innovation policy. Measured in terms of value added and employment, cutting-edge technology sectors form a very small segment of the economy not only in Germany but in all countries, while traditional technology fields, non-research-intensive industrial sectors and, above all, the services sector have much higher weights. At the same time, innovations and the application of new technologies also play a major role in competitiveness in these sectors. In this context, the question arises as to whether there is a need for state intervention in these sectors and in what form the state should promote innovation and new technologies.
Benefit, ignore or shape the market? The eternally same questions for brands and companies regarding new technologies. This also applies to digital language assistants and artificial intelligence, the latest buzzwords in the digital industry.
After computers, faxes, internet, smartphones, now also electronics that wants to make our talking controversial. Will feeling come at some point? In any case, “language assistance” is not a new topic, but only one that man has pushed into the realm of science fiction in order to be able to disappear into the vastness of space with Captain Kirk and co. The reason for this lies in the demanding confrontation of technology with speech recognition and artificial intelligence. In the end, both are inevitably connected, insofar as the language assistant really wants to interact with the person without the person firing him into the corner after the third sentence or selling him on ebay again.
So the time has come for artificial intelligence and language as a user interface to the machines to find their way into the markets and thus into more and more applications. This includes marketing and work as well as daily life. Accordingly, there are now demands on the brands and companies that need to be answered, as long as a technical upheaval is not overslept again. Digitalization is a stepchild in Germany, how can language assistants find their way? Quite simply, through its now finally “human” interface to the machine, the language.
Language is probably one of the most natural and most human forms of communication. If humans can access a communication interface that they don’t have to learn first, such as typing, and there are no obstacles to using it, the step of using a digital language assistant is not far away. Hurraaa!!!
Decisive for the meaningful use of something, like the language assistant, is the “use case”. Not all use cases make sense for a digital language assistant and as with all technologies, the boundary between useful and useless has yet to be explored. This is something that many “foreign” companies and brands are already doing extensively, German companies unfortunately less so again. The current bottleneck is the performance of speech recognition and artificial intelligence. The conversion of speech into physical actions is already “almost” no longer a problem. Such “actuators” are available in variety and mass, primarily in the market segment Smart Home/Smart Living. Whether it is switching on the light, or controlling a machine on the basis of real-time data, etc., the “actuators” can be used to control the lighting, the control of the machine, and so on.
The identification of meaningful applications is therefore the be-all and end-all. Finding and designing these applications requires people who understand both language and processes. No conventional designer or programmer is currently in a position to do this. New perspectives and strategies are needed to convert or adapt use cases into “language” or “dialogue models”. The “screen” with colorful pictures and lists has been learned. Language, on the other hand, can currently only be used by very, very few people in the machine and make it as meaningful as something that can be used and understood by people.
Simply tie your hands on your back (a dream for bondage-willing…) and in a very short time you will find out where to use your voice as a tool. Even hammering in a nail is possible via a mechanical hand with the language assistant at the end of the day. Don’t you think so? Then why did robotics in Germany have a turnover of 12 billion euros in 2016 (source: vdma.org)? By 2018, 2 million robots worldwide are expected to be at work.