Picture: ©Technologie Stiftung Berlin

Nicolas Zimmer from Technologiestiftung Berlin

The Technologiestiftung [Technology Foundation] presented a cross-industry study  “Künstliche Intelligenz in Berlin und Brandenburg“  [Artificial Intelligence in Berlin and Brandenburg] on the technology trends and their importance for the city. The number of possibilities to make systems artificially intelligent is increasing, and exists almost in all those places where digital tools are used:  in process management, traffic- and health sectors, industrial production and financing. We have met the CEO of the Technologie Stiftung Berlin and clever head Nicolas Zimmer for an interview:

Berlin is to be Number One of the digital future of society - how do you suggest to achieve this? The business location Berlin is already very well prepared for a digital future. To name but one example:  Since 2012 about half of all German company foundations in the sector of artificial intelligence have been established in Berlin.  It looks similar in respect of other future-oriented subjects such as “Internet of Things”.  

This means there is an enormous number of excellently trained people in the city who are open for digital subjects and thus connected opportunities - even drive these themselves. We should really integrate this potential even more seriously at this place, make data available and initiate meetings around this subject, in order to bring together data providers and data users - to define interfaces and initiate projects.

However, this cannot happen on the basis of private initiatives alone. The city and its infrastructural companies should also become project developers and design flagship projects. Digital projects drive economy and society forward especially in Berlin.  

How much intelligence already exists in Berlin? With regard to the infrastructure, Berlin has already quite a number of projects to make the city smarter.  Public transport, for example, is displayed and controlled digitally in real time. And we all benefit: Using public transport in Berlin means that one can install the app for real time data on the mobile and plan one’s journey accordingly. There also exist linked districts, as for example, the EUREF-Campus in Schöneberg, where renewable energy is used on site to charge e-cars and to feed excessive energy to the grid.  

The examples show that there already exist areas and districts within Berlin that make use of digital opportunities. But of course, there is still the need for further action and this pressure will remain with us for a longer period of time as the possibilities are constantly increasing due to a highly dynamic development in technologies.

And why should the city become even smarter? I believe that examples, such as the traffic-app, show what this is all about: more efficiency, more comfort, more transparency.   

When one sees the traffic information on one’s mobile in real time, journeys can be planned accordingly and the time spent more usefully. You don’t have to drive around the block to find a parking space. You can share cars with others and thus reduce the amount of cars on the road in order to manage your daily business.  In this way we contribute to the city to become worth living in, less noisy and cleaner.

“Smart Grid“ –  intelligent power grids are to introduce the power revolution. What exactly is behind this? Smart Grids are digital tools providing an efficient use of energy and thus balance fluctuations that occur for example by feeding renewable energies into the grid. In this respect a Smart Grid is to make sure that appliances not having to operate all the time are switched on once a lot of energy is fed in. For example, a washing machine will start when the photovoltaic system on the roof feeds energy from the sun.  

This is where digitalisation can show its benefit. Nobody can control huge amounts of data and the complex and uncontrollable weather as efficiently and sustainably as this Smart Grid.  

What chances or even challenges do you foresee for the near future? In my opinion, German cities and municipalities are basically still lacking a clear cut understanding of roles. The municipality has a wealth of data from all sections of life. What do they do with this data? What do they want to develop themselves? What do they expect of municipal enterprises? What data is made public - and this proposition was also made - or sold to private persons who in turn will develop business models? Very soon the municipalities will need answers to these questions. They need digital strategies.  

What is currently being developed at the location of Berlin? It is very good to see that there is a lively interest and commitment with regard the subject „Smart Grid“ in Berlin, as it is reflected in the Smart City Berlin network. Apart from a strategy, projects as prototypes are always important to show the smartness of the city.  

Specific examples for the current developments are realised in the further development of future locations, implementing the energy concept of Berlin,  the Smart City projects evolved from the strategy dialogue, as for example the Smart Business district, and last but not least our  Beratungsstelle Open Data for the administration (ODIS) [Information centre]. These projects are supported by the Berlin Energy Revolution - and Berlin Mobility Act defining clear cut objectives.  However, in order to achieve this, it is now very important to start acting and proceed!

What will the city look like in five years? I do not believe that the city will look much different in the coming five years. Also, I am not sure whether this is really necessary.  

I do, however, believe that the digitalisation offers us many opportunities  to manage the growth that we are lucky to have. I am also convinced that within five years and despite the growing population, Berlin will, for example, use less fossil fuels as compared to today, manage less traffic and will still be able to offer a better quality of life. 

And finally: Would you please continue the following sentence: “Berlin is smart, because…the city reinvents itself continuously.