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Acatech: Who are we? - About the change in technology and the future of man
© logo acatech – German Academy of Science and Engineering
But if the technology of AI is disruptive, what comes after this disruption? - Grunwald


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Wörner, President of acatech
PD Dr. Achim Budde, director of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria


Introduction and moderation

Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology / acatech



  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Sami Haddadin, Chair of Robotics and System Intelligence, Technical University of Munich / acatech

  • Dr. Olivia Mitscherlich-Schönherr, lecturer in philosophical anthropology at the Munich School of Philosophy

  • Prof. Dr. Anke Becker, Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), Philipps University of Marburg

  • Prof. Dr. (TR) Dr. phil. and med. habil. İlhan İlkılıç, Türk-Alman Üniversitesi |Turkish-German University Istanbul

January 25, 2022, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Expert talks and discussions organized by the German Academy of Science and Engineering e. V. in cooperation with the Catholic Academy in Bavaria
view the event description online

The following text is a summary of my notes translated from the original German language of the talk. The event was recorded by me with a sound recording to ensure the reproduction of the content.

Prof. Dr. Armin Grunwald, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology / acatech
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Sami Haddadin, Chair of Robotics and System Intelligence, Technical University of Munich / acatech
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Dr. Olivia Mitscherlich-Schönherr, lecturer in philosophical anthropology at the Munich School of Philosophy
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Introduction to the online event


Armin Grunwald, German physicist, philosopher and technology assessor understands the relationship between humans and technology as a reciprocal relationship. For him, a peculiar dynamic of its own emerges here, in which the state of our knowledge changes the way in which we perceive the world. He interprets our view of the world and our role in it, as a mirror of the technologies that surround us and as an attempt to see what they may mean for us in the future. The technological development and the image of man intertwine and form a unit. Grunwald supports his thesis by pointing out signs of this unity in the last few centuries. For him, the so-called “mechanical man” of the eighteenth century emerged from the far-reaching effects of Newton, who was the first to define gravitation, force and mass. The world is understood as clockwork and God as the clockmaker. Due to the change in society into a gainful society in times of the Industrial Revolution, people perceived themselves primarily as workers who are aware of their working conditions and denounce them. When Kant's philosophy defines the autonomous human being, one's own will and morality move to the center of consciousness. Grunwald now puts up for debate whether we can understand ourselves today as “homo digitalis” and whether our own self-image is now increasingly taking on the features of a processing machine. (Grunwald, 2022)

Is our intelligence a construct?

“The question of how we have to deal with the technical progress of digitization does not answer the question of who we are. Are humans now actually becoming the “all-maker” and the crown of creation, or are they now more than ever “pests” and “parasites” that exploit nature?” (Grunwald, 2022)

Talk 1 - Prof. Dr.-Ing. Sami Haddadin

For Sami Haddadin, electrical engineer, computer scientist, entrepreneur and scientist in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence, the new digital technology quenches our insatiable thirst for knowledge and primarily serves to acquire knowledge and thus strive for the new. He classifies artificial intelligence in a series of developments that goes back to the fictitious “Golem”, an artificially brought to life protector of humans, and understands the interaction between man and machine as a field of tension and a challenge. (Haddadin, 2022)

He recognizes the disregard of human physicality as a major challenge. That is why he defines our current age as a “cold age” in which the digital and physical worlds merge into a meta-universe in which the human being as a being of constant physical movement is neglected and only the mind is given attention. (Haddadin, 2022)

Haddadin makes the following theses:

  • “Technology must be designed symbiotically for people and the environment and also be a tool for the constant pursuit of knowledge and innovation.” (Haddadin, 2022)

  • "We can only meet major challenges such as securing global prosperity, protecting our environment or demographic change with the widespread use of disruptive technologies and innovations." (Haddadin, 2022)

  • “In our society, technology must again be understood and used as an opportunity and possibility. This does not mean negating risks. On the contrary, it means learning to deal with them consciously and responsibly.” (Haddadin, 2022)


Talk 2 - Dr. Olivia Mitscherlich-Schönherr

The philosopher Olivia Mitscherlich explains the newly gained human insight as artificial, because the technologies are permeated by the developer´s images of humanity and their personal definition of the "good life". For her, the technology of artificial intelligence holds the power to develop new forms of human existence with it and to pursue the question of being human. But what is the good life? How do we define intelligence and are the defined rules really universal? In her impulse she critically points out that intelligence cannot only be understood as understanding and evaluating concrete life situations, because such conclusions only define views of the concrete hour. It can only be defined how we want to live together today and now and this judgment could be outdated very soon. In the disruptive power of AI and digital technologies, she sees a danger of digitizing or automating processes too carelessly, which at their core live on human interaction. (Mitscherlich, 2022)

Discussion on the talks about AI and digital technologies


Armin Grunwald introduces the discussion with questioning the term “disruptive”, which both speakers brought up. The definition of the adjective “disruptive” basically expresses a termination. But if the technology of AI is disruptive, what comes after this disruption? (Grunwald, 2022)

Haddadin defines disruptivity as an amplifying effect. For him, the chaos theory applies here, in which a small change in the system can have serious consequences. From the perspective of the technician, he does not see the AI as disruptive at all, since he understands the current state of research and can assess its potential to date. He locates the feeling of disruption much more in the population, which lacks this insight. He does not see the general feeling of acceleration in the technical development, because according to Haddadin, the technology is usually much further than its effect in society. (Haddadin, 2022)

For him, this perception of disruption is much more a sign that changes are taking place in the real world that are not just economic. He sees the idea of an impending crisis and rapid acceleration through artificial intelligence as a purely market-based perspective. For him, technology always enriches both economically and culturally, and just because there are rapid advances on the economic level does not mean that all areas of life are accelerating at an alarming rate. Rather, he sees this concern as justified in the fact that in the course of progress, especially in the education system, the wrong framework conditions are being adhered to. (Haddadin, 2022)

At this point, a listener raises a request to speak and demands the right for “freedom from technology”. He feels compelled to use the new technical applications and laments the lack of alternatives to digitized processes. In his view, if you don't familiarize yourself with new applications and processes and accept them as the only way, you will become more and more excluded from society. (Haddadin, 2022)

Haddadin uses this objection to reaffirm his concern about neglected physicality. He worries about the relegation of motor skills and warns against reducing human beings to beings of communication, as we are also beings of movement. This potential of AI and digitization to a negative spiral is generally considered to be “convenient”. Mitscherlich agrees here and adds that it is also about understanding expression. (Haddadin, Mitscherlich, 2022)

(00:58:50) The physicist and philosopher of technology Klaus Kornwachs interjects critically as to whether the human ability to abduct is not being overestimated. For him, invention is not yet an innovation. In the course of this, he vehemently rejects the concept of disruption as a battle cry from business administration and defines the effect more as a continuous development. He criticizes Haddadin's thesis that digitization would have led to an enrichment of all knowledge, and explains that for him at this point knowledge is confused with information. For him, this abundance of available knowledge tends to lead to being overwhelmed and to get on the wrong track quite quickly. He elaborates on this idea by saying, "We don't posses the knowledge of the world just because it's available." (Kornwachs, 2022)

(1:00:00) Ralph Hohenwarter, an expert in artificial intelligence in particular machine learning, calls on the developers of AI to be educated ethically. In his view of artificial intelligence, developers should be ethically trained in order to guide the technology in the right direction in the future. He expresses the hope that the question of "Who are we?" might be answered by AI in the future. He is driven by the search to understand consciousness and intelligence and to find the unique selling point of man and thus the meaning of human existence and his vocation. (Hohenwarter, 2022)

(01:02:00) Mitscherlich intervenes at this point and denies this potential of artificial intelligence. In her view, such value questions cannot be answered by digital technology. She emphasizes that one should not look for knowledge of values, because the question of the destiny of humanity must always be kept open. (Mitscherlich, 2022)

(01:03:00) Technology historian Wolfgang König takes the floor and questions the direction of the discussion by interjecting whether the progress can really be understood as groundbreaking. He calls for the de-dramatization of this discussion. For him, research in the field of artificial intelligence is in no way as groundbreaking as the transition of humans from hunter-gatherers to a sedentary lifestyle. Equally, he adds that groundbreaking changes in human history are probably only recognized in hindsight. (King, 2022)

(01:04:00) Andrea Buettner, researcher in the field of bioeconomy at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, questions whether it is really desirable to find the knowledge of what is possible for us as humans and what is our nature. She defines humans as an inquisitive and playful species and fears that with this rapid development in artificial intelligence, the possibility of self-knowledge could be lost as knowledge is developed and made accessible by machines. (Buettner, 2022)


(01:09:00) Haddadin replies that the knowledge acquisition process has become incredibly faster and AI can only be used to scratch the surface of what it means to be human. (Haddadin, 2022)



Acatech (25 Jan 2022) acatech am Dienstag: Wer sind wir? – Vom Wandel der Technik und der Zukunft des Menschen, zoom event. Available at:
(German audio recording)

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