Roland Dürre
Sunday May 26th, 2019

Turn of an Era: The End of the Digital World?

On May, 16th, 2019, I was invited to give a presentation on “post-digital” at the Hotel Eden-Wolff near Munich Central Station, which was organized by the regional GChACM group and the GI. It was about the question if and how the end of the digital world might be possible.

I try not to give any sales presentations with which someone tries to convince someone else to buy or do something. Consequently, I no longer use any manipulative transparencies that only restrict both the audience and the speaker.

Let the art of painting serve to illustrate how I speak: it used to be painting as true to nature as possible. Then, new forms of expression came along. They were called impressionism and expressionism and led to abstract art. My presentations are similar. I try to serve individual spots of colour dynamically and they are supposed to inspire and make the audience thoughtful. However, not everybody in the audience always understands this.

The question: “Who owns the internet” is such a spot of colour. Because for me, the internet is and always has been something special. The internet, too, has an infra-structure. It is similar to that of the railway or of streets for the motorised individual traffic and trucks.

Today, we have to accept that the internet as we loved and appreciated it no longer exists. And that we have only just started the phase where the network is controlled and used for influencing people. There is no end to gangsters who want to shanghai the internet.

Florian Sesser and yours truly spontaneously decided to give the presentation together. And we said: Hey, let us do a Chautauqua :-). Here is how you pronounce  the word.

The Chautauqua combines entertaining and educational elements as a form of educational oratory. It also has aesthetic standards and wants to motivate the listener towards active participation.


I see myself also as a “digital evangelist”, just like the “technology evangelists of Sun”. This year, I will celebrate my fifty years of digitalization. There is definitely some pride about being able to present myself as a pioneer of the third IT generation.

Here are the presentations I gave at the same place: 
Entrepreneur sketches (roughly twenty years ago with Norbert Weinberger and Alois Wolferstetter) and
Ethics and Computer Science (eleven years ago). 
Today, this was exactly what the focal topic of the current Informatik-Spektrum (membership magazine of Gesellschaft für Informatik) was about. I read it – and I really feel quite motivated to critically discuss what has been written.

Incidentally, I once was a member of the GChACM board of directors – together with Wolf-Rüdiger Gawron. He cannot come today because he is vacationing in Spain. The highlight of my time on the board was the local jubilee event that celebrated the 50-ieth birthday of the huge ACM (1998). Charles “Chuck” House had come to Munich and told us about the huge event in the USA (1998). Many thanks to the then GChACM president Wolf-Rüdiger Gawron who organized the event with the support of BMW AG (Siemens had opted out) and given everything an outstanding setting.

I never managed to visit the ACM jubilee event in the USA in 1997. When Chuck came to BMW Munich, he signed the book with all the presentations of “beyond computing” and gave it to me. So now I was able to read everything I needed to know about it.

How shall we live in 1975 – Hobby title page in November 1955

I was going to show you my “beyond computing“ book during my presentation, but, unfortunately, I could not find it. The important thing about it was that (at least) three famous science fictions authors (on top of many software development experts) were also present at the jubilee event. They also talked about the future of IT and software.

If you translate “Beyond computing” into German, you want to be careful. I just learned from Professor Oliver Kretzschmar (Uni Stuttgart) that the German “künstliche Intelligenz” is not really the same as “artificial intelligence”, simply because intelligence means something in English that it does not mean in German. And this is the reason for quite a few misunderstandings.

I brought the following books/brochures for you to browse:

  • Lexikon der Datenverarbeitung by Siemens, seventh (and last) edition of 1978. Incidentally, the first edition was of 1969. It was sold out so fast that they printed a second improved edition in the same year.
  • 30 Hobby magazines of 1955 – 1967 (randomly selected). 
It is absolutely fascinating how technology, engineering concepts and knowledge are explained in such a way that everybody can understand it. All of them are great magazines, let me pick out two that seem to be particularly fitting today:
  • November 1955. In this edition, they predict exactly how we are going to live in 1975.
  • “Here a car comes flying“ … which sounds extremely modern today (I wonder why I am thinking in terms of flight taxis today??? 😉
  • And a few Science Fiction books (Issac Asimov in the Heyne-Verlag), for example „ich der Robot“ (,_der_Robot – the English version of which was published when I was born!)
    Predictions are difficult to make, especially if they are about the future. (Karl Valentin).

Here comes a car flying … Hobby August 1956

Please note that even the great Hobby magazines are mainly about cars. This also goes to show what a formative effect the focus on mobilized individual traffic has had on us during the last hundred years. There are few digital issues – if at all, it is only Morse codes and similar things. I also seem to remember reading a short article about decoding.

What did I read in those days? After I started grammar school (1960), Karl May was a thing of the past. And Bravo was something I did not find really exciting. Consequently, science-fiction (along with existentialists like Alber Camus) became my favourite literature. At the time, the Heyne pocketbook edition was excellent.

Science fiction probably triggered my interest in IT. Mind you, Asimov had written “Ich der Robot …” twenty years earlier – and he had described laws of robotics that might now slowly become reality.

Florian Sesser – a young entrepreneur who fights for a better world.

And I also brought along Florian Sesser. He gave me the book where I found Chautauqua. Robert Pirsig – Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Nachruf NPR). Thanks  to Flo!

Then Florian introduced himself in his modest but very forward way. Let me tell you about him:

Florian Sesser, born in 1983, is a creative person. He loves it if he finds simple and elegant solutions to difficult problems in informatics. He started programming when he was eight years old. In 2014, he was one of the founders of accu:rate. The companie makes huge events and public buildings safer places by using computer simulation.

🙂 We want to jam the Chautauqua together. I am (mostly) the vocalist and Florian will play the instruments. We will divide our teaching speech into two sections with thirty minutes each. And with a biological break. Because otherwise things might get too hard.

BLOCK # 1„Postdigital“
BLOCK # 2 “Digital and Society ”
If the circumstances change – for instance because the audience is more active – then we change our agenda. We might, for example, remove the second block and, if that is what you wish (and Wolfgang finds it is doable), re-schedule it for another presentation.
Here is what the presentation will be about. I will not fill in all the comments. Instead, I will just give you the structure of the presentation in catchwords. This is like a collection of material in two blocks. You can let your imagination run free!
Syllabus BLOCK 1:

•    Post-digital
•    Definition (what comes to mind)
•    Post-factual  🙂
•    Era of irresponsible babble (R. Lay)
•    Digitalization: buzzword, also “post-digital”. Look it up in the internet and you will get the following hits.
•    Definition of “Digitalization ” (as I see it, it all began when the written language was invented). Today, it means something like automatization based on algorithms. A buzzword.
•    In Wikipedia (fairly new article)
•    Accenture (consultant: Bullshit)
•    Digital is not reversible? Irreversible?

•    What might destroy digitalization? Question – trying to find answers.
•    Wikipedia
•    Wikipedia is great (open source, totally based on honorary work, independent, no adverts,…)
•    Question to the audience: Who of you uses, pays for, administration, …
•    Infra-structure of knowledge (founded in 2001)
•    Age and gender???
•    A world of old white men (women are the exception).
•    What will happen if Wikipedia breaks down?
•    Wikipedia is the best example for creative destruction.
•    Wikipedia destroyed thesauri and encyclopedia.
•    What will be the future of the infra-structure of knowledge when those who work it on an honorary basis no longer feel like doing it?
•    Who will then own Wikipedia?
(BRD, UNO or a private agent …)
•    For the editors, it was really bad news
•    Lucrative business models and enterprises were lost.
•    Concerns, as opposed to the internet, will forget.
•    Revenge (copyright legislation)
(free from, because common-good oriented).
•    Politics and lobbies currently practice how to deprive NGO-s of the common good status.

•    Other threatening examples
•    Over-regulation and influencing
•    Facebook/Google example: vaccination enemies are ostracized
•    Upload filters
•    Commercial change (news that you pay for getting priority)
•    Mooresch’s Law (1965)  We are close to the end. But perhaps the future will continue to need exponential growth  (AI, BIG Data, Blockchain …)
•    IT has the power of the potency 
(seed on the chess field)
•    Trinity of computer science has its limits. No more exponential growth.
•    Data storage – we are now in the nano sphere.
•    Communication – we send at the speed of light on glass fibre.
•    Computers – are quantum computers really the solution?
•    Engineers have become priests
•    Asimov (Trantor-Trilogie)
•    Some programmers today actually remind me of it. Once in a while, I get the impression that they “have no idea what they are doing“.
•    Digitalism – a religion. Should we smile at it or take it seriously? Way Of The Future Church ?

•    The infra structure corrodes. Then, there might soon be an end to world-wide communication.
•    Speaking about which, it might be interesting to ask a few questions. Two of them are:
•    Who owns the intenet – in the physical sense?
•    How does it work?
I asked the questions. The result is a good example for the current state of the world – incompetence all over the place. Even the digital top Government cannot answer these basic questions.

It is easier for other (old) kinds of infra structure. Take for instance street infra structure. You always know who a street belongs to. And who usually should feel responsible for it.

  •  BLOCK #2:
    • If you use the culture onion as a model, you can describe society and culture. See also Parts of the onion are also products, proverbs, jokes, appearance, and much more. All these things are part of our culture.
    • What role do humans play in social systems?
    • What do the extreme borders of social systems look like (family, enterprises, countries ,…)? Let me define two poles::
      • HORG (short for @Büronyms in hierarchical systems) versus AUTOnomous
      • Hierarchy (Organigram tree from top to bottom) versus Network (linked teams that co-operate)
      • Group –based (model armed forces – Siemens) versus Team-based (micro organisation with self-organisation)
      • Secrets  versus Transparency
      • Bureaucracy  versus Subsidiarity
      • Taylorism (detailed pre-defined work methods, one best way, exact fixation of the location and time of delivery, extremely detailed and minute tasks, one-way communication with fixed and strict content, detailed goal description for every individual worker without obvious connection to the general goal of the enterprise, also: quality control) versus Involvedness (as the sum of being part of an entity, task integration, corporate identity …).
      • Processes (Henry Ford – the caste of engineers as a predecessor of the management cast) versus Self- organisation
        and as an extension:
      • Feudalism versus Self-determination
      • Serfdom  (slavery) versus Freedom
        perhaps also
      • Ratio versus Emotions
      • Violence versus Non-violence
  • Evaluation
    • It is part of the operating system that organizes social systems.
    • There are no purely BLUE or RED enterprises. Personally, I do not really know which is the better alternative and I assume that it is a matter if the best mixture. But my sympathies lie more on the BLUE side.
      • Mafia and war economy in the Third Reich and WW-2 were BLUE
      • Buurtzorg is an example for RED, perhaps the best example.
      • Slavery and fiefdom were only abandoned because they were not economically successful and because they were inefficient.
      • In the end, we will get the more efficient system.
    • Digitalisation can support both the BLUE and the RED system (processes such as knowledge exchange / violence-free and open communication)
      • Examples for BLUE:
        • The straitjacket MS/SAP with enterprises or
        • DB: the implementation of the price system (makes no sense, but is hard to change).
      • Examples for RED:
        • Shared applications based on knowledge.
        • „Open Source“ …
  • Those who are agile give VUCA (acronym for volatility – uncertainty –complexity – ambiguity) as a reason why RED is necessary, because, as they see it, BLUE cannot meet the expectations and complexity of our modern world. Because we need to generate new qualities:
    • Resilience
    • Anti-fragility
    • I think that black-and-white concepts will always be sub-optimal and that the future will be hybrid in this regard, too.
    • Here is what I fear: Perhaps the problems of humanity can only be solved if you apply BLUE ?
  • Now let us assume the following for a mental experiment:
    The social systems have been ruled by digital organization. What will happen if we add Artificial Intelligence?

    • What is Artificial Intelligence?
      • Self-learning system.
      • AI is “the world beyond algorithms“?
      • Let us look at games like chess and Go!?
      • Does AI consist of banal applications such as ALEXA? Perhaps not.
      • Some of the top consultants in politics I mentioned earlier believed that the English-speaking Chinese news speaker robot is an android system!?

Interesting things to notice  about AI!

Just think of TAY, which created so much misfortune for Microsoft (and which the top counsellors often do not even know about!):

    • Tay as an example for AI experiments:
      • What will it mean if AI becomes part of digital social systems?
      • Has Microsoft already given up on AI (at an aside)?
        • Termination of Cortana
        • How do they expect Bavaria or Germany to become strong players in AI if even Microsoft no longer has the courage to play?
        • We talk about Bavaria FIRST.
        • My personal experience from my own presentations is not very encouraging:
          I know people who talked AI (people who actually are counsellors of politicians) and knew neither TAY nor the Chinese news reporter ROBOT.
        • China will become a player. With the day when the self-learning systems beat the Chinese Go master, the Chinese appeared on the horizon in the AI sector. They have enormous power and they invest unbelievable sums in terms of money and research.
    • What is the ethical consequence of AI becoming a part of the dominating digital control systems (TAY showed us how badly this can end)?
      • Note for the audience about literature (Prof Bayer): Leben 3.0 – Menschsein im Zeitalter Künstlicher Intelligenz
      • Asimov (Gesetze der Robotik 1950)
      • German Ethics Conference on Artificial Intelligence (Dobrindt 2018), which was part of the electoral campaign that was supposed to show how future-oriented and responsible the Federal Government works for the citizens.

        • It was only about autonomous driving (cars are in the centre of everybody’s attention).
        • Mental experiments in ethics become game theory. It has been a science that supported ethics since 1945. It is best described here: #filosofix by SRF.
          (They, too, have copyright problems: on the original SRF (Schweizer Rundfunk), some videos were blocked for Germany, yet I could see them on Youtube. This is just as annoying as the GEZ problem (many contents in the stream of ARD etc,  cannot be viewed outside Germany, not even in Europe, but you can easily view them if you use a proxy. What nonsense).
        • As I see it, #filosofix is not doing any good. You can talk and talk, but you get no results.
        • That was the standard of Mister Dobrindt’s ethics conference. It was not about AI in general, but only about autonomous cars in conflict situations. Instead  of promoting or thinking about an ethics architecture in AI systems, there were many examples. For instance the two-bikers problem:
          one is riding his bike and wearing a helmet, the other is not wearing a helmet. The situation suggests that one of them will be overrun by the car. Which one will the autonomous car overrun?
          The solution was the one who wears a helmet, because he has a higher chance of survival. What a nice idea – but totally impractical.
        • Let us finish our chautauqua by taking a look at the social credits system in China.
          •  See also Justice Theories  or poetic justice . At least, the Chinese believe that this is how they can generate justice. Good social behaviour will be rewarded, bad social behaviour will be punished. Just as fair justice demands it. It can only be done through total digital monitoring.
          • Mobility
            If you cross a street on a red light, you get minus points, even if you are a pedestrian. If you use public transport without paying or park where you are not allowed to park, you also get minus points.
          • Statements  in Multimedia
          • All sorts of violations of rules and opinions.
          • …?
        • Is it possible? YES!
          • Necessary requirements:
            It can only be done with IT (social media, video screening, big data) that creates a total transparency of the citizens and thus makes it possible to measure and write down the social behaviour of all the citizens.
          • But: who decides what is fair? Who will program or customize the system? Who makes the rules? How to get a consensus about it?
          • What I fear is: China will find its way to us.
            The IT products come from China. They will influence how we think. The tendency to limit freedom and introduce monitoring in Germany and Europe has already started.
          • Consequently, there is only one option left for us if we want to see the post-digital era.
            The people assault and destroy everything that is digital. A digital storm sweeps everything clean from digital influences!
          • Here is an additional idea on AI:
            Currently, sensors are the technological topic.

            • Example from China: baby screening (a small box will notify you if and how full the diapers are).
            • If you are fishing, you get a bite alarm as soon as the fish has bitten into the fly. It will also inform you about the characteristics of the fish you caught.
            • Autonomous driving.
              Under discussion all the time. But don’t we have other problems?
            • “Digital firm“
              Producing more and more, and more diverse and cheaper all the time. …

Florian in a totally different environment.

A new definition of AI might be that AI is no longer about human-machine communication, but about world-machine communication.

My life as a computer scientist was basically about working at the human-machine interface (user interfaces).

Today, they work on the world-machine interface.

Perhaps this, too, might serve as a reasonable definition of AI:

“AI is if the software or the system directly co-operates with the world”.

.. instead of with the people.


„AI is if the system no longer works determinedly (as you already see today with neural networks)?“

And we no longer know what it will do next.

Two words of warning:

Perfect manipulation per car:
Hobby 1957 – 1965

» Jene, die grundlegende Freiheit aufgeben würden, um eine geringe vorübergehende Sicherheit zu erwerben, verdienen weder Freiheit noch Sicherheit. «

» Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. «

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

» Jeder Zuwachs an Technik bedingt, wenn damit ein Zuwachs und nicht eine Schmälerung des menschlichen Glücks verbunden sein soll, einen entsprechenden Zuwachs an Weisheit. «

Bertrand Russell

Well, that was it.


(Translated by EG)

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