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Although Industry 4.0 is still a major force shaping current developments in business, Germany is already looking to the next big thing. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is seeking to systematically expand the fields of "learning systems" and "artificial intelligence", primarily by promoting collaboration between research and business. The "Learning Systems" project has been developed to complement the existing "Industry 4.0" platform by picking up on another important aspect of digitization. "The time is right for Germany to make more of 'artificial intelligence'," said Federal Minister of Research Johanna Wanka. "In the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, we have the world's biggest research institute dedicated to this field. On an international level, our research status is outstanding, and results have proven the huge potential of this new technology for business and society as a whole. We now need to think about artificial intelligence in a new range of categories and, as with Industry 4.0, expect far-reaching changes. For that reason, we aim to pool our strengths in this forward-looking project and pursue a systematic approach that will drive Germany forward in this area."

The "Learning Systems" platform, which is being coordinated by a steering committee, is to research not just applications and potential, but also social, ethical and legal issues in the context of artificial intelligence. In October this year, experts from business, science and society will gather in seven working groups to get to grips with specific topics. Through application scenarios, discussion papers and recommendations, they will explore both the opportunities and risks associated with "learning systems".

"Learning systems bring a new quality to digitization," says Dieter Spath, President of Germany's National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) and co-Chair of the platform. "We want Germany to take a leading role in shaping 'learning systems' for people as both a supplier and user. 'Learning systems' should enhance our wellbeing and work. They should help to improve our quality of life and social participation. That is why we are combining research and practical applications in this platform. Equally, we also want to initiate an open debate on the legal, ethical and social issues that 'learning systems' throw up."