2022-11-24

Hesse's Digital Minister Kristina Sinemus talks about 5G, AI and Digitization

Digitalization is transforming Germany. For some, it is a curse, because they feel overwhelmed and left behind. For others, it is a blessing, which enables them to compete on the international stage. In the Federal State of Hesse, we now have someone actively addressing what we need from digital transformation: Professor Kristina Sinemus. She has been Hesse's Minister for Digital Strategy and Development since January 2019. We talked with the Minister about important current developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G, and about the significance of Hesse’s digital strategy for the KION Group.

Professor Sinemus, in a nutshell: What is your role? And what have you achieved so far?

As a State Minister, I focus on and coordinate digital issues in Hesse, over and above all departments and organizations. In our state, I have emphasized those areas that I consider to hold potential for the future, such as artificial intelligence and digital transformation, but also measures to strengthen digitalization in our local authorities and rural areas.

Digitalization is a huge concept. Some associate it with a digital future, where drones will deliver pizzas to our homes, and we will all live in the Metaverse. Others feel left behind by digitalization. And yet another group likes to complain about the underdevelopment of our network, and about the lack of digitalization in government. What would you say to residents who are critical of digitalization in Hesse?

I am hearing from lots of citizens that they equate digitalization with good mobile reception. And that’s the key point: For many people, digitalization is an abstract concept. We all only ever associate it with things we are familiar with from our everyday lives. Many people are not aware of what digitalization actually means and what opportunities it holds – whether in terms of education, healthcare, or business. In my opinion, few people have any idea about co-working spaces, robots, or shopping in the Metaverse, because, quite simply, no-one has explained these things to them. So I see it as my job to talk with citizens and show them how digitalization can help them.

Introducing Kristina Sinemus

Professor Sinemus is Digital Minister for Digital Strategy and Development in Hesse. She has a background in business and ran her own company before becoming State Minister in 2019. In her private life, she has two daughters and, when not working, enjoys “analog shopping” in Wiesbaden’s pedestrian zone.

As far as the desired mobile reception is concerned, we are now up to 5G. Not everyone in Germany may need this mobile communication standard just yet, but we at KION Group are offering our customers automation of their warehouses, AI-controlled systems, and autonomous forklift trucks. These all require vast volumes of data. So further improving network speed is very important for us, even in the short term. What role does 5G play for the Ministry?

With the Mobile Communications Pact of the Future between the Hessian state government and the three major mobile network operators Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, we want to raise mobile communications coverage in Hesse to an even higher level. 5G plays an extremely decisive role for us. We incorporated 5G into our strategy for the future right from the start. Without 5G, or 5G plus (which means even better transmission), we will not be able to achieve digital transformation in terms of the transfer of health data, nor will the work of logistics companies like yours be future-proofed. We need the 5G standard for warehouses, for autonomous driving, and also for the transmission of information during production processes.

Alongside 5G, AI is an important issue in the world today. At KION, you will find AI in bots, for example, or in research and robot development. We are really excited about it! What does AI mean to you?

You first need to stop and think: What exactly is artificial intelligence? The term is misleading in itself, since it suggests that there is some kind of entity that is smarter than us. And that idea of AI is often what people are frightened of. In the final analysis however, artificial intelligence is actually nothing more than the optimization of processes or the simulation of processes by algorithms. Nothing more and nothing less.

You have launched the “AI made in Hesse” initiative, what is it all about, and what are you hoping to achieve?

In Hesse, we have a high density of university and research institutions. These institutions are home to enormous amounts of expertise and they are striving in particular to drive forwards AI, which also plays a major role in the engineering sector. So we got together with our State Ministries of the Economy and Science to think about how we could jointly support AI. The result was the launch of our own research institute: “hessian AI.” Here, we are researching how we can develop AI further, i.e., for new applications, but also in order to better understand AI.

And at what point, or how, does the economy come into play for “AI made in Hesse”?

In order to use AI, special computing infrastructure is required to utilize the vast volumes of data. So we want to make as much computing infrastructure as possible available to research. And, to even think about products and AI in the future, start-ups and SMEs need to be able to visualize how AI products might even look. So we wish to set up our own test environment, in conjunction with the Association of German Engineers, in which AI applications can be trialed. In summary, we can say: We wish to exploit, on the one hand, our significant research expertise, and on the other, the many potential business applications within Hesse. I am certain that AI can help Hesse to become the Silicon Valley of Europe.

That sounds like a very big ambition. And, while we are talking about visions for the future: What will Hesse look like in the year 2030?

In 2030, everywhere in Hesse will have 5G, and every house will have fiber optic connectivity. By then, our residents will understand that digitalization can help them every day – and, most importantly, they will understand how. They will be making significantly more use of telemedicine for health. We will have enhanced provision in rural areas in particular, and will have created more jobs there with the help of digitalization. We will have a prosperous economy, because we will have achieved digital transformation. We will see more women in the sector, because they will already have digital skills, and we will of course address the issue of mobile working. So we still have a long road ahead of us, but we are charting a course to become a stronger, more digital location.

“LAGER-Feuer” Podcast

The interview with Digital Minister Kristina Sinemus forms part of the German “LAGER-Feuer” podcast, in which we discuss warehouse logistics with exciting figures from the wider world. The KION podcast explores the intralogistics of the future, and covers key topics such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and autonomous driving. Interested? Listen to more episodes of the podcast here (only in German).

You have already spoken to businesses in Hesse. Our company is also based in Hesse: Our Group’s global headquarters is at Frankfurt Airport, and our subsidiary brand Dematic is based in Heusenstamm. How can we as a company contribute to the implementation of your digital strategy?

Be a sounding board and keep on helping us to jointly develop our digital future – especially when educating and training your employees. And try to be a visionary alongside us, standing for digital Hesse.

Is there anything that you dream of for the future?

I would like to see a similar digital brief at the federal level, where there could be a focus on and coordination of these things. I'm convinced that digital development is so fast-moving that we need a central unit that can maintain a comprehensive overview. And actually, we don’t just need to bundle digital topics at a federal level, but also for the whole of Europe. Because, at the end of the day, we are developing Hesse as a European location.

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