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Great interest in AI regulation

By Markus Christen, UZH

The event “AI’ll be back – Consequences of AI regulation for startups”, jointly organized by the Data Ethics expert group and Technopark, generated a great deal of attention. More than 40 persons listened to the speakers and discussed lively on how the emerging regulation of AI may affect innovation.

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Its purpose is to documentation, auditing, and process requirements for AI providers. What does that mean for AI startups in Switzerland? This question was the focus of an event organized by the Data Ethics expert group of the Data Innovation Alliance. More than 40 persons attended this meeting on Thursday, February 1, at the Technopark Zürich.

First, Livia Walpen, Senior Policy Advisor International Relations at the Federal Office of Communication (OFCOM), outlined the current state of the EU AI act and its possible consequences for Switzerland. The EU AI act will create a harmonized legal framework for the EU’s internal market. It will be relevant both for private and public actors. The core intention is to classify AI systems according to the risk they involve; depending on the risk, different measures will follow – from no obligations if the risk is minimal, up to prohibited practices if the risk is unacceptable. For practical applications, the main relevant difference will be between “limited risk” and “high” risk – as for latter, various obligations will follow: Among others, those involve adequate risk assessment systems, data sets of high quality, and appropriate human oversight measures. High-risk AI systems will require a registration in public EU databases and providers outside the EU need to appoint an authorized representative in the EU. The AI Act will apply two years after its entry into force, i.e. in 2026 (with the exception of certain specific provisions).

For Switzerland, the new EU AI act will have consequences for all Swiss companies and research institutions operating in the EU, as they will have to assess the conformity of their products in accordance with the conditions or procedures laid down. The AI act might also have an influence on the Swiss political debate and the Swiss regulatory approach to AI. In November last year, the Federal Council gave the mandate for the elaboration of an overview of possible regulatory approaches to AI in Switzerland. The OFCOM, in close cooperation with different federal offices, is currently preparing a report that will outline different possible approaches for Switzerland, to be published by the end of this year.

Christoph Heitz, Founder and President of the Data Innovation Alliance, discussed how developers of AI applications in companies need to prepare already today, how the AI Act changes the job of developers, and how startups can obtain support for these new challenges. His main message to the audience consisted in three points: First, know what your AI application is actually doing. Second, AI regulation leads to innovation challenges; i.e., new solutions are required. Third, there is support for helping companies to master the transition. As for the last point, he pointed to the “Innovation Boosters” run by the Data Innovation Alliance: The already estabilshed “databooster” and the new Booster “Artificial Intelligence”. Both booster programs support companies in developing innovative approaches to address the regulatory challenges for their concrete AI products they aim to develop.

Finally, Christoph Bräunlich, Head AI of BSI Software, presented a use case to demonstrate how a “Code of AI conduct” can help to be prepared for compliance for AI regulations. He outlined how BSI has developed a “Code of Conduct AI”, inspired by the “Code of Ethics for Data-Based Value Creation” of the Data Innovation Alliance. A key element of their Code of Conduct is the role of an “Ethics Enabler” – a person within the company that structures discussions on ethical issues of a specific AI innovation within the company. After the three talks – the slides are available as pdf download – a lively discussion emerged in the audience, moderated by Markus Christen, managing director of the Digital Society Initiative of the University of Zurich. Several people pointed to the practical issues that may arise when assessing concrete risks of AI systems – certainly a point where both the regulator and the companies will have to gain experience.

MYBLUEPLANET: An association for climate protection in Switzerland

The Expert Group Smart Services had the chance to listen to the presentation by Noah Gunzinger, Managing Director of MYBLUEPLANET. MYBLUEPLANET is a 16 years old Swiss non-profit with the mission to take individual and collective action against climate change. The initiative encourages people to get actively involved in climate protection. Noah presented one of the programs, the Climate Challenge App which offers personalized experiences, ranking comparisons, self-improvement controls and much more.

Key to the android and iOS App is the ability to build teams and participate as a company or a team in the challenges. By regularly updating the challenges on consumption, diet, habitation and mobility and having a common monthly challenge, participants understand that they are part of a bigger movement towards net zero.

The data show that some topics work better than others, for instance dietary topics are more preferred by the users than mobility topics. As of now, there are about 2500 registered users with little churn. Future developments will focus on improvements increasing user engagement.

The presentation was rounded off by a lively discussion with the numerous participants that revolved around the topics of user engagement, measurability, local activities and B2B embedding.

Unveiling Innovation: Databooster’s Project Day Recap

By Milena Perraudin, data innovation alliance

Immersing ourselves in the realm of captivating ideas, gaining firsthand insights into the journeys and lessons learned from innovators, and seizing the opportunity to exchange ideas and network with like-minded enthusiasts – doesn’t that sound exciting? Such was our most recent Project Day on December 14th, 2023, hosted at Oracle in Zurich.

30 enthusiastic participants gathered to hear about a wide range of innovative ideas supported by the Innovation Booster Databooster ranging from data-based battery diagnostics to various projects in the health sector. Participants gained valuable insights into eleven different innovation projects and profited from their lessons learned. The afternoon also offered networking opportunities that sparked new innovative ideas and provided the opportunity to come up with future collaborations.

To dive into some highlights, the project presentations started with the brilliant idea from Schwabe Pharma and OST (Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences) on how to better understand the individual appearance patterns of health issues like Tinnitus. They applied BPM (business process mining) algorithms to health data to analyze the multiple factors influencing tinnitus on an individual level but also to improve our general understanding on the health concern.

Another highlight was the presentation of the inspiring innovation project from leg&airy and how they aspire for fair human mobility by revolutionizing the world of orthopedic devices. Leg&airy follows the idea of using digital fitting and data-driven design to predict optimal orthotic fit to avoid painful pressure injuries, improve mobility, while enhancing patient privacy by automating the customization process.

Fluence Energy and ZHAW presented their project “AI-Based Health Prognostics for Battery Energy Storage Systems” and shared some valuable advice for a successful journey from a Databooster funded idea that led to an Innosuisse funding for the upcoming year.

The diverse array of projects showcased the power of collaborative innovation and the transformative potential of data-driven solutions. It was inspiring and valuable spending an afternoon to learn from other innovators, discuss radical innovation ideas and connect for future collaborations.

Thank you to the eleven innovation teams that shared their projects, provided some learning opportunities and sparked new ideas: bodenproben.ch, BFH and ZHAW, DNext and HESSO Geneva, Fluence Energy and ZHAW, leg&airy and ZHAW, modulos and ZHAW, opensource.construction, SUPSI and ZHAW, Carity, ZHAW and hospitals, Schwabe Pharma and OST, Stadler Rail and ZHAW, as well as zubischuhe and ZHAW.

And of course, thank you to the participants for their active engagement!

Collecting Ideas for the Innovation Booster on “Responsible AI”

In its end-of-year-meeting, seven members of the Data Ethics Expert Group came together for discussing potential innovation projects in Responsible AI. Both researchers and industry representatives discussed the question: “What do we see as the biggest challenge for research / in our company on the way to Responsible AI?” Below you find a short summary of the discussion points.

The “Innovation Booster” is the current vehicle of the data innovation alliance to push new innovative ideas that have potential for new marked solutions or that solve pressing problems in data-based value creation. Christian Hauser (Fachhochschule Graubünden) presented details on how the Booster works based on the example of an ongoing project. This project intends to support decision-making within companies on various ethical and legal aspects of making business with data.

In a next short presentation, Frank-Peter Schilling (ZHAW) presented activities of the new Center of AI. A focus of ongoing activities concern certification of AI – an issue that will gain relevance due to the upcoming EU regulation of AI. They address the question of how to implement AI systems evaluation at the technical level for high risk AI. This is a pressing topic of various actors such as ISO, IEEE, EASA and the German Fraunhofer Institute. The goal of an ongoing Innosuisse research project carried out at the Center for AI in collaboration with CertX AG is to establish a workflow that should support the certification process.

Another domain where new challenges may emerge is the Metaverse. Eleonora Viganò (Fachhochschule Graubünden) presented the raising trends that companies create own “metaverses” or aim for being present in the larger existing metaverses. Although these developments are still young and diverse, it is foreseeable that the economic relevance of the Metaverse will raise, although many legal and ethical issues remain unsolved. Her research aims to develop guidelines for desirable behavior in the Metaverse such that companies do not risk their reputation in this new domain.

Christoph Hauser (University of Applied Sciences Luzern) presented the topic of how generative AI may affect the generation of cultural assets, a highly relevant topic for the creative industry. Again, many unresolved legal and ethical issues, e.g. related to copyright or liability, may have an impact on the use of this technology. The presentation triggered a lively discussion, pointing to the fact that some industries (such as banks) internally block the use of generative AI completely to avoid any legal risks, although many use cases would exist. The group came to the consensus that any solution that could make the use of generative AI safer in a legal sense would be of great help for such companies.

Anna Broccard, working on data and digital ethics at SBB, presented ongoing activities within the company – also related to a project of Christian Hauser, where SBB is a partner. The current main goal is to establish suitable internal structures and decision-making processes that incorporate different perspectives and teams to address digital ethics issues.

Daniel Blank (ZKB) pointed to a pressing problem of data driven risk rating – a key process of insurances and bank: nondiscrimination in risk rating. The main problem is here that the application of fairness principles does not necessary guarantee that the result is nevertheless seen as unfair in the public domain – and transparency on which fairness principles were used actually increases the problem. Also this topic generated a lively discussion pointing to the problem that for many such decisions a lack of consensus on applicable fairness within the society generates an inherent reputation risk. One possibility may be to factor in the likelihood of reputation risks in the current risk rating models – but whether this may be a feasible approach would need further considerations.

Finally, Markus Christen (University of Zurich) outlined a project that recently has been submitted for funding. The project aims to make an intercultural comparison on the adoption of AI solutions in various industry domains and education between Switzerland and Ukraine. The goal is to assess how existential threats a country in war experiences affects both assessment and actual use of AI technologies, including those considered “high risk” from the EU legislation standpoint.

The Expert Group will meet again on Thursday February 1 in a public event at the Technopark Zürich (https://data-innovation.org/events/expert-group-meeting-data-ethics-and-responsible-ai/). At this event, challenges of the new EU regulation for startups will be discussed.

Open Data Value Creation in the Energy Sector

(by J. Meierhofer, ZHAW and R. Leiterer, data innovation alliance)
On November 23, 2023, ERNI in Zurich hosted this workshop co-organized by the GEOSummit, the data innovation alliance and the SGPF. The event was a success, with 23 participants from industry, academia, and governmental organisations and with different skills and interests joining the workshop. Jürg Meierhofer (ZHAW) was our moderator and guaranteed a result-oriented and structured course of the workshop.

The workshop dealt with the topic of value generation with open data – with an initial focus on developments in the field of decentralized energy supply.

Creating value based on open data is difficult, as topics such as harmonization of data formats, automatic data lineages or the standardization of data linkage processes are technically challenging and also not unproblematic from a regulatory point of view. But even supposedly simpler steps such as contextualized data search and raising awareness of the availability of open data in general have only been implemented to a very limited extent.

Related to the energy topic mentioned above this includes, for example, the analysis of consumption data collected by sensors and smart meters – or, more generally, exploiting the potential of energy management systems due to the increasing electrification. Especially regarding energy savings (e.g. usage-specific lighting scenarios), these so-called IoT recommender systems have the potential to deliver great added value, for the respective households but also for the electricity providers (e.g. regarding dynamic tariffs). in this context, we discussed topics such as data protection, data infrastructure and data management, open platform ideas for data sharing and trading and the smart services that could be built on them.

In the hands-on session the participants worked in teams to solve these real-world problems with open data. Each team was given a predefined problem related to open data, such as smart grid, smart city, or gamification. The teams had to analyse the problem, identify the best opportunities and ideate the most viable solution. They also had to present their ideas, solutions, roadmaps or action plans to the judges and the audience. The workshop followed the double diamond design approach.

In a first round, the participants explored the problem space by mapping the ecosystem and the relevant actors with their jobs and pains. In the second round, they discussed how these actors can be supported by data driven solutions and services, including quantitatively estimating the business potential of the solution approaches.

The event was a great opportunity to network with other data enthusiasts, learn from experts, showcase creativity and innovation skills, and have fun. The event was followed by a networking session, where the participants exchanged feedback, insights, and contacts.

Expert Group Meeting – Natural Language Processing in Action

By Thomas Zaugg, Roche and Manuela Hürlimann, ZHAW

On November 30, 2023, a pivotal event centered on Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Healthcare unfolded, featuring four expert presentations. 

The gathering, attended by around 30 participants both in-person and online, sparked vibrant discussions and received positive feedback.

  • Elif Ozkirimli from Roche illuminated the strategic integration of NLP across the pharma value chain in her presentation, “Adoption of NLP in Healthcare: a Strategic Perspective Across the Pharma Value Chain.”
  • Matteo Manica from IBM delved into the innovative use of language models to expedite material design in his talk titled “Harnessing the Power of Language Models to Accelerate Material Design.”
  • Ahmad Aghaebrahimian from ZHAW presented a work in progress, “Medical Informatics Powered by Large Language Models and the Semantic Web,” highlighting the cutting-edge amalgamation of LLM and the Semantic Web in medical informatics.
  • Nicolas Löffler-Perez from Swissmedic showcased “Medicrawl,” a machine learning-based application designed for detecting illegal products in online markets.

The event was a successful exploring the multifaceted applications of NLP in healthcare, demonstrating innovative approaches and fostering collaborative discussions.

Resilience and Sustainability in Smart Service Ecosystems: A Workshop with very relevant outcomes

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

From October 18 to 20, 2023, we had the opportunity to conduct an exciting workshop on “Resilience and Sustainability in Smart Service Ecosystems” at the Mobiliar Forum in Thun, Switzerland. The workshop was organized by the Databooster program, which supports innovative partnerships and is a hub for data-driven innovation in Switzerland. The workshop brought together three companies from the energy and logistics sectors, as well as researchers and experts from the field of service innovation and digitalization, to discuss how companies can become more resilient and sustainable with their partners and customers through new and existing services.

The workshop was motivated by the high volatility of the business ecosystems in recent years, which was unexpected and caught society and economy unprepared. Both on the human resources side and in the material logistics, there were unforeseen bottlenecks. The market situation was determined by the insufficient availability of resources and not by the demand. As a result, there was a wave of short-term oriented management reactions that were not sustainable in the medium and long term and thus laid the foundation for the next wave of challenges.

Against this background, it became clear that the business ecosystems need to become more resilient, i.e., able to withstand shocks and adapt quickly to dramatically changed situations. Resilience can be achieved by increasing the ability to absorb shocks (e.g., through more redundancy, robustness, or agility) and by developing dynamic capabilities to adjust to changing needs (e.g., through creativity, adaptability, or flexibility).

Smart service systems are closely linked to the ability of dynamic adaptation. By their inherent design of tightly interconnected resources, smart service systems inherently contain the ability to dynamically realign and rewire existing resources to adapt to dynamically changing needs.

The workshop started with a discussion to gain a deeper understanding of resilience and sustainability in smart service systems. Then, the situations of the three participating companies were examined from this perspective in sub-groups and opportunities for new services were identified. Building on this, the moderation very smartly guided the development of common solution approaches that involve all three companies. As a result, joint project ideas are now available, which are to be further elaborated in a follow-up step towards implementation.

The workshop groups had access to various design and prototyping tools and sources provided by the Mobiliar Forum. The groups had to present their results and recommendations repeatedly during the workshop.

The workshop was a great learning experience for all of us as we gained new insights into the topic of resilience and sustainability in smart service systems. We also enjoyed interacting with other participants from different backgrounds and perspectives. It became apparent that such workshops are very valuable for fostering collaboration and innovation among companies, researchers, and experts in Switzerland.

A big thank you goes to Sophie Bürgin for the excellent moderation, to Fabrizio Laneve for providing the beautiful and inspiring Mobiliar Forum infrastructure and to all participating company representatives for their spirited participation and co-creation.

Smart Service Summit: building resilience in a changing world

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

The Smart Service Summit was a one-day conference held in Zürich on 27 October 2023. The event brought together experts and leaders from various fields such as smart services, digital transformation, and product management. The aim of the summit was to explore how smart services can help build resilience in a changing world.

The summit was a success in terms of attendance, engagement, and feedback. The participants expressed their satisfaction with the quality and relevance of the content, the diversity and expertise of the speakers, and the networking and learning opportunities. The organizers received positive comments and suggestions for improvement from the attendees.

The main outcomes and takeaways of the summit were:

  • Smart services are a key driver of innovation and resilience in a changing world, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transformation.
  • Smart services require a holistic and customer-centric approach that involves co-creation, collaboration, and integration of different stakeholders and technologies.
  • Smart services pose significant challenges and risks, such as data security, privacy, ethics, and regulation, that need to be addressed and managed effectively.
  • Smart services offer tremendous potential and value for various industries and domains, such as manufacturing, healthcare, education, and mobility.

The organizers of the summit thanked the speakers, sponsors, partners, and participants for their contribution and support. They also announced that the next edition of the Smart Service Summit will take place in 2024 and invited everyone to stay tuned for more information.

Smart Data Forum: How to Design Smart Services for Resilience and Sustainability

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

On October 25 and 26, 2023, we conducted the Smart Data Forum, a two-day event co-organized by Easyfairs and the databooster, at the Messe Zürich. The theme of the forum was “Smart Services and Resilience”, and it featured presentations and discussions from experts and practitioners in the field of smart service systems.

The forum aimed to explore how smart services can help businesses and society cope with the challenges of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) in the current and future environment. The speakers shared their insights and experiences on how to design smart services that are resilient, sustainable, adaptable, and innovative.

Some of the topics that were covered in the forum included:

  • How to use data and analytics to support decision making and service innovation in smart service systems
  • How to leverage digital platforms and ecosystems to create value and network effects in smart service systems
  • How to apply design thinking and agile methods to develop user-centric and co-creative smart services
  • How to balance resilience and efficiency in smart service systems
  • How to measure and improve the performance and impact of smart services

The forum was moderated by Jürg Meierhofer, senior lecturer and director for studies (CAS Smart Service Engineering, MAS Industry 4.0) at the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences. He also provided some useful frameworks and tools for understanding and designing smart services.

The speakers were Reto Zuest, Mirko Maurer, Daniel Politze, Nikolas Schaal, Nikolaus Obwegeser, and Jean Paul Potthoff. They represented different sectors and domains, such as manufacturing, IT management,  transport, or research and development. They presented some interesting case studies and best practices from their own organizations or projects.

We learned a lot from the forum and I enjoyed networking with other participants who shared a common interest in smart service systems. The forum was a valuable opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas on how to create smart services that can enhance resilience and sustainability in business and society.

Expert Group Meeting Smart Services and Service Lunch: Data-Driven Innovation

By Jürg Meierhofer, ZHAW

On September 29, 2023, the Expert Group Smart Services held its first presence meeting since 2019 to discuss strategic topics for the Expert Groups in the upcoming years. There was broad agreement that service value creation using generative artificial intelligence has significant future potential and that there is a considerable need for research in this area. From the perspective of service value creation, embedding artificial intelligence in service concepts along the value chain and customer lifecycle represents a promising topic. Interestingly, the multidisciplinary perspectives of the Expert Group turned out to be relevant for successful projects, such as consumer and work psychology aspects, data analytics and data management, as well as business modelling.

The Expert Group’s strategic core team meeting was followed by a very inspiring presentation by Dr. Sebastian Domaschke from our member company eraneos (https://www.eraneos.com/). The presentation showed by 3 impressive case studies how data could be used in practice to create business value. Many thanks to Sebastian!