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Where is the German economy on its way back to the top of the world? Is the local digital industry still competitive and forward-thinking in a global context? A few facts are enough to quickly realize that China and the United States currently dominate in this field. Germany plays, at best, a minor role. This makes it increasingly time to take active countermeasures.

At Ludwig Erhard's summit on Lake Tegernsee, uncomfortable questions are traditionally raised and the finger deliberately and especially pointed at the country's economic wounds. The goal: recognize challenges, accept them and, ideally, develop solutions together. Whether on stage or next to it, during lunch together or overlooking the lake, which this year was still covered in snow, at least on the first day of the summit.

Few patents

When it comes to the lag in artificial intelligence (AI), the finger in the wound is particularly painful right now. Large digital corporations are already rare in Germany, and now the Federal Republic once again risks missing out on a megatrend, perhaps even one of the greatest economic revolutions of all time. In the field of generative AI, the number of world-class patents has increased from 800 to 1,600 since 2021, explained Kai Gramke, CEO of the analysis company EconSight, at the 10th Ludwig Erhard Summit. The vast majority of patents come from the United States and China. Only one hundred come from Europe, and Germany is responsible for half of them.

In the long run, that's not enough. Above all, Gramke knows that there are not only many patents coming from China, but also high-quality patents. In terms of dynamics, China is the biggest competitor in AI; In terms of level, it is still the United States, especially through Silicon Valley.

“We have to have more courage”

“We have never been world leaders and we have to work hard not to lose the race with China and the United States,” predicted Angelika Gifford, vice president of EMEA in the Meta Facebook group. “We are relatively far from the world leaders, yes,” agreed Andrea Alboni, regional president of Universal Robots for Western and Northeastern Europe. But he also sees the positive. “We have a strong economy in Europe and Germany, we just need to be more courageous again.”

The problem in this country is a certain perfectionism, the manager explained with a smile. Germany is a country of mechanical engineering and process safety is the top priority. But at a certain point there is too much security and perfectionism. “There is a lack of corporate willingness to take risks so that disruptive potential can be developed.” Gifford, speaking from San Francisco, added: In California you mostly hear the question: How can I use this? In Germany, however, people asked: Should I use this?

Excellent basic research.

Dagmar Schuller, CEO and co-founder of Audeering, knows this too. “In other places, risk takes a backseat and opportunity comes first,” says the businessman. Before entering the German market, Audeering first invested in the US, English-speaking Europe and also Saudi Arabia. There is a fundamentally positive acceptance of new technologies there, something he would like to see in Germany as well.

But Schuller also wants to hear something positive: “In basic research we are also world leaders in AI. There are some German professors who are at the forefront of AI research internationally.” The main thing now is to finally move from basic research to implementation and scale-up.

This also has something to do with the courage to take risks. Kai Beckmann, member of the management of the chemical and pharmaceutical company Merck, also wants to see more of this. The senior manager complained on the podium that it couldn't be that people were always talking about how to lose as little as possible.

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