Prof. Michał Kleiber,president of the Polish Academy of Sciences in 2007-2015: Science and business – together to innovate
In the years 2001-2005 you were the Minister of Science and Information Technology. Could you assess those years in relation to the current situation? How would you sum up these 20 years of technological progress?
The dynamic process of the development of new technologies is of course potentially very beneficial, but at the same time it is associated with the risk of not having full control over it – the dispute over the principles of operation of social networks is a clear example of this today. When I was a minister 20 years ago – then only a Minister of Science – I was surprised to realize that computerization was not a branch of government administration. Observing the then situation and the rapid development of digitization, I started government talks about the formal creation of such a department, which was successful and thus I became the first minister in Poland responsible for computerization. At that time, on my initiative, the first act on computerization was also created, which, after minor amendments, is still in force. Of course, times have definitely changed and the act should soon be thoroughly modified, especially in the aspect of cybersecurity. From the very beginning, I saw a key development perspective in the dissemination of computerization and today I have no doubt that this is what is happening. Digital issues quickly became more and more important, and today they play a truly crucial role in our lives. Despite the rapid progress, however, we cannot be fully satisfied with the current situation in this area in our country and there are still many necessary administrative and business activities ahead of us. One of them is finding a way for the state and enterprises to increase funds allocated to broadly understood innovative activities. We must all believe that our future depends to a large extent on the innovation of our enterprises. For such a widespread change in thinking about the future of our economy, it is necessary to take care of many elements – education throughout the cycle, including lifelong education, scientific research, the state aid system for implementations, openness of entrepreneurs to innovative investments and, above all, promoting a culture of respect for humanity. creativity and the belief that innovation is the key to our future. The government should create favorable regulations, provide resources for the necessary research and enable companies to bear the risk. In America, for example, people often achieve innovative successes only at the fifth attempt, while in Poland, after the first failure, brave innovators are stigmatized as losers, which definitely makes it difficult for them to start an innovation-oriented business again. It is rooted in the Polish mentality and, in fact, applies to the whole of Europe, overly conservative when it comes to innovative activities. In the field of digitization, for example, all innovative giants come from outside Europe, and this is even symbolic – in Europe we are not able to attach such importance to innovation as other countries.
Change happens quickly and innovation is a sign of our times. What do you think which technologies will be crucial in digitizing enterprises in the near future?
I think the answer is DARQ – an already widely used abbreviation derived from the first letters of English terms: distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence (AI), extended reality and quantum computing (QC). There is a widespread belief that these are matters that will prove to be the key to business success in the coming years. The technology of the distributed ledger is a concept slightly wider than the already popular cloud, i.e. saving data on multiple devices without central management, which is also dynamically developing in Poland. The development of artificial intelligence is extremely dynamic in the world today, but at the same time there are so many unknowns related to it that we are not able to predict the many implementations that await us in the coming years. The fact is that more and more industries are using artificial intelligence, which in many ways can exceed human capabilities. Another component of the term DARQ, Augmented Reality, is an extremely important element of future innovation that enables us to create digital hypothetical situations to learn the various consequences of our actions. In combination with the simulation of real events, we are able to build scenarios for the future today and rationally choose between them. Finally, quantum computing is a term that defines the technology of computer computing at a speed incomparably higher than that offered by today’s supercomputers, and this will certainly revolutionize many digital implementations. All these innovations will be crucial for the future and it is worth devoting as much attention to them as possible, developing them and consistently implementing them.
Technological progress always means changes in the organization of companies. Will technology make existing professions disappear and be replaced by AI-based professions?
I am not overly concerned about this aspect of Artificial Intelligence. In many professions, it will indeed greatly support and sometimes replace human work, but it will also create a whole range of completely new opportunities for action and employment. This progress will of course require different qualifications and low-skilled people may indeed find themselves in a difficult position. Over time, Artificial Intelligence will probably become a challenge also for employees, even highly qualified, but working in traditional occupations. This does not mean, however, that they will be unnecessary. An example is the profession of a doctor – it seems to me that for a very long time we will not be willing to humbly listen to a diagnosis issued by a computer. A computer equipped with the best software will be able to become a very useful advisor to a specialist, but it will not fully replace it. The physician’s task will remain to skillfully use the potential of the computer and take into account its suggestions, but also to impose on the obtained information deep humanistic aspects of medical knowledge, not included in the computer program. Another example of this type may be an attempt already carried out in the US to release prisoners earlier on the basis of computer algorithms. Initially, this experiment suggested that AI could better assess the future plans of the released ones and reduce their recidivism. After some time, however, it turned out that people who wisely drew conclusions from the information obtained from the very advanced computer program used here played an important role. In many cases, Artificial Intelligence is not yet able to take into account all the nuances of human nature and in my opinion it will remain so for a long time. Which of course does not mean that AI will not have a huge, positive impact on the functioning of companies and their economic efficiency. With all the benefits, unfortunately, I am very afraid of crimes and hacking activities, which, with the support of artificial intelligence, are becoming extremely dangerous today. Many companies are under attack, incurring huge losses, and here I see bigger problems than those on the labor market. Reading the data on companies, for example in Sweden, more than half of which have already declared to have paid hackers a ransom forced by blackmail in the past, it is impossible not to express concerns about the future in this regard.
As new technologies develop, so do the dangers. We lack specialists who will take care of safety, and people lack caution. Are we doomed to an increase in attacks and fraud?
As already mentioned, new technologies, with many of their advantages, also pose a threat. The future cannot be accurately predicted, but it is extremely important that we realize the enormity of the dangers if the criminal use of digital networks becomes widespread. We observe various ways of blackmailing which, using artificial intelligence, have grown to dimensions that are unimaginably dangerous, both in relation to companies and individuals. At every step, unnoticed by the audience, statements are falsified and compromising films are artificially created. Let’s be clear – a significant part of thinking about new technologies should be devoted to considering what the danger of a given solution is and how to protect against it. Cybersecurity issues are now, fortunately, widely recognized and discussed at both expert and political levels. The threats also relate to basic military matters – as a rule, all international conflicts of recent years were preceded by extensive Internet propaganda campaigns. We must accept that, when implementing new technologies, much attention must be paid to countering potential threats, including truly serious crimes.
In recent months, new technologies have saved us – many companies have survived thanks to the possibility of using digital solutions. What is your opinion on remote work?
History teaches us that most of the misfortunes we experience, in all their horrible course, always have a positive side. In the face of the pandemic, which we must treat as a huge misfortune when looking at the increasing number of victims, we have noticed, for example, the importance of cooperation and solidarity. In the past, this important issue, despite various verbal declarations, was very often completely neglected. Today we see its importance and we are starting to really believe in the necessity to give it an important rank. When it comes to the way of working, we can all see that many institutions have started working remotely. This caused the problem of empty office buildings and the need for a completely new organization of work, but at the same time it showed us that we can do many things in a different mode than we have done so far. Many industries do not feel the problem of stationary work inability too much, and this shows the power of well-planned remote communication. This is clearly visible in, for example, science. I very often participate in seminars that have so far been held in a group of researchers from a given institution or, at most, from cooperating national institutions. Today – thanks to virtual communication – at these meetings we host outstanding scientists from leading scientific countries of the world, from Europe, America and Asia. The virtual communication formula has incredible advantages that we have not noticed before. It seems to me that remote work will remain with us as a normal element of the institution’s functioning, although its indirect form, i.e. hybrid, will dominate. In many professions we will to some extent use virtual communication, but at the same time we will not give up personal contacts. We cannot articulate some important things through the network – direct conversation, synergy of various ideas, and sometimes even a smile of support are too important for our actions to give up. Last month, as the president of the great European organization ECCOMAS, I was the organizer of the congress that was to be the meeting place of many thousands of people in Paris last year. The event was postponed for obvious reasons and was recently held remotely, which was a great success to everyone’s surprise. The congress was technically perfectly organized by a professional company, but after some time a common reflection came – such a formula should only complement traditional meetings, because nothing can replace personal contacts, detailed exchange of individual experiences and long individual talks on the specific planning of joint future research and publishing ventures.
You were elected president of ECCOMAS in 2017. It is a huge success to lead such an organization. How does the organization support its members and on what values does it base its activities?
ECCOMAS is the acronym of the European Community on Computational Methods in Applied Sciences, operating on the border of science and business. The members of the organization are many thousand people from the scientific and business environment grouped in national organizations. The meetings we organize are extremely creative because they enable substantive contacts between researchers developing scientific news and people who want to implement these ideas in their companies. The activities of the association based on the cooperation of scientists and business representatives are particularly important in Polish conditions, where there is still a historically determined barrier between these communities. In my opinion, activities carried out by organizations such as ECCOMAS are extremely important for the future of Europe, strengthening its innovation. By acting for such organizations, we believe that we are able to make all potentially interested parties aware of it and effectively support their activities in this area.
You have constant contact with business, sitting in various bodies, such as the Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation Council of the Executive Club. Could you comment on the level of innovation of Polish companies?
There are many successful companies in Poland in terms of innovation. Recently, for example, we hear a lot about a device that detects coronavirus in the breath, which is certainly a novelty on a global scale. Poles are also successful in the very modern areas of nanotechnology and 3D printing. The specialty of our companies were autonomous robots moving around factories and warehouses. We can list a whole host of other things that we can be proud of, but these potentially brilliant inventions, unfortunately, have too often problems with wide market implementation. Innovation in the country is developing and, at the same time, awareness of its importance is growing widely, which is a good sign. However, we must ensure the dynamics of this development and that valuable ideas can be quickly implemented, in our country and abroad. There are institutions in Poland that support such initiatives, but the scope of their assistance is still insufficient. Moreover, an institution – even if small and working remotely – seems to be necessary today, which would facilitate substantive contacts between business and researchers, systematically informing each party about the achievements and possibilities of cooperation of potential partners. Higher education regulations have allowed business representatives to participate in the life of universities for some time, but this possibility has not yet been used effectively enough. Many scientists develop really interesting things without being aware of the existence of companies that could implement these ideas. At the same time, many companies work hard without being aware of the existence of research institutions that could significantly improve the effects of their work. Finding a way for broad, mutual information and dissemination of knowledge in Polish academic and business environments about the existing potential for creating innovations appears to be extremely important for the future condition of our economy.
Prof. Michał Kleiber
Vice-president of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, President of the European Community on Computational Methods in Applied Sciences (ECCOMAS). He was a President of the Polish Academy of Sciences in the years 2007-2015. Winner of numerous scientific awards, including the most prestigious national scientific award granted by the Foundation for Polish Science, awarded high state decorations for research achievements, for example: Belgian, French and Japanese. Doctor honoris causa of many universities in the country and abroad, and a member of many foreign academies of science. In the years 2001-2005 he was the Minister of Science and Information Technology, in the years 2006 – 2010 Social Advisor to the President for Education and Research.
Last Updated on April 13, 2021 by Karolina Ampulska