"We’re shaping the future!"
The new ITG chair, Dr. Volker Ziegler, talks about the challenges and possibilities of information technology – and why we should trust in the expertise of his specialist society.
When was the society founded, and why?
The ITG was founded 70 years ago. At that time, it was called the Telecommunications Society. As I mentioned, it’s the oldest specialist society in VDE. The importance of telecommunications increased immensely in those postwar years in Germany. Just look at how radio and TV took off and public and private communication networks developed. The creation of a dedicated specialist society within VDE reflected these changes. That was all long before my time, of course. But I can tell you that the ITG also played an important role for me as a young scientist over 30 years ago by serving as what we would now call a networking platform and knowledge community.
What achievements can the ITG be especially proud of?
What the ITG has achieved is well documented. More than anything, it’s the studies and recommendations we publish every year. For instance, there’s our recent position paper on “Joint Communications & Sensing”, which is key technology in autonomous driving and robotics. For me, though, our biggest achievement is actually our cross-institutional collaboration – the way we work together in committees and bring together an enormous amount of expert knowledge. We build bridges in a way that’s completely unique. We bring experts from the realms of teaching, research and academia together with others from industry, network operators and service providers. That’s how we manage to provide expertise that’s independent and neutral, but also coherent and mindful of all the relevant aspects. We can always be proud of that!
But how influential is the ITG in reality? Do people really listen to it?
A specialist society is as good and strong as its members. When I look at who’s involved with us, I’m very optimistic that we'll continue to make an important contribution. However, we have to be loud and clear about what we can do as a scientific society within VDE: anyone who wants neutral, independent and therefore credible expertise that considers all the stakeholders at hand should listen to us.
What is the ITG’s core topic today?
The focus of our work is definitely the digital transformation, and increasingly all the conceivable aspects of merging the physical and digital worlds. It’s about the cloud-based networks of the future, innovative radio technologies and the use of new frequencies, topics such as automation and, above all, artificial intelligence – just to mention a few buzzwords. Above all, we’re working on the evolution of communications networks for the era of augmented human capabilities, including in healthcare. For all that, we need powerful, trustworthy, sustainable systems that are digitally inclusive for everyone. We’re ultimately not just dealing with with technologies and innovation, but with overarching social objectives. We’re helping to shape a future worth living in!
But that can only succeed if you have the people for it.
That’s right. Alongside everything I just mentioned, another topic has come to the fore: the shortage of skilled labor and the dramatic decline in student numbers. One thing needs to be clear to everyone: we won’t be able to shape the future we all want if we lack the necessary (wo)manpower. That applies in particular to women, since electrical engineering is sadly still largely a male domain.
How can we get more people excited about these degree subjects?
Supporting the next generation of engineers is a challenge we need to take very seriously and face together. First, we have to correct the antiquated image people still have of electrical engineering, which has nothing to do with the reality of our profession today. And we have to foster a clear understanding of the topics we actually work on, because they’re all topics that Generation Z cares about. I’m talking about sustainability and protecting the environment. I’m talking about topics like safety and trust, and protecting privacy in the age of digital twins. I’m also talking about competitiveness and prosperity – the preservation of our living standards, in other words. In all these efforts, we also need to show young people the creative possibilities electrical engineering and information technology offer and why it’s so satisfying to work in this area. That particularly includes the work we do within our society, by the way.
How does the ITG benefit from being a society within VDE, and how does VDE benefit from the ITG?
Being a specialist society under the umbrella of VDE is a unique arrangement and a positive one, since it gives us very special opportunities. VDE is probably the only organization anywhere in the world that brings together science, standardization, testing, certification and application consulting in this way. The manner in which it combines entrepreneurship and volunteering in academic activity gives VDE a very special strength. I like to call it “innovation synergy”. We have a shared vision and a shared purpose, and I see a lot of potential in it.
How can the ITG contribute to an “e-dialistic future”?
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the “softwarization of everything.” But it’s where hardware and software (or information and electrical engineering) meet that things get really interesting and challenging. The really exciting products and applications are being developed where microelectronics, network technology and information technology need to work together. Many critical applications of artificial intelligence – or, for example, the physical layer of 5G and 6G radio networks – involve co-designing hardware and software. That’s why we can make a special contribution to the e-dialistic future. A future where technology plays an important role, but above all, the kind of future we want to live in.
Interview by Martin Schmitz-Kuhl
Dr. Volker Ziegler is Senior Advisor at Nokia Strategy and Technology. Prior to his election as ITG Chairman at the end of 2023, he was already Deputy Chairman.