Author Archives: Kevin Kohler

  • “We don’t need to automate jobs, if we don’t want to”

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    Are we ready for smart machines? This Monday Effective Altruism HSG organized a public discussion on the next wave of automation and its economical as well as ethical implications. While the panelists remained confident that the AI revolution is not immediately around the corner, they agreed that more is needed. More research. More experimentation. More visions. More transparency. And maybe, also more caution.

    Paulina Widmer, the president of EA@HSG, started the event with a brief welcome note, followed by Kaspar Etter, computer scientist, entrepreneur and the moderator of the panel, who gave a short introduction about machine learning and how (increasingly intelligent) „software is eating the world“, before opening the discussion. AI and Industrie 4.0 expert Prof. Dr. Jana Koehler seconded that observation and explained that the „4th Industrial Revolution“ means that all industries move towards an information society and computer science becomes the core of almost all products and services. The areas where AI will emerge much stronger in the near future are mainly areas involving natural language understanding as real-time translation, digital assistants or legal research. „Real”, humanoid robots on the other hand are still far away, because the mechanical engineering part is comparatively underdeveloped. She does expect this technological development to be rather continuous, nevertheless, the economic and social system will have to adapt to this new environment. To ensure a smooth transition Koehler would encourage institutions such as the HSG and the economic sciences in general to do more future-oriented research and she added: “We don’t need to automate jobs, if we don’t want to, but we need an economic system that gives us a choice, at the moment we don’t have the choice.”

    Prof. Dr. Jana Koehler and David Iselin (Photo: Oscar Hong)

    As the economist in the panel, David Iselin, explained, the current data shows no technological unemployment and the capital to labor ratio in Switzerland is stable. However, what can be seen are signs of a digital divide with winner-takes-it-all-winners on the one side and „bullshit jobs“ on the other side. In terms of readiness for automation lifelong learning and the removal of dead ends are very important, so that the labor force can adapt to new technologies. When Kaspar Etter investigated about medium to long-term forecasts Iselin remained very cautious however, as there are simply too many uncertainties.

    A basic income for all?

    One possible solution to automation and the threat of technological unemployment that is brought up fairly often, is the idea of a universal basic income (UBI). Enno Schmidt, the co-founder of the initiative „Für ein bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen“ hopes to introduce exactly that to Switzerland with the vote on June 5th. However, for him UBI is not necessarily tied to technological development, he sees it more in a line with the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement or the introduction of old-age pension as one step further in terms of social progress. What makes UBI such a beautiful idea to him is the freedom it conveys. As he explains the initiative isn’t against work at all, but would provide a baseline so that people can pursue work in which they find purpose.

    Enno Schmidt (Photo: Oscar Hong)

    However, if and how such a basic income could function and whether it leads to more or less purpose is contested. Etter mentioned the possibility of capital flight as recently highlighted by the panama papers and as Iselin alluded this new system could lead to inflation that „eats“ the basic income away. The fourth panelist, the philosopher and president of the Effective Altruism Foundation Adriano Mannino argued for a more experimental and gradual approach to such questions. In the end this is an empirical question, so, different models should be tried out and evaluated in small scale political experiments, rather than changing the whole economic system very abruptly.

    Automated decision-making

    A challenge that arises independently of labor market concerns is the increasing scope of agency that algorithms have. Adriano Mannino highlighted that this brings with it legal and moral questions of who is accountable for the decisions that such a system makes and what morals we encode in such systems, for example, in the case of “trolley problems”. In longer terms we also have to ask questions about the rights of digital intelligences. When does an AI have a right to live?

    Adriano Mannino (Photo: Oscar Hong)

    For Koehler it’s also very important that we achieve transparency about the throughput of digital systems, the way how a decision was made. On the one hand, some companies as Google or Facebook have massive power in terms of what the user sees and what not; on the other hand, neural networks, even if they surpass human accuracy at a task, are not infallible, especially when confronted with unexpected types of information. Complex interactions could lead to accidents with potentially grave consequences as for example seen in the Flash Crash of 2010. Therefore, AI needs to have robust architecture with transparency and ways to verify the validity of outcomes.

    The big picture

    While the social impact of automation on the job market cannot be completely ignored, Mannino also made the case that focusing on longer-term risks such as the existential risk from artificial general intelligence (AGI) would be more effective in terms of the expected value, even if we assign it a very low probability, due to its astronomical impact. Our brain shows that AGI can be done in principle and most experts agree that AGI will emerge within this century. Mannino also gave the example of Google Deepmind, which after finishing 70s and 80s games already started to master early 3D-games from  the 90s solely by pixel input, with the real world being essentially nothing but a very complicated 3D-game. Due to the economic incentives, currently, almost all money goes into capacity building and very little goes into safety research. Therefore, he argued, it might be wise for states to finance AI Safety research. After all, we all like living and with AGI there is a very real possibility that we have to get it right the first time, because there won’t be a second time.

  • Is the economic singularity near?

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    How times have changed. Just a few years ago ideas like „technological unemployment“ or the „technological singularity“ made you either a crackpot or „that crazy future guy“ in the eyes of most people. For example, when I offered to write an article on the latter during my first year here at prisma, it was literally rejected due to „sounding like a conspiracy theory“. Now, these concepts are rapidly gaining social acceptance and are discussed in places as the Nobel Prize Dialogue, the World Economic Forum or even the UN and many reputable professors, CEOs and researchers in the fields of AI and economics have endorsed the Open Letter on the Digital Economy, the Open Letter on Autonomous Weapons as well as the Open Letter on Artificial Intelligence.

    Of course, the propagation of a meme does not imply its validity. Indeed, those more skeptical about the pace of technological innovation will rightfully point out that, at least in terms of technological unemployment, we have already been here more than once. The Luddite riots in England and the correlating „Maschinensturm“ in German speaking countries during the First Industrial Revolution being the most prominent example. Technological unemployment has been an issue ever since the invention of the wheel and all the troubles of restructuring as a temporary increase in unemployment aside, this has been a good thing. 95% of Swiss people are essentially technologically unemployed farmers and most of them seem pretty happy about it. So, why should this time be different?

    Ned Ludd vs R2D2
    Ned Ludd fighting R2D2

    Smart people have coined different terms for the age we are entering. Brynjolffson & McAfee, whose book was recently recommended by Thomas Bieger, call it the „Second Machine Age“, Jeremy Rifkin, whose ideas influenced China’s latest 5-year-plan, calls it the „Third Industrial Revolution“, WEF-Founder Klaus Schwab tops that and refers to it as the „Fourth Industrial Revolution“, as does the CEO of automation & energy giant ABB. However, in order to be fundamentally different from previous revolutions, whichever way you count them, we would have to reach what some call the “economic singularity”, a point at which automation sustainably destroys more jobs than it can create.

    People say robots and mean AI

    The recurring theme of robots stealing your job, or taking over the world for that matter, is a human fantasy largely unfounded in reality. I plead guilty for having indulged in that trope myself back in 2014 when I wrote “Roboter sind die neuen Ausländer”. At least, I can claim to be in good company since some of the best books on technological unemployment as Federico Pistonos “Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK” and Martin Fords “The Rise of the Robots” do focus on robots in their titles as well. Also, from an etymological point of view it really does make sense to talk about robots and the future of work, since the word “robot” literally means worker.

    However, talking about robots is misleading because the main threat of technological unemployment (or taking over the world) doesn’t come from the field of robotics and some of the most impressive progress in robotics is actually spillover from advances in machine learning. When we think of robots, we usually picture some humanoid electro-mechanical machine, which is probably also the reason for the popularity of the robot theme. We humans are intelligent and therefore many seem to think that the more human-like its appearance, the more intelligent an artificial agent has to be. People are impressed and creeped out by the most anthropomorphized robots as for example “Sophia”, which was presented at this years SXSW. However, if you think about these “uncanny valley” robots, they are essentially chatbots dressed up with silicone masks and the robotics part of it really isn’t that impressive.

    If anything, robotics is lagging behind in terms of automation. The “Technology at work 2.0” report from Oxford University and Citi Bank actually lists “manual dexterity“, the ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects and „gross body coordination“, the ability to coordinate the movement of your arms, legs, and torso together when the whole body is in motion, as two of the least automatable skills. So, for example, while we can already see the ordering process being automated with in-house tablets and increasingly your smartphone, serving food will mostly remain a mostly human task, at least in the near-term future.

    Intelligence isn’t magic

    The fundamental difference between a manual car and an autonomous car isn’t the coachwork; it’s in its algorithms. In it’s essence the next wave of automation is about intelligence.

     “Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power.”― Erik Brynjolfsson

    In the short-term this means domain-specific narrow artificial intelligence and if the history of artificial intelligence is any guide, since it works, we won’t call it AI, but use “less threatening” terms like chatbots or machine learning instead. Artificial narrow intelligence as well as a number of future and emerging technologies as robotics, drones, augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D-printing, graphene, blockchain, big data or the Internet of Things can and will have a profound impact on the way we live in the future. However, the real game-changer is artificial general intelligence. I am not saying the technologies above may not lead to technological unemployment, social unrest or a restructuring of the economy, nevertheless, the economy would still remain largely human-driven (in a non-literal sense). While different tasks in different countries reach their “peak jobs” at different points in time, the global “peak jobs” will probably occur relatively close to the advent of artificial general intelligence. The nearer we get there, the harder it will become to allocate all human labor supply in types of tasks at which humans are still competitive.
    Greater than human artificial general intelligence may seem like a pipe dream to many right now, but the truth is that we aren’t magical and our brains aren’t magical. We don’t test our medications on mice, because we greatly care about their health, it’s the exact opposite actually. Or to put it in other words:

    “Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization – a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.” –Nick Bostrom

    We don’t live in a state of equilibrium. Once we had passed a certain threshold, we humans started a positive feedback-loop and technological progress won’t magically stop at any time soon. So, absent of any catastrophe, we will reach the “economic singularity” and, probably a little after, the technological singularity, however, the details, as for example, whether we will see an ever sharper digital divide or whether humans will survive at all, are still up for discussion.

    Don’t wait for the future to happen, shape it!

    So, how long until your (future) job can be automated? Will we see sudden spikes in unemployment due to technologies like self-driving cars? Do we already need to restructure our economy and social security system? What about a universal basic income? What are the ethical conundrums arising from these new technologies (trolleyology, attribution, employment, artificial consciousness)? How far away are we from human-level artificial intelligence? How big is the existential risk from AI?

    Come and join the panel discussion “The Rise of the Robots: Will they take our jobs?” on Monday, 25.4, 18:15 in Room 09-011. The panelists are Prof. Dr. Jana Koehler, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Lucerne, David Iselin, Researcher at the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at the ETH, Adriano Mannino, Philosopher and President of the Effective Altruism Foundation and the computer scientist and co-founder of Syntacts, Kaspar Etter, who will also be the moderator. The event is organized by Effective Altruism HSG and afterwards there will be an aperitif giving you the opportunity to discuss the topic with peers and panelists.

  • Companies living on the blockchain

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    Mike Hearn has been a senior software engineer at Google working on Google Maps, Google Earth and Gmail. In 2014 he left Google to fully focus on Bitcoin development. That is until the beginning of this year. In January Hearn wrote the blog post “The resolution of the bitcoin experiment”, in which he explains why he thinks that Bitcoin has failed. As a consequence the Bitcoin price immediately crashed by about 10%. Now, he works for the banking consortium R3 CEV, which works on distributed ledger solutions for financial institutions. The consortium was founded in September 2015 by Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Barclays, Credit Suisse, UBS and four more banks. As of now, it consists of 42 of the world’s biggest financial institutions. After his talk at this year’s START Summit I had the chance to do a short interview with him on Bitcoin, Ethereum and the blockchain.

    NOTE: Towards the end of the video I wrongly use the word Ethereum. Ethereum is a distributed ledger company situated in the “crypto valley” in Zug, Switzerland. Their general purpose is to create something like an operating software on which blockchain applications can run, however, they also have a cryptocurrency called “Ether”, which was designed to be used by companies etc. running things on Ethereum to pay “Gas” fees to those who provide the computing power in the decentralized network. In the last question I obviously meant to refer to Ether.

    Also, I am not sure if the difference between a decentralized app & a completely dehumanized company becomes clear since both might be classified as decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO). What I meant in the first case is something like Arcade City, basically an Uber 2.0, which isn’t run by a central authority, but by all those who participate in it (the legal framework of this is still quite unclear though). It’s almost a wet communist dream. However, you can still go a logical step further from there and completely dehumanize a company. Let’s imagine some Uber 3.0 in let’s say about 5 years. It could be a set of narrow AIs programmed to buy or lease self-driving cars according to certain criteria and offer driving prices according to certain criteria e.g. so that its profit equals zero. Once programmed, it could buy and offer economic services from and to humans, human-owned entities or other autonomous organizations, however, its decision-making processes would be completely dehumanized.

  • Robots will inherit the earth, BUT…

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    Jose Luis Cordeiro is a futurist thinker, the director of the Venezuelan node of the Millennium Project as well as energy advisor and part of the founding faculty of Singularity University (SU). In his speech at this year’s START Summit he passionately argued that things like human-level artificial intelligence or physical immortality aren’t nearly as far away in the future as most people would think, due to the power of exponential growth patterns observed in Moore’s Law and other key areas, and he shared his vision of how technology will change almost every aspect of our lives, including ourselves. His conception of the future is very similar to that of his friend, the author, inventor, director of engineering at Google and co-founder of Singularity University, Ray Kurzweil. Both are radical optimists, both believe in a merger of humans and machines and both don’t shy away from controversy. After Cordeiro’s keynote I had the chance to do a short interview with him.

    (NOTE: You can view the complete original conversation here, however, warnings, you’re in for a shaky ride.)

    Mr. Cordeiro, what makes Singularity University different from other universities?

    Well, actually, Singularity University has the wrong name, and not only once but twice. Singularity University isn’t a degree awarding institution. The long programs are only three months long, shorter ones are even limited to one or two weeks. It only gathers people from all over the planet to teach and learn about exponential technologies. So, Singularity University is more of a business accelerator than an university in a traditional sense. Nor is it really about the singularity. The technological singularity is a relatively well defined concept denoting the point at which artificial intelligence reaches human general intelligence. Our programs aren’t explicitly about that. They are about exponential changes happening in many technologies, including my area, which is energy. Specifically, I work in the field of solar energy, which will destroy fossil fuels in the next two decades.

    Speaking of that, I think you also coined a term for this: „Energularity“

    Yes, it’s the time at which we will power the whole planet with solar energy. I invented that expression based on the idea of the singularity as well as on a similar term coined by Aubrey de Grey, a friend of mine, who works on immortality. He has a long beard so that he looks a little like a mad scientist and he created the concept of a „Methusalerity“. Methuselah is a biblical figure that lived a thousand years long and the term describes the point at which we gain more life expectancy than we lose.

    So, will solar energy really be the only source of energy in the future or could we for example also use nuclear fusion to create our own „little suns“?

    On planet Earth, solar can provide us with sufficient energy. Eventually, once we leave Earth, we will need fusion energy however. And we will colonize the Universe. Right now, there are eight programs to go to Mars and what is truly fascinating is that four of them are private. Only ten years ago that was totally unthinkable and actually I think it will be the companies that will beat the governments.

    Ok, let’s switch to the technological singularity. Do you subscribe to Ray Kurzweil’s timeline on this issue?

    I work with Ray Kurzweil and translated his books into Spanish, so I am 120% Kurzweilian. We both believe that the Turing test will be passed by 2029. However, 2029 is actually the late estimate, because things are happening faster than anticipated. For example, AlphaGo wasn’t expected to happen now already and compared to Deep Blue, which beat Gary Kasparov in chess in 1999, AlphaGo is new type of Artificial Intelligence, one that is actually able to learn by itself. So yeah, we will pass the Turing Test by 2029 and by 2045 we will have a device that will be smarter than all of humanity combined. This really will mark the beginning of the post-human age with enhanced humans with much more life, intelligence, abilities, love and empathy.

    Intelligence augmentation is very fascinating, however, compared to Artificial Intelligence in general we will still be limited by whatever human structures we will preserve. Can there really still be a human part in a post-human future?

    All this technology is developed by humans for humans. This is not an invasion of martians. What you have explained is reflective of the Western mentality. If you look at Japan on the other hand, the people aren’t scared of Artificial Intelligence or robots. They love them. The bestselling book last year in Japan was “How to make love to a robot”. So, while you might be scared of robots, in Japan they want to have sex with them, which by the way will be cleaner than human-to-human intercourse.

    We really will fuse with this technology, because we will also have nanobots in our brains, which will connect our brains to the cloud, to this third half of our brain, this exocortex. At least, those who want to, because some people will not want to do it, especially for religious reasons, like for example the Amish. So, part of humanity will stay behind, because they don’t want to move forward, and that is their right. However, the bulk of humanity, lead by East Asia, will move forward into this brave new world.

    To be clear, I am actually pretty excited about robots myself. Nonetheless: You have mentioned in your speech that we share about 99% of our genes with Chimpanzees and despite that, they don’t have any strategic decision-making capabilities in this world. As all other animals they are completely dependent on us and we didn’t exactly create a paradise for them, we caused the sixth mass extinction. Isn’t there some conflict potential in terms of resource allocation? Couldn’t an AI have better ways to use resources than giving us the best lives possible?

    Planet Earth is a very small planet, in a very small solar system, in a very small galaxy. The Universe is incredible and full of possibilities. So, from that point of view, I don’t think that there has to be a competition for resources.

    One of my old professors at MIT who died a few weeks ago, Marvin Minsky, one of the founders of artificial intelligence, famously answered the question “Will robots inherit the Earth?” with “Yes, but they will be us and we will be them.” However, even if we don’t merge with technology, ask yourself this intelligently: Would you like to have more or less intelligence on the planet? Do you want your children to be more intelligent or less intelligent than you? These new life forms, these post-humans, they will be our descendants, and in a way, they will be us. Therefore, I wish them the best.

    You have also talked about immortality today. Assuming that humanity survives the singularity, in what form will we be immortal? Mind uploading seems easier than organic immortality, however, wouldn’t this just be a form of cloning?

    That is why I have talked about hardware and software today. In raw materials you only cost a hundred dollars. You know that you are 70% water and you are not Evian water, you are tap water. The other 30% of you are very simple elements. So, we humans are actually very cheap to build physically and that is also one of the reasons why there is no lack of resources.

    Look at cancer, it has discovered how not to age. To me, cancer is the ultimate disease because it is a series of mutations that have stopped aging. The Hayflick-limit is a bullshit limit. Cancer doesn’t care about it, cancer replicates indefinitely. It is not immortal because you can kill it and stop feeding it, but otherwise cancer does not age. The proof that organic immortality is possible is cancer. The same goes for germinal cells. Also, the first life forms that appeared on Earth are bacteria. Bacteria don’t age. They have circular chromosomes as opposed to our X-chromosomes with telomeres. Life appeared to live, not to die. We are the continuation of this vital process. In the future we can live indefinitely and I think most people will want to with a few exceptions mainly for religious reasons.

  • START Summit – Live Ticker

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    On the 18th and 19th of March, the START Summit, the leading conference for student entrepreneurship in Europe, takes place in St. Gallen. prisma covers the summit live with multiple people on the ground. Abbreviations: Dominik Mayer (dm), Oscar Hong (oh), Simone Brunner (sb), Moritz Haegi (mh) & Kevin Kohler (kk)

    Post-Summit Short interviews with participants (German & English)


    Here you can find the interview with Mike Hearn

    Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-21 um 13.07.37

    Here you can find the interview with Jose Luis Cordeiro as an article

    Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-21 um 02.24.58

    Here you can find a photo gallery


    20:53 Grand Finale The START Summit 2016 has closed with the START Summiteer Award. 8 Start-Ups made it to the final of the pitching contest: Minebox, Metrilus, Towsh, Kasko, Gamaya, Carzada, Reactive Robotics & Splendit. And the winner is…

    A huge compliment to all those who helped organizing this event. I think I can speak for all participants, when I say, that you’ve done an absolutely phenomenal job! Chapeau!


    As from now on, the on-the-fly reporting is over, however, we have amassed a lot of great material, including really interesting interviews with Jose Luis Cordeiro, Bibop Gresta & Mike Hearn, which we will publish in the coming days. So, stay tuned & see you at the afterparty! (kk)

    17:58 Krschzptthh! Could you hear that? That was the sound of male egos being crushed by Dr. Gerhard Lohmann of Swiss Re. The data isn’t ambiguous: “Men have a systematically higher risk of being involved in accidents than women”. (kk)


    17:30 What makes Israel a “start-up nation“? Answers can be found on main stage right now. (dm)

    15:45 Bitcoin civil war The debate about the scalability of Bitcoin also makes waves at the summit. First, Andreas Antonopoulos, a “bitcoin-maximalist“, was on the main stage with a sometimes quite angry tirade against the government and big banks, in which he also alluded to the current debate about an FBI backdoor in iPhones and said: “No, Mr. President, I don’t have a Swiss bank account in my pocket, I have a Swiss bank in there!” Directly afterwards Mike Hearn, whose article about the failure of Bitcoin at the beginning of the year caused the Bitcoin price to crash, took on the START Arena and shared his vision of the future usage of the blockchain. More on that later.(kk)


    15:32 Some impressions (sb)

    13:46 Changing times Mining resources looks differently nowadays… 20160319_134319

    12:35 Uber showcase Uber disrupts the taxi industry – no news there. Interesting: With UberEATS they also started to tackle Instacart & other “last yarders”. More interesting: Will decentralized Apps (dapps) disrupt the sharing economy apps? Looking forward to get Mike Hearn’s take on that! (kk)

    11:36 Burn noticed So, yes, nobody of us is a native speaker and we do this ticker live from our smartphones, mistakes happen! As the moderator said today “regret is greater than rejection”, you won’t improve if you’re afraid of someone mocking you anonymously. Anyway, if you really are good at writing in English, you’re more than welcome to join prisma and show off your skills ;) (kk)

    Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-19 um 11.29.22

    11:10 Wow! Amazing keynote by Bibop Gresta from Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. They are building their first tracks in Qual Valley right now and have just announced a contract with the government of Slovakia about a week ago, with six or seven additional governments coming up soon. As Bibop alluded, one of them is situated very close to Switzerland! Hyperloop really is the future for travel between (relatively close) cities, with Uber / self-driving cars picking up from there. Interview upcoming! (kk)


    20:50 You always meet twice (at least) Some belated notes: This morning, we ran into the president of the University of St. Gallen, Thomas Bieger, and I pressed him a little concerning the further integration of technology into University courses and apparently there really are some interesting developments going on. As Bieger told us the industry & commerce chamber of St. Gallen is financing a feasibility study on this issue. Especially, quantitative methods and coding may be upgraded in the curriculum in the near future.

    Also, I saw some of the Technion guys from the Starthack again. Best luck at the pitch tomorrow! (kk)


    18:45 HSG Founder of the Year HSG alumnus Caspar Coppetti was awarded with this years prize for his sports shoes start-up “On” and won 10’000 CHF (oh)


    18:35 Just write a cool quote next to the photo, they said (oh)


    18:11 Our student radio was also present at today’s summit activities – encountering extraordinary ideas and a deligthed Thomas Bieger.

    Here is’s radio segment for Summit Day 1 (mh)

    16:55 Mildly interesting fact Here’s an overview of the countries the participants of the summit come from (kk)

    12754837_934566969971767_1016723864_o (1)

    16:38 A discussion about singularities So, I finally managed to upload the Interview with Jose Luis Cordeiro. I will write up an actual article with some background info later ;) (kk)

    14:58 Eric Giler knows (where) his stuff (is) Just coming from his talk on the company Origin Wireless. Fascinating, they’re able to locate things at relatively short distance without triangulation and with lots of interference extremely accurately. Interesting applications for IoT/ Home Security Systems (kk)20160318_144041

    14:55 Ran out of battery power Thank technology they have these great battery packs here. (kk)


    13:44 start-up pitch competition! Their chance to shine and convince not only a experienced jury, but also a tech-enthusiastic crowd! Here’s where you engage with early adopters ;) Minebox on stage right now (dm)

    13:19 Lunch? Sorry, no time to try. Too many interesting workshops and speeches going on right now;) Heard it’s great though (dm)

    13:13 Interview upcoming Just had a great interview with Jose Luis Cordero. Will post it later ;) (kk/oh)



    13.10 Missing out Speaking about farming: how’s lunch over there at Olma? I heard F&B is always crucial at such events ;-) (na)

    13:00 The future of farmingGamaya believes that it’s possible to make agriculture carbon neutral. (dm)

    12.05 Jose Luis Cordeiro impressed everyone with his speech about the exponential growth of emerging & future technologies as well as with his mickey mouse head. (oh)

    0D1A0629 0D1A0637

    11:00 Watch out Jose Luis Cordeiro: “In 5 years everyone will have decoded their DNA”, “You’re part of the last human generation that happened by mistake” (kk)


    10:45 Achievement unlocked Jonas could hand over a bottle of Vodka to University president Thomas Bieger, nice! (kk)

    10:35 It has begun! Jonas Muff has opened the conference, followed by the mayor of St. Gallen, Thomas Scheitlin, & now Thomas Bieger is on stage. Slight technical difficulties handled with humor. All highlight how crucial entrepreneurship & innovation are for city & university & society. (kk)


    09:55 “The most interesting coke I’ve ever drunk!” As we’re waiting for the opening ceremony to begin, Dominik gets really excited about the coke here ;) (kk)


    09:15 Good morning! By the way, don’t trust these words, that’s exactly the event you’re looking for.(oh) 



    20:47 On Times Square By the way, since I already mentioned the FB page of START. The photo of a huge ad on Times Square in New York that attracted a lot of attention about a week ago is 100% legit. Apparently Nasdaq is looking to become a partner at the next summit. (kk)

    Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-17 um 20.21.56

    20:38 A small downer ahead of the summit As the START team posted on Facebook, keynote speaker Tom Mueller of SpaceX unfortunately won’t be able to attend the conference:

    Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-17 um 20.22.24

    Having read the interesting Musk biography written by Ashlee Vance, I suspect that Musk may has introduced this policy not out of concerns about information security alone. According to Vance he really does like to be in control of everything (including the media) and isn’t always the best at sharing credit. However, let’s not delve into further speculation here. As long as SpaceX brings me to Mars I’m more than happy ;) (kk)

    Pre-Summit Some impressions from the Hackathon that took place one week prior to the summit

    zvg / Luca Michelli

    We also conducted an interview with Jonas Muff the president of START Global a few weeks ahead of the summit (german)

    Jonas Muff
    Jonas Muff

    You can read up on last year’s summit as well. Here’s an interview with Omid Scheybani from Google. (german)


  • 200 Hackers, 9 Challenges, 3 Days, No Sleep

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    On this weekend about 200 students from around 30 countries have come together in the InnovationHub in St. Gallen for the first STARThack. During the 3-day hackathon the participants competed in one of the challenges put forward by companies or worked on their own projects.

    The term „hacker“ is used in two conflicting ways, either describing people from the programming subculture in general or denoting people that subvert digital security systems (cracker). So, before anyone calls the police, the event didn’t look like you might expect it from popular media coverage of “hackers”. There really was lots and lots of keyboard pressing going on however.

    Making the fridge smart

    So, what exactly did the hackers do then? Well, take for example the team KitchenPad, the four guys who came here from Amsterdam, Athens and Geneva used their weekend to work independently on making the kitchen smarter. As one of the team members, Fotos Georgiadis, told me, that doesn’t mean that your fridge can display the weather, but that you always know what you have in there and what you can do with it. They have connected a barcode-scanner with a Rasperry Pi and built an easy method to keep a digital inventory of your aliments, including expiration dates, and connected that to IBM Chef Watson, the AI that finds recipes for you.

    A smart kitchen was of course only one of many issues the students worked on. One of the beautiful things about the hackathon was, that the projects really were as diverse as the crowd. One group has worked on a way to transfer bitcoin by sound, another team used machine learning to optimize the speed of toy racing car, yet another team created a „Tinder for shopping“. And the fact that the latter had to go and wake up their third team member when they were announced as the winners of the Swisscom challenge really showed the „hacking all night long“ spirit of the hackathon

    From Haifa to St. Gallen


    Another interesting group that found its way to the Starthack comes from the Technion in Israel, a university in which „every faculty ends with word engineering“ as they told me. At the hack the group split up to work on different challenges, inter alia four of them created a P2P-app to help people with disabilities and won the SBB-Challenge. Asked what makes Israel such a fertile ground for Start-Ups they’re not a hundred percent sure however. Probably a combination of a lot of technological knowledge coming together in a small space combined with “tough mothers”. Similar to the Valley people have quite a bold mindset and you almost have to have a Start-Up out of sheer peer pressure.

    At least, those who stay for the Summit, have some time for sightseeing now. One student even was excited about seeing snow here, probably the first time ever I’ve heard someone complementing the weather in St. Gallen.

    Tech is essential for business

    At the moment „HSG-Hackathon“ still sounds a bit like an oxymoron. For one, there is a visual contrast between hacking and business culture, not in terms of the gender ratio, but in terms of the clothing. One group focuses on signaling, the other group on comfort. However, the real difference lies beyond stereotypes and in the lingual abilities. Yes, lingual. Most HSG-students speak several human-to-human languages, but only very few can communicate with machines, which is also the reason why there are next to no HSG-students competing in the hackathon; yet. It’s a somewhat inconvenient truth for business students, but IT is more than just an internal support process since eventually all industries will become information industries. Already today, it’s hard to build a successful Start-Up without coding and that surely won’t change back anytime soon.

    Being at the hackathon I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a muggle. Technology isn’t magic of course. There is no such thing as magic. However, the results technology can achieve can seem like magic if you can’t fully comprehend how the code works. (If you could travel back in time and take some 2016 technology with you, it shouldn’t be that hard to convince people that you are an actual God; at least until the batteries run out)). This is not to say that MBA-skills will suddenly become obsolete and for all practical purpose you really should be fluent in at least one human-to-human language, but the dependency on the ability to write code and use the leverage of technology will only increase. How can a HSG entrepreneur put innovative ideas to reality? You can buy the „magic“ from Bulgaria or elsewhere, but that doesn’t really seem like a sustainable solution. Bringing together business and tech in St. Gallen is definitely a smart approach. However, if it comes down to who is really indispensable in this relationship, well, we may actually want to learn a bit of magic ourselves.

  • Die Zukunft kommt nach St. Gallen

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    Das Bankenkonsortium R3 ist daran, die Finanzindustrie mit Hilfe der Blockchain radikal und für immer zu verändern, SpaceX revolutioniert gerade die Raumfahrt, Hyperloop könnte den Transport zwischen Städten völlig neu erfinden, und über alldem thront die technologische Singularität, diese mythologisierte, jedoch täglich realer werdende Vision, welche in einer künstlichen Superintelligenz mündet, die sowohl unser Ende als auch unsere Unsterblichkeit bedeuten könnte. Und wo kommen alle diese Dinge zusammen? Richtig, an der HSG!

    Der START Summit ist ein Glücksfall für die HSG, vor allem aber auch für deren Studenten. Nirgendwo sonst kommt man als Jungunternehmer so einfach in Kontakt mit potenziellen Mitstreitern und potenziellen Investoren. Doch auch für den Rest der Studenten kann sich ein Besuch lohnen. Ob als Entscheidungsträger oder einfach nur als Konsument: Die Zukunftstechnologien die am 18. & 19. März am Summit präsentiert und diskutiert werden, könnten im späteren (Arbeits-)Leben durchaus noch relevant werden. Und mal ehrlich, wie oft hat man als Student schon die Chance, an einer internationalen Konferenz teilzunehmen?

    prisma hat bei seinen Nachbarn im Start-Up-Container vorbeigeschaut und sich mit Jonas Muff, dem Präsidenten von START, unterhalten.

    Jonas Muff

    Jonas, noch drei Wochen bis zum Summit, wie laufen die Vorbereitungen?

    Auf Hochtouren! Auch dieses Jahr wollen wir unser Professionalitäts-Niveau wieder erhöhen. Der START Summit findet zum ersten Mal in den Olma Hallen statt, was mit neuen Herausforderungen im Organisationsprozess verbunden ist. Im Moment sind wir allerdings „good on track“. Die operativen Ausgestaltungen laufen, das Speaker Line-Up steht und die Finanzierung von einer halben Million ist ebenfalls sichergestellt. Unsere grössten Herausforderungen im Moment sind es noch weitere qualitative Start-Ups für die Bewerbung am START Summiteer Wettbewerb zu gewinnen und noch mehr HSG-Studenten als Hosts für die fast 800 Studenten aus aller Welt zu finden.

    Eine Woche vor dem eigentlichen Summit organisiert ihr in diesem Jahr auch zum ersten Mal einen Hackathon. Kannst du erklären was dort abgehen wird und wieso ihr auf die Idee eines Hackathons gekommen seid? Das ist ja schon eher etwas Ungewohntes an der HSG.

    Hackathons erfreuen sich vor allem in der Tech-Szene grosser Beliebtheit. In einem (beinahe) schlaflosen Marathon, welcher in unserem Fall mit Vorbereitung 40 Stunden andauert, entwickeln verschiedene Teams technische Lösungen zu Problemstellungen, welche ihnen von Firmen zusammen mit den entsprechenden APIs bereitgestellt werden. Die rund 200 Teilnehmer kommen aus aller Welt, unter anderem vom MIT, Stanford, Indien oder dem Technion in Israel. Die Gewinnerteams pro Case dürfen ihre Lösung dann am START Summit vor 1200 Personen pitchen.

    Unsere Kernvision ist es die studentische Initiative in der Schweiz, respektive in Europa zu sein, welche Technologie und Business zusammenbringt. Der Hackathon ist strategisch so integriert, dass eine Art „START-Pipeline“ entsteht. An der Konferenz kommen die Tech-Teams mit ihren Prototypen in direkten Kontakt mit techaffinen Businessstudenten, zum Beispiel von der HSG, und können dort vielleicht sogar gleich einen Angel Investor finden.

    Darüber hinaus wollen wir damit indirekt auch das Interesse der HSG-Studenten am Programmieren etwas fördern und ihnen aufzeigen, dass die Tech-Welt auch hier in St. Gallen ist. Direkt vor der Haustüre!

    Wie sieht es am Summit selber aus, worauf setzt ihr in diesem Jahr den Fokus?

    Den geografischen Schwerpunkt legen wir in diesem Jahr auf Israel. Israel ist neben dem Silicon Valley das am stärksten wachsende und mit dem meisten Venture Capital ausgestattete Start-Up Ökosystem der Welt. Wir nehmen dieses Ökosystem unter die Lupe, versuchen die Gründe für dessen Erfolg zu beleuchten und zu erklären wieso es zum Beispiel hier in der Schweiz, im Gegensatz zu Israel, beinahe unmöglich ist Milliarden-Start-Ups, sogenannte Unicorns, aufzubauen.

    Inhaltlich setzen wir den Fokus auf drei Themen: Financial Technology (FinTech), Mobility und Internet of Things (IoT). Im FinTech-Bereich betrachten wir einerseits Cryptocurrencies und aufkommende Blockchain-Anwendungen und andererseits den ganzen Cybersecurity-Bereich, also die Frage wie können die Banken sicher mit digitalen Daten umgehen, quasi das „Bankgeheimnis 2.0“. Hier haben wir auch eine Schnittstelle zu Israel, welches gerade im Bereich von Cybersecurity als führend gilt. In den Bereichen Smart Transportation und IoT versuchen wir die Leute vor allem einmal für die aktuellen Trends zu sensibilisieren, gerade der IoT Bereich kann eine ziemlich grosse Revolution für die Gesamtwirtschaft bedeuten.

    Wie würdest du diejenigen Studenten, die sich bisher noch nicht für die Konferenz oder als Host angemeldet haben, überzeugen es doch noch zu tun?

    Der START Summit ist die führende Initiative in Europa für studentisches Unternehmertum. Die internationale Plattform, die inhaltlichen Schwerpunkte, die Workshops, die unzähligen Möglichkeiten zum Networking, HSG-Studenten mit einer unternehmerischen Ader kommen eigentlich nicht um den Summit herum. Aber auch all diejenigen, welche in einem digitalen und innovativen Umwelt bei Grossfirmen arbeiten möchten, sind bei uns am richtigen Ort. Unternehmen wie zum Beispiel die Deutsche Bank, welche im Moment unglaublich auf der digitalen Schiene fährt und am Summit präsent ist, brauchen hunderte von guten Mitarbeitern aus dem Business und Tech-Bereich.

    Hosting ist ein einmaliges Erlebnis. Die Teilnehmer brauchen nicht viel, sie brauchen eigentlich nur ein Sofa. Trotzdem gibt das immer enorm interessante und coole Konstellationen. Durch das Hosting hat man die Chance auf Leute aus ganz anderen Kulturen zu treffen, welche in der Regel erst noch einiges auf dem Kasten haben. Hosts können zudem mit 20 Franken Rabatt am Summit teilnehmen und am Donnerstag vor der Konferenz gibt es eine Host-Matching-Party im Meeting Point, wo wir auch Stand-Up Speeches von Bibop Gresta, dem COO von Hyperloop Transportation Inc. und José Luis Cordeiro, einem Futuristen von der Singularity University, organisiert haben. Cordeiro war auch schon am letztjährigen START Summit dabei und ist ein unglaublich guter Speaker mit einigen sehr spannenden und radikalen Thesen. Hosten lohnt sich also auf jeden Fall.

    EDIT: Die Preise sind 79 CHF für Hosts, 89 CHF für HSG-Studenten, 99 CHF für Studenten, 199 CHF für Founders, 300 CHF für Besucher und 500 CHF für Investoren (Mir ist ein peinlicher Fehler unterlaufen: Hier stand während ca. 2.5h der Rabatt als Preis für die Hosts. 20 Franken für zwei Tage Konferenz inkl. Essen und Getränke sind dann doch etwas zu schön um wahr zu sein. Ich bitte um Entschuldigung falls deswegen Missverständnisse entstanden sind.) Weitere Infos und die Anmeldung zum Hosten und Teilnehmen findest du auf, auf Facebook oder am Stand im 09-Gebäude.

  • Saving the Planet

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    Last May at the St. Gallen Symposium I had an interesting conversation with Connie Hedegaard, formerly Minister for Environment and Minister for Climate and Energy in Denmark as well as European Commissioner for Climate Action. Unfortunately, there were a lot of things going on at the time and I never got to fully transcribe and publish the interview. „Better late than never“ might be a good motto for the current climate conference in Paris as well as for tardy journalists. Given the regained timeliness, I would like to, at least partially, serve justice to the reader as well as to Mrs. Hedegaard by sharing some of her insights on climate policy.

    Mrs. Hedegaard, you are a political conservative, yet you are very engaged on the topics of environmental protection and climate change, a rather atypical combination. How did it come so?

    I was out of politics for 40 years and already had the portfolio of environment when the liberal-conservative government (elected in 2001) asked me to become minister for environment in 2004. They had cut back a lot on the environment and I wanted to stop that trend. However, to be clear, I don’t think there is any contradiction between being conservative and wanting to protect the environment. On the contrary, if you look at conservatism as a philosophy, taking care for future generations lies at the very heart of it. Conserving the environment should be a natural part of conservatism. So, ever since I have been a young politician back in the 1980s, I have thought that it would be extremely stupid ,if we are not serious about protecting the environment right of the center. Why on earth should being “green” be considered a socialist thing? A leftist system isn’t inherently better at taking care of the environment, just look at the Soviet Union or China.

    After your term as environment minister you became the first EU commissioner for Climate Change and were greatly involved in organising the UNCCC in Copenhagen in 2009. However, many European observers were disappointed with the results. What were the biggest obstacles hindering a greater international commitment to stop the climate change?

     You could speculate all sorts of things, who was blocking what, who did not have enough political will and so on, but the big difference between Copenhagen and the upcoming Conference in Paris is that in 2009 China and the US both, consciously or unconsciously, could see that the other power would not move and therefore both came unprepared to actually move their own position. However, over the last years the pressure has mounted enormously on the Obama Administration as well as on China. When President Obama and President Xi Jinping came together in November 2014 and publicly acknowledged that their countries, as the two biggest emitters, have a special responsibility to stop climate change, this marked a turning point. Had those two really wanted to “play ball” in Kopenhagen the result could have been different.

    While it goes without saying that many of us wanted more out of Copenhagen, we nevertheless achieved progress. In the run-up to Copenhagen Europe was basically alone in setting emissions targets, after Copenhagen 90 countries set domestic climate targets. In Copenhagen we also established the limit of two degrees celsius of global warming. 2013 was the first year ever in the history of mankind, where the newly installed energy capacity of renewables was greater than that of fossils. As far as I can see there is a profound change underway. Things are happening. However, the success criteria for Paris has to be that when that conference is over, it is still likely that the World will remain below the threshold of two degrees.

    Connie Hedegaard

    Europe has always been a force pushing towards more action on climate change. Do we simply have it easier than others to reduce emissions, because we already have high absolute levels of emission and little to no growth? What do you say to developing countries, who want their “chance at polluting the world” as well?

    Of course nobody would ask India, who still has 400 Million people without access to electricity to do the same as Europe or the US. However, the world simply cannot tackle climate change, if we continue in the pattern of old UNFCCC talks, where many thought that only the developed countries should agree on binding goals, while developing countries, including China, should only do things voluntarily. From a European perspective the biggest achievement of the climate conference in Durban 2011 was to get rid of this firewall. Of course, we in the rich countries have to do more than developing countries, but all of us have a responsibility and all of us will have to pursue a low carbon development track.

    Furthermore, it is not all that easy for Europe. Last year both Germany as well as Britain were able to reduce their carbon emissions significantly while growing in terms of GDP. The European Union has set the new goal of cutting emissions by 40% until 2030 through domestic action. That is a substantial contribution.

    Over the last years tensions between the West and Russia have increased. What effect on climate policy does the European dependence on Russian fossil fuels have?

    Bulgaria, Slovakia, Rumania, all those countries who are most dependent on Russia, tend to also have the most inefficient energy consumption. Why? Because everytime Bulgaria wants to increase its energy efficiency, Putin lowers the gas price in order to undermine the effort. Energy independence was THE argument to bring countries more hesitant regarding climate change, as for example Poland, to agree on the 2030 emission goals. In a crisis year like 2012 we paid a huge economic bill of about 400 billion Euros net in Europe for our imported fossil fuels and about a third of that amount we sent to Russia. Last year due the situation in Eastern Europe a lot of people started to realize what the political costs of energy dependence are as well. The time to get the “boring stuff” like the interconnectors and the grid done, in order to move forward with the energy union, is now. If the Crimean crisis has not been a strong enough wake-up call for European leaders, I don’t know what could be.

  • Facts & Figures zur HSG

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    Eine Reihe an netten Kennzahlen, vorwiegend aus dem Jahresbericht 2014-2015:

    • 220’600’000 Franken beträgt der konsolidierte Umsatz der HSG
    • 207’000’000 Franken beträgt die Wertschöpfung, welche die HSG in der Region generiert
    • 45’240’000 Franken beträgt der Beitrag durch den Kanton St. Gallen
    • 35’000+ Wissenschaftliche Arbeiten wurden bereits auf der HSG-Forschungsplattform publiziert
    • 23’000+ Alumni-Mitglieder hat die HSG (Obwohl klein hat die Universität damit eines der grössten und professionellsten Alumni-Netzwerke in Europa)
    • 8’000+ Studierende sind an der Universität eingeschrieben
    • 3126 Franken betragen die Semestergebühren für ausländische Studierende im Bachelor
    • 2’700+ Personen arbeiten an der HSG
    • 1’500+ Studierende haben diesen Montag ihr Assessmentjahr begonnen
    • 1226 Franken betragen die Semestergebühren für Schweizer Studierende im Bachelor
    • 180+ Partneruniversitäten hat die HSG weltweit
    • 117 Jahre besteht die HSG bereits
    • 93 Professorinnen und Professoren sind angestellt
    • 50 Prozent beträgt der Selbstfinanzierungsgrad der HSG (der höchste in der Schweiz)
    • 41 Institute, Forschungsstellen und Centers unterhält die HSG
    • 38 Prozent beträgt der Marktanteil der HSG in der Schweiz an Studierenden in WIrtschaftswissenschaften
    • 33 Prozent beträgt der Anteil an weiblichen Studierenden
    • 25 Prozent beträgt der Anteil an internationalen Studierenden (dieser Maximal-Prozentsatz ist vorgegeben)
    • 8.07 Prozent der Studierenden an der HSG beabsichtigen ein Unternehmen zu gründen
    • 7.74 Prozent beträgt der Anteil der Studiengebühren am Budget der Universität
    • 6 ist der aktuelle Rang der HSG im Financial Times Ranking unter den europäischen Business Schools
    • 5 Strategische Forschungskooperationen mit der Praxis bestehen
    • 4.43 Prozent der Studierenden haben bereits ein Start-Up gegründet
    • 2 Global Center, das GCCI und das GCE&I, betreibt die HSG
    • 1 ist die Lieblingszahl vieler HSG-Studenten, die Anzahl Magazine, welche die Studierenden seit 1959 mit Informationen versorgen und natürlich der Rang des SIM-Masters im FT-Ranking.
  • Jahresmediengespräch

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    Am Montag lud die Universität St. Gallen zum jährlichen Mediengespräch, in welchem der St. Galler Bildungsdirektor Stefan Kölliker, der Rektor Thomas Bieger und die Prorektorin für Internationalisierung und Regionale Verankerung Ulrike Landfester Auskunft über die Entwicklung der HSG gaben und eine Bilanz über das vergangene Jahr zogen. Dem regelmässigen prisma-Leser dürfte das meiste schon bekannt sein: Der Campusausbau, die grössere finanzielle Autonomie, die Weiterentwicklung der Lehre inklusive einzelner MOOCs und auch der Versuch in einzelnen Themenbereichen ein globales Profil auszubauen inklusive auf BRIC-Länder ausgelegter Hubs. Worüber, zumindest wir, hingegen, noch nie berichtet haben, ist die laufende Abklärung, ob in Zukunft eventuell auch Medizinstudenten an der HSG ausgebildet werden könnte. (siehe Video ab 6 Min 36 Sek).