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Internet and Germany – "Success spoiled and nurtured" – economy

Fifty years ago, the first message was posted on the Internet. Computer scientist Christoph Meinel has disappointed hopes, risks and missed opportunities.

October 29, 1969 is considered the birthday of the Internet. That day, a computer from the University of California at Los Angeles sends a message to a Stanford computer. Arpanet, the Pentagon's new research network, exists only from these two connection points. For this, they use the Internet protocol developed by the American computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock, who divides the information into virtual packages. The computer creates the three letters LOG (for the connection), and then hangs. This invention revolutionized our lives and our work. Questions about the history of the network to Christoph Meinel, professor of computer science.

SZ: We can write a life without the Internet, without e-mails, without surfing and shopping on the Web, without publishing images on social networks, hardly imaginable. But the least do it. So, what is the Internet?

Christoph Meinel: The Internet is a technical infrastructure with which computer networks of any type can be connected in such a way that they appear to the user as a unified network. The global Internet is the network of networks. Devices connected to different networks – computers, smartphones, smart devices – can be addressed uniformly and data packets can be sent beyond the boundaries of individual networks and network technologies. How it works is hidden from the user. The provision of e-mail services in the early 1970s was a first step in the use of the Internet. However, the use of the Internet really only took off in the early 90's with the development of Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web. Until then, the Internet could only be used as a specialist with complex commands, but it was now possible, with the help of special software, called browsers, to use the WWW just for the most diverse applications at the click of a mouse.

Four billion people are now using the Internet worldwide. What helped him make a breakthrough?

Internet is the backbone of the digital world that is coming together. Nowadays, people and machines can easily exchange news, pictures, music, videos, digital products of any kind, at breakneck speed, even over long distances. The space and time in this digital world are losing the meaning they have in our analog world. And people all over the world can meet and move in a whole new way. There was no such thing in human history.

Where data flows: Fiber optic cable in a Schleswig-Holstein Internet node.

(Photo: Daniel Reinhardt / dpa)

This speed is also the biggest problem of the Internet.

Yes, in the early days of the Internet, the great dream of humanity connected the Internet to the diffusion of knowledge, education, international friendship and democracy around the world, thus improving the world. Today, we know that there is also the other side. Thus, the many temptations of the network attract criminals of all kinds. And in the network, even silly ideas, rumors and fake ads can spread very quickly and attract a lot of attention. We find that public discussion is threatened. Election manipulation, hate speech and cybercrime are becoming a real problem on the Web.

What can be done about this?

Anonymity may be a problem because the true identity of the network is only vaguely related to the assumed digital identities. The company must be wondering if everyone on the network should be able to pretend to be someone else. Many would never dare to express themselves in real life as they do under the guise of anonymity. We have very bad experiences there. As a society, we still need to learn how to manage the new digital world, shape it and use it. Perhaps the freedoms accessible via the network will have to be limited again.

But how to organize a legitimate protest against injustice if there is no anonymity?

Of course, there are good reasons not to call into question anonymity. But the real protest always needs a personal commitment, the defense of his opinion and his ideas.

Germany is very often at the bottom of the ranking of digitization, broadband coverage and school equipment. Why this?

Christoph Meinel is considered one of the leading German Internet researchers. He is the Scientific Director of the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI).


Germany is spoiled for success and complete. The administration works for us, the industry is doing well and the public life seems well organized. Society is spoiled and satisfied, there does not seem to be any change. Worse, we miss future visions. All this may be due to an unrecognized feeling of insecurity that we can not manage any major projects in Germany, be it a Stuttgart train station, a Berlin airport or transmission lines for the distribution of goods. 39, renewable energy in the country.

And we also talked about broadband for ten years without any noticeable progress. In other countries, digitization is seen as an excellent opportunity to advance society in business, administration, transport or education. In countries like China, digitization has already brought prosperity and progress. Sixty years ago, there were about 80% of illiterates. Today, almost everyone can read and write. In this country, however, digitization is seen as an additional burden, which also costs money.

Is a country that monitors its citizens by facial recognition a model?

Once again, we must first learn to deal with new opportunities and limitations. We say quickly "Yuck!" and demonize development in China. I come from China and say that we create incentives to behave and behave socially, and to reduce crime. We should not know everything, but first try the possibilities of digitization ourselves and develop a way to manage and network the values ​​of our society. This applies in particular to the application of artificial intelligence. In research, we can be competitive at the international level, but companies, start-ups, which develop business models from them, are far too few in Germany.

Do you think that privacy and privacy are true inhibitors of innovation?

No of course not. But to give just one example, significant advances in digital health, digital health care and medical care assisted by digital health care, will not be limited to data analysis totally. anonymous. We must – and this is not an easy process – simply strike a balance to maximize the benefits of digitization in all areas of society.