Because of their conventionality, introductions to annual reports could easily fall victim to the text generator ChatGPT before all that long. That would be a great shame, as good and reliable conventions can send signals of stability and trust in a world characterized by unrest and upheaval. Yet stability and trust will be further undermined if communication is based on less and less authentic experiences and instead becomes a machine-generated product. Ever since the US start-up OpenAI made the tool available to a wide public at the end of 2022, ChatGPT has been making headlines around the world and sparking concerns: What damage could such technology do in the wrong hands? Discrimination, data privacy violations, fake information, propaganda and job losses – the list of possible horror scenarios is long. Some scientists have compared the risks to nothing less dramatic than a pandemic or a nuclear war.
This makes it all the more vital for the technology to be used with a sense of proportion – and to ensure that the digital transformation as a whole is value-driven. One contribution to this will be made by Agora Digital Transformation, a think tank we established in 2022. Headed by Stefan Heumann, the new organization will develop scientifically founded, viable and practical concepts for an approach to digitization that is oriented towards the common good.
Artificial intelligence and algorithms are also playing a central role in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine – when it comes to disseminating disinformation, for example. We are following the developments there with great alarm. Our solidarity and our sympathy go out to the people in Ukraine: as a European foundation, we are particularly resolute in our commitment to democratic values and support Ukrainians who are reliant on assistance, be it in their own country or as refugees.
This brutal war, taking place a mere 800 kilometres from Berlin, has also prompted us to rethink. Encouraged by Stiftung Mercator’s Advisory Board, we have revised our own strategy in consultation with many of the foundation’s partners and experts – placing the emphasis on the search for a new international order.
“Participation not discrimination”, the slogan for our Mercator Forum 2022, is also what those Ukrainians deserve who have been able to escape to Germany. Organized by our section Participation and Cohesion in a Diverse Society, the day and a half-long event saw stakeholders from politics, civil society, science and business join Bundestag Vice President Aydan Özoğuz in an exchange of views. Together, they discussed how structural disadvantages can be reduced, especially in power-sensitive areas of society such as the police, justice and healthcare systems.
The Mercator Forum was not the only event that was finally able to take place face-to-face again in 2022. Be it the summer reception at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the summer party in Essen, the Mercator Lectures and Mercator Salons on all kinds of topics relevant to the foundation’s activities: for the first time since the start of the pandemic, it was at last possible once again for people to come together in person – rather than via computer screens – to share views and ideas, thereby generating valuable new impetus for our work. This is how ideas for new projects are generated time and again in cooperation with our partners.
Since Stiftung Mercator was founded in 1996, we have provided over 907 million euros in funding for 1,973 projects in all (as per the end of 2022) – of this total, 58 million euros was made available for 91 projects in 2022. It always feels rather arbitrary to highlight individual examples. Nonetheless, we would like to mention one in particular: the Bündnis Sozialverträgliche Mobilitätswende – an alliance for a socially just mobility transition – whose second funding period began in 2022: it brings together representatives of all kinds of social groups, such as natural conservation associations, churches and unions, with the goal of advancing sustainable climate action in the area of transport. And to do so in an ecological, cost-effective and socially just manner. This project is thus a prime example of our desire to benefit the common good – independently of economic, political or ideological interests.
Despite, or perhaps precisely because of the multiple crises that surround us, we remain hopeful and could not agree more with the words of the natural scientist and writer Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: “I cannot say whether things will get better if they change; what I can say is that they must change if they are to get better.”