IT specialists should seize the opportunities in the Vienna Region
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According to Ben Ruschin, Vienna is ideally suited to become an artificial intelligence hotspot
The annual WeAreDevelopers Congress Vienna brings high-ranking entrepreneurs and software developers from all over the world to Vienna. The congress ranks among the biggest international developer events and attracts about 2,000 visitors every year. Benjamin Ruschin is Managing Director and co-founder of WeAreDevelopers. He is also board member of the Austrian Software Industry Association (VÖSI), where he offers employers training on best practices in IT recruiting. In addition to the events, WeAreDevelopers also offers a career platform on which software developers can find cool job offers and companies can search for the necessary IT specialists. Since November 2019, employers have been able to publish job ads on the WeAreDevelopers platform for free. Artificial intelligence is becoming more and more important when it comes to events as well as recruiting.
Why does artificial intelligence create such a hype these days?
Ben Ruschin: The umbrella term AI encompasses a number of different technologies which allow us to automate, or handle via software, certain processes which used to require manual work by a person. For example, it includes image recognition, speech recognition, process automation. Basically, these are technologies which are already applied on a daily basis when we use, for example, Facebook, Instagram or Gmail. Demand to do things more quickly is growing and new technologies help us to meet this demand. According to a forecast by Microsoft, the AI market will be worth about 60 billion US dollars in 2025. Therefore, Microsoft is focusing its strategy on AI because artificial intelligence in the consumer and technology sectors will grow to become one of the biggest and most lucrative technology markets over the next years.
Does AI create new jobs or do people need to be afraid to lose their jobs?
AI is a real buzzword these days. Companies hope to vastly improve their operations through artificial intelligence. Of course, this will replace some jobs, and machines will take over many routine jobs which have been performed by humans so far. But AI creates many new challenges which require new jobs. For example, every big company is currently looking for data scientists – highly qualified data analysts who know what to do with the amount of data that is collected by the companies and how to use it to increase efficiency.
Artificial intelligence has long been used in hospitals, production, car driving, smart living etc. Where do you see future AI fields of application which we may not imagine today?
Everything which can be automated will be automated, regardless of the field. This will bring about massive changes in the job market and in the workplace. In education and training, AI allows a completely new form of learning. Information which we need to search for today will be preprocessed much better and provided in the necessary format. It's becoming easier and easier to get information, and the speed at which we get it is increasing enormously. At the same time, things are getting more complex. The consequences cannot be estimated yet. AI will change our entire lives and turn them upside-down because we will get more and more support for all kinds of activities. It will be a major challenge to deal with this abundance of information and the ever-increasing speed. Today, we cannot predict how this will affect our health and our minds.
Some people are afraid that machines will take over one day. Will AI be able to compete with the human brain and develop a conscience?
Scientists disagree in that regard. From today's standpoint, it is unrealistic to assume that machines will be able to develop a mind and emotions of their own, and that AI will replace us completely one day. Hollywood movies such as "I, Robot", "Minority Report" and "The Terminator" stoke these fears, which are unwarranted in my opinion. Still, it will be important to adhere to certain rules in the development of AI. I'm thinking of various areas, like the military, medicine, autonomous driving. We need minimum safety standards and functioning laws in order to ensure that humans control the technology, not vice versa.
Many Viennese companies already use AI. Examples include the autonomous busses in Seestadt Aspern or the chatbot service of Wiener Wohnen. What do you think of the AI activities in the Vienna Region?
The initiatives you mention are indeed laudable, but much more needs to be done to be recognised and really stand out at an international level. I recommend looking at the competition. The US and China are the AI world market leaders. The venture capital sum for the AI sector is currently about 10 billion dollars in the US, with a massive upward trend. In China, the number of AI patents has been growing by more than two hundred percent over the past five years. A lot has also been going on in the AI sector in Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Israel and Germany.
But at least the city of Vienna has an AI strategy. Is this the right way to become an AI hotspot?
The AI strategy at least shows that the city of Vienna is aware of the trend and that it is addressing this subject. But an AI strategy alone will not be sufficient. The AI scene in the Vienna Region is too innocent. By that I mean that we don't have any start-ups, for example, which could be regarded as real AI pioneers. Another problem I see is that big international companies often only have sales offices in the Vienna Region, such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft, which mostly handle distribution here, not development. On the other hand, I see positive developments, for example with Porsche Informatik opening up a new office at the Austria Campus in Vienna and seeking 200 new IT specialists. In the future, we need to bring more international companies from the private sector to Vienna. To do this, we need to act in concert, also regarding the federal government and the municipalities.
Isn't the WeAreDevelopers Congress the best example that Vienna is going with the times in terms of artificial intelligence?
Of course it is, because we have participants from 80 different cities. IT managers of big companies from all kinds of industries meet here. The demand for IT workers is bigger than ever. In 2018, we had the top decision-makers of the big tech and automobile companies at our Vienna event, such as the CIO of BMW. They are urgently looking for many software developers, and it is difficult for them to bring developers to Munich, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart or Walldorf, because they either face challenges relating to the location and/or enormous competition when it comes to IT talents. Exactly these companies are looking for new locations for their development centers – close to their headquarters, not somewhere in Asia. This is where the Vienna Region needs to join the top league. We have the best conditions to pitch Vienna to these companies – with the highest quality of life and an excellent cost/benefit ratio, since the living expenses are much lower than in competing regions. Now it is important to create a kind of gravitational pull.
How can this gravitational pull be created?
Our congress is an excellent opportunity to introduce the Vienna Region to the world and inspire the C-level decision-makers of the big tech, automobile, industry and logistics companies to open offices here. For international companies, it can be very attractive to establish IT centres in the Vienna Region, where the competition isn't that tough, and where you find an excellent location, which is close to Central and Eastern Europe and offers a high quality of life and a great cost/benefit ratio. If we manage to bring a few top companies to Austria over the next years, I'm sure there will be a domino effect. In that case, there is a real chance that the Vienna Region blossoms to become an IT innovation centre of Europe. This requires a major effort, of course, but now this is the right time. What are we waiting for?
Do the education and training programmes in the Vienna Region help to create enough domestic IT specialists?
I'm pleasantly surprised by the higher technical education institutes, the HTLs. I see them as a huge opportunity. There should be more HTLs following the model of HTL Spengergasse. They focus on IT, and they are unique in Austria. The universities of applied sciences do a great job, too, for example, the UAS Technikum Wien with its highly future-oriented courses which cover niche markets. Also, the University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt works closely with industry and takes the needs and requirements of the companies seriously. This is the right way. Every newly trained IT talent strengthens our economy, and therefore we need more opportunities to train the talents we need.
The interview was conducted by medienkomplizen / Christian Scherl
Photo: Ben Ruschin (c) Petra Sittig