Prof. Claudia Eckert, Director of the Cognitive Internet Technologies CCIT cluster of excellence and Head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security Claudia Eckert, Director of the Cognitive Internet Technologies CCIT cluster of excellence and Head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC

The age of smart devices and applications is not only dawning, it is here. Every one of us interacts with connected devices multiple times a day, generating vast data to be analysed across a range of industries, applications, and scenarios. The number of objects equipped with a sensor and means for processing data is increasing exponentially. Correspondingly, the realisation of the “Internet of Things” is showing promising first results. For example, in telemedicine and patient monitoring, in the automotive industry, in building automation and in smart home applications, in logistics, to name only a few.

But we are not where we could be. Today’s internet-based applications are still focused on classical paradigms, like collecting and exchanging data between peers and processing vast amounts of data  in centralised hubs by “hyper scaler”, which apply artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and to support decision making. However, essential for the future is an infrastructure that offers extended functions for knowledge generation.  The internet of the future integrates technologies which emulate the cognitive abilities of humans – our perceptions as informed by all the senses; our awareness, imagination, and memory; our ability to plan, to orient ourselves, and to learn. It forms a network of cognitive technologies, and thereby is becoming a cognitive internet. The cognitive internet provides intercompany platforms to merge data from a wide variety of sources for it to be accessed in a controlled way. What’s more, AI methods are integrated at the edge, e.g. right in the sensors. This has various benefits, such as allowing knowledge to be generated and used locally in real time, and GDPR compliant processes to be supported by reducing the amount of data that must be stored and processed outside the controlled edge devices.

Researchers from various disciplines have to interact in order to bring forward key technologies from sensors to intelligent learning methods in data processing and the cloud, for integrating these really “cognitive” abilities into the future internet. In order to respond to various industries’ demands to combine applied specialist knowledge for comprehensive needs, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft set up a research cluster combining experts from different domains, to address these demands. The Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Internet Technologies CCIT [L1] launched its mission in 2018 with 13 Fraunhofer Institutes pooling their expertise in order to face the challenges of digitalisation and develop new solutions for a “Cognitive Internet”. Cyber security and data protection play an important role to protect industrial knowhow and to support data sovereignty but also benefitting from the opportunities of digitalisation. Moreover, data processed by cognitive computing technologies must be trustworthy, otherwise the AI algorithms will produce, for example, inaccurate forecasts and wrong decisions based on manipulated or faked data.

The application scenarios for cognitive technologies are quite diverse, ranging from logistics to agile and mobile industrial manufacturing to autonomous driving. A self-organising production line, for example, has to be able to  identify and locate components, machine parts, to be able to adapt its processing automatically to improve the production process. For applications such as autonomous driving, it is imperative that solutions based on ultraprecise cognitive models can detect traffic situations in real time and trigger an appropriate response. This requires new solutions that provide these cognitive abilities within cognitive sensors and cognitive edge components in vehicles and infrastructures. That way, these solutions will be able to respond very quickly to the given situation, plan proactively and take actions that are coordinated with the components in the immediate surroundings.

Fraunhofer also develops speech-driven dialog systems with a special focus on domain-specific knowledge for application in various fields of business and industry. Using and combining state-of-the-art components for speech recognition, question/answering via knowledge graphs and speech synthesis, our technologies in particular address the concrete challenges and needs of industries, enterprises and B2B applications. Moreover, these technologies “made in Germany” ensure technological sovereignty, data can be stored and processed within secure data spaces and the methods of “informed machine learning” make sure that the systems can even be trained on small data sets.

Trustworthy electronics are also in our focus. They will become a key component especially for the implementation of products and solutions using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Integrity can only be achieved if all parts of these systems - especially the electronic hardware (CPUs, SoCs, sensors, memory) as the basis of all software components based on them - are trustworthy. Backdoors and Trojans must be excluded. However, owing to the strong internationalisation of various steps in electronics development, it is now difficult to guarantee this trustworthiness. Moreover, German and European companies today have hardly any alternatives to using electronic components from untrustworthy international sources if they want to defend or expand their world market leadership with innovative, digitised, AI-based products. Within the cluster CCIT activities have been started to support a new Fraunhofer initiative that aims to build Trusted Electronics Platforms (TrEP).

The ability to share real-time information from various sources in a controlled, i.e. data sovereign, and secure manner is a prerequisite for new business models and sustainable new value chains. Connected systems across company boundaries with cognitive capabilities and highly secure shared data spaces are key to maintain leading global market positions and to benefit from digitisation and global connectivity. United research disciplines, as displayed in the contributions of this journal, are correspondingly essential for the future.

Claudia Eckert, Director of the Cognitive Internet Technologies CCIT cluster of excellence and Head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC.


Next issue: July 2023
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