"Future is a good Word” - Dr. Edeltraud Leibrock, Alumna of Fraunhofer IFU
She loves opera, mountains and a range of sports, and this physicist has been helping businesses with her IT expertise ever since she was 16 years old. It all started with a holiday job working on programs for capturing production data and analyzing cement at a lime manufacturing plant near Regensburg. For her doctoral dissertation, the triathlete swapped Regensburg for the Alps, so that she could perform atmospheric research work at the Fraunhofer IFU in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After that, she was appointed to the executive board of KfW Bankengruppe as CIO, where she was responsible for IT. But as a Fraunhofer alumna – and now also the 1,000th member of the Association of Fraunhofer Alumni – it is only natural for her to ask - #WHATSNEXT. Since 2016, as partner and managing director of Connected Innovations, a digital and KI consulting firms co-founded by her, she advises enterprises across all sectors on the complex issues concerning digital transformation. And she has launched "Der Utopische Salon", to discuss social impacts of digitization, artificial intelligence and globalization. She also sits on the supervisory and advisory boards of two fin-techs, Accelerest und Loanboox as well as Suntrace, a company that is introducing solar power to developing countries. Despite all of these responsibilities, she is still finding the time to network at the 2019 Alumni Summit in Berlin.
Ms. Leibrock, IT runs like a thread through your enthralling biography – but the mountains repeatedly come to the fore. Is there a peak you could describe as your favorite?
Yes, of course. And in an Alpine context it's an extremely unspectacular one. At 1,452 meters high, the Great Rachel in the Bavarian Forest National Park is more like a mountain for taking walks on. But it has a quite special significance to me. As a child, I frequently went hiking with my dad, and standing there on the Great Rachel we'd often look across the Iron Curtain towards Czechoslovakia. "How this clearing appeared over there, and look there’s a house – did someone live there?"; these were some of the things I wondered about at the time, and I thought I'd never find out the answers. Even the binocular we always had close to hand didn't help much. And then a miracle took place. The border was opened up and we simply hiked over there, just like that. Unbelievable! So much has changed since then. But the traces of forest die-back and the bark beetle are still very evident. The deep, green mysterious forest of my childhood no longer exists, but it's being succeeded by new, vital and varied types of flora. A line by the group Passenger invariably springs to mind: "Don’t cry for the lost, smile for the living …" – and the kobolds have definitely survived, of course!
The National Park administration has left the forest to its own devices since the 1990s, accepting that thousands of trees would die – they were disrupted as it’s called today. The fact that new life repeatedly emerges between the tree stumps, creates a nice image for a landscape of innovation, but is there really enough new growth taking place in Germany?
I think that we are actually much better than we always tend to believe. We have a huge amount of innovative strength, great ideas, expertise and implementational skills. But we have become a little too fearful. "Future" was once a good word – and, also today it is not yet the scarce resource that we would sometimes deem it to be. So, we shouldn't worry so much about what could possibly go wrong, but instead help build the future of mankind with verve, enjoyment and optimism. Of course, there's always a risk in this, but anyone who merely wants to conserve what has already been achieved - as impressive as it may be – is bound to fall behind. Progress simply doesn't work like this. What does worry me is that here is Germany, the land of startups and engineering, there is an increasingly broad skepticism about technology spreading among us, often without any real basis in fact. It is indeed true that worldwide, we are confronted with great challenges, such as climate change or the question of society models in a digital and AI-controlled world. The world's need for energy will continue to grow, and there's no stopping artificial intelligence. These are just two examples, but they show that we need sound technical solutions and there's nothing to be gained from sticking our heads in the sand. If we here in Germany and Europe want to continue to assume a leading role, then we have to accept and shape this stewardship. I am proud to be part of the Fraunhofer Community, because Fraunhofer is doing exactly that, using innovation and cutting-edge technology to move forward. This is something that attracts fantastic young people and is also appealing to the best scientists from all over the world – a true locational advantage. We have a great deal more to offer than simply becoming the world's most picturesque industrial museum!