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06.05.21

"Digitalisation also means changing ways of thinking".

Interview with Sylvain Girard, D&I Director at Hager Group and Manuel Abendroth of the artists collective LAb[au].

From June 3rd to 13th a very special piece will be on show at the L’Industrie Magnifique art event in Strasbourg (France). “yes, no:perhaps”, a digital artwork commissioned by Hager Group has been especially created for this show and will be on permanent display in Blieskastel (Germany) at Hager Group’s headquarters once the event closes its doors.

Before the opening, we spoke to Manuel Abendroth of the Brussels artists collective LAb[au] and to D&I Director Sylvain Girard about the influence of the digital on industry and art and about the place that chance and AI have in both areas.

Hager Group: To what extent does your creation "yes, no:perhaps" reflect the path of the company from classic switching and protection devices to digitalisation?

Manuel Abendroth: When you think of switches and fuses, such as are manufactured under the umbrella of Hager Group, there are always the classic, binary states "on" or "off" represented by 1 and 0. That is the essence of a switch and originated the first calculation machines such as the Zuse Computer. Interestingly, and thanks to digital technology, we reach another level with our piece that goes beyond this "on" and "off" state: letters are being randomly generated that are then combined into words and sentences by Artificial Intelligence or AI.

Sylvain Girard: When we met LAb[au] and they explained the idea behind the art piece to us, we understood the concept to fit perfectly with Hager Group's ambitions and what we believe in when it comes to IT and digitalisation. The piece symbolises the expansion of our business from manufacturer of electrical infrastructures to provider of energy management and storage solutions. In addition to our traditional activities, we are getting more digital on the customer´s side, too. Hager Group offers new customer-centric journeys, including 2D-3D configurators, for instance. This is linked to advancing digitalisation, artificial intelligence and the growing use of software and data. It implies a form of novelty and consequently a form of the unknown – which perfectly matches LAb[au]`s “Perhaps” versus “Yes, No”. Regardless of this ambivalence, we are of course very confident in our ability to succeed in this new Energy Management territory.

Hager Group: The exhibit shows the creativity involved in dealing with chance. But where does the transition to Artificial intelligence begin?

Manuel Abendroth: In our exhibit, we combine both - chance and AI. The piece consists of two large mirrors. The technology hidden inside generates letters, words and entire sentences. While the first mirror generates the letters randomly, the second uses Artificial Intelligence to form words, combine them into sentences and display them. The results are therefore influenced by chance. Sometimes the technology even spits out terms that can be embarrassing for bystanders at that moment. These are moments of surprise that no one can foresee.

On the other hand, probability also plays a major role in digitalisation and computer science. There are not only the states "1" and "0", but also fuzzy ranges, approximate values. Ultimately, this is based on statistics. The solution is not "on" or "off" but less prescribed: rather one way or the other. After all, intelligence is nothing more than reacting flexibly to a new situation and challenge. What interests us is to see how logical processes not necessarily produce meaning. The gap which exists between ratio and meaning is a very fundamental and philosophical question which we place into an aesthetic and artistic context.

Sylvain Girard: I agree with that. In the context of business, AI is about using statistics to produce useful solutions. This applies to artificial vision or hearing for example: the algorithms are fed with a variety of pictures or words. They use this input to deduct the most likely word or object. This does not mean, however, that digital technology imitates human thinking and ways of solving problems. The goal is for AI to reach the same results as human intelligence, but by its own methods. And sometimes, these AI methods are not so clever.

Hager Group: Where can we see AI in digitalisation at Hager Group?

Sylvain Girard: We started to design our first AI systems a few years ago. At first for internal use such as in manufacturing process optimization around Industry 4.0 or Sales & Marketing. As of today, Hager Group has about 20 AI projects, and the list is growing. These systems aim at sparing our colleagues low-level, low-value tasks. We always design these systems in collaboration with our colleagues, which is very important. For our clients, some intelligent features closed to AI have already been embedded into our building design tools such as hagercad and also into our Energy Management solution Hager flow. We are looking at embedding AI into some of our physical products as well.

Hager Group: Evidentially, AI is on the rise. Does that mean that artificial intelligence will soon be on a par with humans?

Sylvain Girard: Not likely for at least another 30 years. We tend to put a lot of weight on intelligence, but to date AI remains a combination of algorithms with data running on a computer, which has strong limitations.

Manuel Abendroth: I doubt it. Machines can't invent problems, for example. They can work out solutions, but they can't ask a question like "Why do I exist?". Ultimately, humans must always tell machines what to do. I don't think a machine could invent our works of art and question the meaning of art, the meaning of being

Thank you Manuel and Sylvain for this interesting discussion. You can visit the installation at the “L’Industrie Magnififque” in Strasbourg from 3 to 13 June. Afterwards “yes:no, perhaps” will be installed in Blieskastel, at Hager Group’s headquarters.

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Hager Group continues to support Corporate Social Responsibility & renews its engagement to the United Nations’ Global Compact 


Hager Group makes Germany’s “Best Employer 2021” rankings

In February 2021, Germany’s Focus magazine published rankings of the best employers in the country. Hager Group was ranked fifth in the Electricity sector.


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In an interview, Dr. Ralph Fürderer talks about Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI) and learning companies.


21.06.21

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Hager Group continues to support Corporate Social Responsibility & renews its engagement to the United Nations’ Global Compact 

Hager Group makes Germany’s “Best Employer 2021” rankings

In February 2021, Germany’s Focus magazine published rankings of the best employers in the country. Hager Group was ranked fifth in the Electricity sector.

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