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Life Engineering - The book

Will Machine Intelligence Help or Hurt?

Humanity is facing the greatest change in its history, a leap in socio-technical evolution. That, at least, is the view that scientists from many disciplines and above all the media convey to us. They stir up hopes and fears. Medical professionals promise an increasing understanding of diseases such as cancer and tools to cure them. Logisticians dream of efficient passenger transport and goods flows with autonomous vehicles. Political parties want to disseminate and enforce their goals via digital media. And consumers expect ever new and improved offers of services and products such as a smartwatch with reliable measurement of heart frequency or stress level.

Such utopias are met with even greater numbers of dystopias. Robots become job killers; electronic communication displaces personal human communication; digital services relieve us not only of much work but also of much autonomy and lead to a surveillance state; digitalization widens the gap between population groups; and technology displaces the human element, i.e. humanism.

In recent years, numerous initiatives on the part of private and governmental organizations have begun to permeate the changes brought about by digitalization and to formulate ethical guidelines motivated by goals such as "digitalization for a better world" or "artificial intelligence for the benefit of people".

Life Engineering: Machine Intelligence and Quality of Life
Verlag Springer 2020,

ISBN-10: 3030314812, ISBN-13: 978-3030314811



Henning Kagermann, former CEO of SAP AG

This book is an extremely realistic review of technological trends and their consequences for people's quality of life. The questions raised and the attempts at rational answers contradict many of the views widely accepted today, especially on human autonomy. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the challenges facing the individual, business, politics and civil society are ones we must face

Prof. Thomas Hess,Director of the Institute for Information Systems and New Media at LMU

Machine intelligence is a challenge for people, companies and politics. The book provides a thorough analysis of technological trends and their opportunities and threats to the quality of life. Based on the maxim of Homo Digitalis' happiness, Österle formulates sometimes extremely provocative questions such as the value of privacy. It is precisely such questions and the answers that deviate from the mainstream on the basis of comprehensible considerations that make it mandatory reading.

Andreas Goeldi, Partner at btov Partners

If you want to think more deeply about what machine intelligence (aka AI) really means for humanity, you should read this book. Hubert Oesterle takes an amazingly broad and multi-disciplinary look at all relevant aspects, from the roots of human behavior to the impact advanced digital assistants might have on our daily lives (and who will control these assistants). Highly recommended!

Contributation to the discussion by Dr. Kurt Weigelt

I read "Life Engineering" with great interest. Especially enlightening for me are the remarks on life assistance and machine intelligence in the year 2030. I don't know anything comparable. Also noteworthy are the considerations on quality of life, especially the distinction between Hedonia and Eudaimonia. I also believe that the willingness to rethink the values of a bourgeois society such as privacy or autonomy is crucial.


What needs to be discussed, in my view, is the thesis that there is not only a right, but in many cases a duty, to influence people. For me, this is not about the tension between individual vs. expert knowledge. Rather, I dare to doubt whether there is even something like a good to be defined for all people in a next society. Personally, together with Dirk Baecker, I tend to think that in a next society driven by digitization, one dreams in vain of a general, of the reason of the Enlightenment, the course of history, the laws of nature or the meaning of life, to which everything else can be assigned for evaluation. I too recognize the risks of capitalist or communist control of consumption outlined in "Life Engineering".


Alternatively, however, I do not see the control by superordinate instances committed to quality of life, but rather a society that dissolves into countless subsystems that function in relation to one another as mere neighbors. The individual subsystems are held together by the attitudes, visions and values of the actors in the subsystem. I trust that every power is challenged by a counter-power. Digital media make not only the power of the big Internet corporations or social scoring in China possible, but also new forms of social movement. Regardless of the vision, the question remains which social and political forces are driving the transformation of society. Hubert Österle rightly states that the mechanization of the world urgently requires new concepts for steering the economy and society for the benefit of people. It is possible, however, that not only the concepts for steering society, but also the "concept of steering" must be reconsidered. Exciting questions.