So far we’ve looked at how German language skills can unlock the past and present. Using our linguistic keyring, we’ve opened all sorts of doors and portals. But now it’s time to turn our attention away from those ancient-looking brass keys, along with the shiny, modern ones, and take out those strange electronic devices that chirp and glow. It’s time to gaze into the future and enter the unknown.
You could say that just like the past, the future doesn’t actually exist. It’s all in our minds. But to get a glimpse of what the future might have in store for us, we can look at today’s trends and cutting-edge technology.
Before doing that though, let’s take a quick look back at the rich history of science, technology and computing in the DACH region—Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Austria has a habit of producing ‘outside the box’ creators—the artist Gustav Klimt comes to mind. But it’s not just in the arena of arts that creative Austrians have had an impact. In the 18th century, Wolfgang von Kempelen created ‘the Turk,’ an ingenious contraption that gave the impression that a seated robot was playing chess. The Austrian’s machine allowed a human chess player to hide inside a desk, behind which the robot sat. The human operator controlled the Turk’s mechanical arm giving the appearance that the robotic figure was making all the moves. With eyes that looked up and down and a giant smoking pipe, the Ottoman automaton (try saying that three times quickly) probably felt like a real opponent. The Turk is known to have defeated both Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin, two famous figures who would have been bemused, if not frustrated by the whole experience. While the machine was essentially a hoax, it helped inspire modern computing, particularly by setting scientists the challenge of creating a real computer chess player.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that computers could play a full game of chess. They relied on transistors and semiconductors, both of which owed their development to the German scientist Albert Einstein (Germany and Switzerland can share him, along with the United States). Einstein’s annus mirabilis — miraculous year— of 1905, saw him produce four game-changing scientific papers, one of which impacted the entire direction of computing. That year is also notable for the birth of Konrad Zuse, who would go on to build the world’s first programmable digital computer, the Z3, in 1941. No matter what device you’re reading this on, you can trace it back to the Z3, whose memory was no more than 22 bits!
It’s clear that the DACH region has a rich history when it comes to science and technology. Its role in computer science has been profound. So it’s no surprise that German-speaking countries are helping to shape our future. Although English is widely used among the experts and companies at the forefront of emerging technology, German language skills will give you the inside edge if you want to understand their perspectives on where we’re headed or better yet – get involved with their work.
Now, let’s take out one of our futuristic keys and explore one notable area of DACH innovation.
Unlocking Crypto Valley
Switzerland is famous for finance. The home of banking secrecy and host to a mind-boggling array of financial institutions, its largest city, Zürich sits alongside London and Frankfurt as one of Europe’s three financial hubs. A clear beneficiary of the economic status quo, the Swiss banking establishment may have viewed recent technological attempts to disrupt international finance with some suspicion. However, Switzerland has embraced blockchain technology and dubbed the small city of Zug Crypto Valley.
For the past ten years, cryptocurrencies, crypto tokens and well, anything linked to blockchain has been viewed by the financial establishment as ‘outside the tent’ and potentially threatening. Often depicted in the traditional media as a tool for criminals and other shady characters, crypto has not exactly been embraced by traditional banks and other long-standing financial institutions. However, in recent years, cooperation and cross-pollination between established financial institutions and blockchain startups has led to a new climate of understanding based on mutual interests. This is certainly true in Switzerland, which wants to capitalise on its leading position as a financial centre and attract, nurture and ultimately, benefit from establishing itself as a leading player in a blockchain-mediated world of finance.
Zug hosts the ‘Crypto Valley Conference,’ which before the pandemic attracted over 1,200 experts, developers, business owners and other attendees. While Crypto Valley is a hive of blockchain technology development year-round, this event allows participants in the blockchain ‘revolution’ to get together to compare notes, come up with new ideas and discuss how to advance this technology further. Switzerland’s key selling point to the global crypto community is its ability to provide ‘accreditation,’ legitimising startups that might previously have been painted as upstarts, pirates or outlaws in the eyes of the financial establishment. This signals the possibility that Switzerland and its partners could be engineering a set of financial regulations that would allow blockchain technology to fit existing regulations and go mainstream, changing the way people make transactions and power their businesses all over the world. In other words, a very big change to all our lives!
While most participants ‘in the crypto space’ will be happy to communicate in English, we can expect a great deal of German to be spoken within the relevant institutions themselves. Many of the leading German-speaking crypto players give German-language interviews, which are not accessible to those who don’t speak Deutsch. Who knows what valuable nuggets of information are hidden from those who don’t possess a German linguistic keyring?
Anyone who wants to play a role in the up-and-coming hybrid world of traditional and blockchain-enabled finance will strengthen their position by taking part in the informal conversations and meetings taking place in Crypto Valley. A good knowledge of German will certainly come in handy in developing relationships and building networks in Switzerland.
Crypto Valley is just one example of emerging technology being developed in the DACH region. KI (otherwise known as artificial intelligence) research is breaking new ground all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland. While English will take you far in DACH technology circles, using that linguistic keyring will help you go the extra distance. This could make all the difference to your life, both now and in the future.