Using artificial intelligence for people with severe disabilities, improving opportunities for participation in the future working world, and humans themselves were the focal points of the launch event for the KI.ASSIST project, which took place on 20 May 2019 at the Kleisthaus, owned by the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS).
After a welcome address by Dr. Rolf Schmachtenberg (Secretary of State, BMAS), the audience of around a hundred interested parties were given an initial insight into the project by Dr. Susanne Bartel (BV BFW) and Susan Beudt (DFKI). They presented the central focus of the project: a people-centred perspective on the use and deployment of AI applications for occupational rehabilitation. Dr. Julia Borggräfe (head of the ‘Digitalisation and the Working World’ department, BMAS) then discussed the importance of a people-centred approach when designing AI. She also emphasised the potential value in this area of future active exchange between the KI.ASSIST project and her department, as well as special projects being undertaken by the BMAS think tank. Including people as a driving force for AI is both possible and necessary, Dagmar Greskamp of Aktion Mensch went on to stress. She also used some impressive examples to illustrate the opportunities that digitalisation offers for disabled people in the future working world. In the final keynote speech, Dr. Aljoscha Burchardt (DFKI and expert consultant to the German parliament’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ inquiry commission) talked about ethical and societal implications. The subsequent panel saw Ms. Greskamp and Dr. Burchardt discuss the macrosocial implications of digital change with Richard Fischels (BMAS) and Klaus Höckner (Austrian Aid Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted, European Commission High-Level Expert Group on AI). She emphasised the relevance of AI for occupational rehabilitation and the associated opportunities to shape the use of AI and make a vital contribution.
The KI.ASSIST project in April 2019 saw ambitious goals being set by the project partners, namely the interest groups for vocational training centres (BAG BBW), vocational development centres (BV BFW) and workshops for the disabled (BAG WfbM), in conjunction with the EdTec Lab at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). Over the next three years, there will be a scientific, practically oriented examination of how people with disabilities could sustainably benefit from the use of AI-based applications for work and training. Taking a clearly people-oriented approach, it will focus on areas such as self-determination, skills, acceptance and motivation in connection with the use of AI. Existing AI-based technologies and those currently in development will be analysed and evaluated based on their benefits for people with severe disabilities in occupational rehabilitation. The resulting findings will then be incorporated into learning and experimentation spaces across the country. The project will work together with disabled people, trainers and employers to explore the potential and limits of AI applications for improving opportunities for participation in the future working world. It will also examine the potential for transferring AI-based technologies into professional practice. The deployment and use of such technologies for occupational rehabilitation also raises questions of digital ethics and responsibility, data protection, data ownership, and legal and regulatory aspects. In order to examine these topics and to support digital transformation in terms of its infrastructure, staffing and organisation, recommendations for action will be developed to aid future design and change processes in occupational rehabilitation.
The KI.ASSIST project for severely disabled people in occupational rehabilitation will be financed until 2022 by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) using its compensation fund for cross-regional projects to help severely disabled people participate in working life. This project’s findings should offer impetus to the work of the German parliament’s two inquiry commissions (‘Professional education in the digital working world’ and ‘Artificial intelligence’). The associated partners view the KI.ASSIST project as a key signal that in the future, new technological developments will take the needs of the disabled into account more effectively and help to improve their opportunities for participation in the working world.