ProLOEWE faces

Professor Matthias Hollick Researcher for the future of our digital society

© @faridehfotografie

You have been conducting research on resilient cities as part of LOEWE emergenCITY since January 2020. As the centre scientific coordinator, what can you tell us about the project and its research focus?

LOEWE emergenCITY investigates how to conceive a resilient digital society, and we are particularly focusing on digital cities. We are on our way towards digitality, i.e., the firm integration of digitalization in all areas of life. However, we need to do a better job of shaping the digital transformation, because it harbors a number of risks if it is poorly executed. 

This is where the concept of resilience comes in as an indispensable characteristic for digitality. How do we define resilience in this context? 

Resilience refers to the ability of a system to absorb crises and shocks, to recover from them in a timely and sustainable manner, to enable emergency operation through adaptation and transformation, or to develop new types of functionality. In the process of coping with the crisis, resilient systems learn from the experience gained and continue to adapt and develop. As one example, resilient communication systems could have maintained communication channels for the public during the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley, thus saving lives.

Our research in emergenCITY aims to ensure that our cities and their inhabitants can deal with any imaginable and unimaginable crisis in the best possible way. If we succeed in designing and implementing resilient information and communication systems, this will be the basis for resilient digital cities in a free society. To this end, we are working in an interdisciplinary manner and cooperate closely with the population from the very beginning.

 Digitization is taking on a bigger role than ever before. How well positioned are we in Germany (Europe) in this regard, and what do we urgently need to catch up on in the next 10 years?

At the moment, we have unfortunately become comfortable in the international midfield when it comes to digitization. In my opinion, we have the excellent experts we need to be at the top. My team and I place a lot of emphasis on research-oriented teaching, and I am always thrilled when I see innovative solutions from our students solving the most difficult challenges. At TU Darmstadt, we produce some of the best young researchers internationally in computer science. But subsequently, we as a society are not sufficiently successful in channeling this knowledge into innovative products, start-up companies, etc. I would wish for a more innovation friendly society. In this respect, I see the state as a regulator that must shape the framework conditions in such a way that innovations succeed more easily.

You have been working as a scientist for many years: Can you remember what was decisive for you in choosing this profession?

The third law of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke is: „Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.“* From an early age, I was curious and wanted to get to the bottom of things. Even more so, if their function was not 
apparent to me and thus seemed „magical“. This curiosity led me to study engineering and subsequently science seemed to me the best place to spend a lifetime doing research. STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are such an exciting and important field that we should integrate them much earlier and more intensively into education. I would like to see a scientist in residence at every school, conducting „crazy“ experiments together with the children and thus laying the foundation for lifelong curiosity and creativity.

What makes basic research (always) exciting for you personally and why is it so important for our society?

Computer science is at the heart of the next great transformation of society. If we look at the past, we have evolved in the engineering sciences from steam engines to electrification and automation to digitization and „softwarization“. I find it particularly exciting that my research topic lies at the heart of many scientific and societal grand challenges. It allows me to point out many new possibilities for shaping the future.

The LOEWE research funding program of the state of Hesse has tremendous impact, and scientists in other German states wish for similar programs. What makes it special in your view?

Over the past 15 years, LOEWE has managed to promote the research strengths of Hessen‘s universities in a very targeted way. In other federal states, funding programs are sometimes designed for only one legislative period. In contrast, LOEWE is characterized by a continuity and reliability that is incredibly important for basic research and research as a whole. It is a good sign that our state government has recognized the importance of excellent and, above all, free research and is not constantly calling it into question.

You are a scientist by vocation, which is very nice, but at the same time it means that you can never let go of your work: What do you do to compensate?

If you don‘t create space for yourself, your creativity suffers. For me, my family is a wonderful balance to work. Both areas of life are equally intense and demand strength, but they also inspire every day and – most importantly – both are very positive for me because they help moving the world forward. Seeing that I, as a father, doctoral supervisor or university lecturer, am making an important contribution to the development of the personalities of the next generation makes me proud and constantly pushes me forward. My family has always supported me, for which I am very grateful, and I try equally to promote a work-life balance in my team.

* In 1962, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke defined three laws in his book „Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible“ of which the third law is the best known and most frequently quoted: „Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”               

About the Person

Matthias Hollick is a full professor at TU Darmstadt. He is heading the Secure Mobile Networking Lab (SEEMOO) in the Department of Computer Science since 2009, and acts as the scientific coordinator of the LOEWE Resaerch Centre emergenCITY.

Published in ProLOEWE NEWS

ProLOEWE-NEWS anniversary issue


ProLOEWE is celebrating its 10th birthday with a big anniversary issue of ProLOEWE-NEWS. In it you will find reports from current and former LOEWE centres and focal points, the topics range from AI and building with paper to ecological agriculture, climate knowledge from the past and the future of mobility. We are especially pleased with the numerous congratulations that "open" this special issue!

ProLOEWE faces

In ProLOEWE-faces Matthias Hollick gives insights into his work. In the second part of the issue you will find an overview of the LOEWE projects funded since the start of the programme.