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In Full Sail

On the pulse of digitalization: The Digital Society Initiative is UZH’s center of competence for digital change. UZH Journal introduces the team behind it.

By Stefan Stöcklin; English translation by Caitlin Stephens

The University of Zurich’s Digital Society Initiative (DSI) has quickly become a well-known and integral part of university structures – thanks to the hard work of the team behind it: The managing office is the powerhouse organizing the initiative’s multiple activities and driving it forwards, together with the Board of Directors. “I like to compare us to a start-up,” says Sarah Lechmann, co-director of the DSI. “Since our launch in 2016, we have done a lot of necessary groundwork – now the ship is in full sail.”

The DSI network has grown to include over 300 UZH researchers, and upwards of 30 professors are set to be appointed in the near future. Various events and formats are used to highlight current issues in the area of digitalization. The main task of the managing office is supporting researchers to implement their projects. “We help with research proposals, applications for seed funding, and event organization,” says Lechmann. As a comprehensive university, UZH can apply its wealth of experience in tackling societal issues to the topic of digitalization. In addition to technical and scientific topics, the DSI projects primarily deal with political, ethical, legal and general societal issues, for example concerning the responsibility of technical systems, which are increasingly able to make autonomous decisions. The focus for 2019 is “Digital Democracy”. Researchers will present their current findings and understanding of the topic in the public Ringvorlesung lecture series in the Fall Semester – which will take place at the same time as the national parliamentary elections. The general emphasis is always placed on topical relevance and public outreach, for example through the UZH Digital Forum, which in 2019 is focusing on the issues raised by artificial intelligence. In addition to public events, various internal forums and events serve to maintain the network, which is growing continuously. There is no doubt about it: The Digital Society Initiative is evolving rapidly – as is digitalization itself.