Körber-Prize 2019
20/24

Professor Dr. 
Bernhard Schölkopf

Bernhard Schölkopf, 51, grew up in Filderstadt, a city near Stuttgart. His father was a master mason and later a build­ing contractor, and his mother a housewife. Friends of his parents would call the rather reticent boy ›the little professor.‹ It was already as a schoolboy that Schölkopf discovered his love of numbers. After graduating from school (Abitur) in 1987, he studied physics, mathematics, and philosophy in Tübingen and London. He was awarded a Ph.D. in computer science by the TU Berlin in 1997. 

Formative for Schölkopf’s career was a stipend he received from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation, which enabled him to go to the Bell Labs in the USA. There, he helped his later doctoral supervisor Vladimir Vapnik devel­op what are referred to as support vector machines to the point that they were ready for use. After receiving his Ph.D. Schölkopf worked at Microsoft Research in Cambridge in Great Britain. That is where he met his later wife, a Spanish illustrator, with whom he has three children. She has published an illustrated book based on one of his ideas, namely about a boy who rides a comet and scatters shooting stars on our planet.

Following a period at the New York startup Biowulf, Schölkopf was appointed Director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen in 2001. In 2011 he was one of the founding directors of the Tübingen MPI for Intelligent Systems. His strongly mathematically orient­ed studies on the topic of machine learning have earned Schölkopf world renown. He is the German researcher who is most frequently cited in scientific publications on this topic and has been counted among the ten most important computer scientists in the world. Schölkopf has already been awarded numerous prestigious prizes, such as the Leibniz Prize in 2018.

Furthermore, Schölkopf is a strong promoter of enhancing Germany’s position as a location for artificial intelligence (AI). He is a cofounder of the AI hotspot ›Cyber Valley‹ in the Stuttgart–Tübingen region, where in the meantime research centers have also been established by large American IT companies. In the planned ELLIS program (short for the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems), he wants to improve the networking between leading European locations. Schölkopf’s hobbies include music; he plays piano and sings in a choir. His favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach.