Körber-Prize 2019

Image: The humanoid robot Athena—a unique model—weighs 75 kilograms and is used to research dynamic running movements.


Until now Europe has lagged behind because large IT companies and elite universities, especially from the USA, have consistently attracted the most talented. Google is currently financing over 250 research projects in the area of deep learning. Most strongly affected by this are our public research institutions. Schölkopf: »Many of our prospective Ph.D.s have offers from American companies or elite universities. That is where professors from Europe are working who have become superstars and successful entrepreneurs in the USA. And young scientists want to learn where the best are doing research.« It is therefore decisive to strengthen local hotspots in Europe—such as Germany’s new Cyber Valley—and to keep the stars of ­tomorrow in Europe or to get them to come back. Fortunately, the Max Planck Society invested in the future of AI at an early point in time and founded the MPI for Intelligent Systems in 2011, which in the meantime has gained global recognition.

In the framework of the planned ELLIS program (European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems) Schölkopf wants »to improve the networking between leading European locations, start joint programs, and educate Ph.D. candidates. Young top scientists should not have to go to the USA to work at the highest level.« Schölkopf wants to employ some of the funds from the Körber Prize in the new field of causal inference and for workshops to promote the ELLIS project.

Schölkopf does however see the downsides posed by AI. Some scientists work on intelligent fighting machines that in a war could kill humans autonomously. Schölkopf rejects these military applications of AI energetically and, together with many other AI and robotics researchers, organizes the protest against them. 

Schölkopf does think, however, that the widespread anxiety of many people toward AI is exaggerated. »The systems only function in thematically very narrowly specialized areas. Even deep learning networks are quite simple structures compared to our brain.« His colleague Wolfgang Wahlster, founding director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, agrees with him: »AI is still light years away from ordinary human intelligence. It can acquire common sense only to an extremely limited degree.«