Körber-Prize 2019

The computers in the server room of the MPI for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen provide the power to run the AI software, which is often very CPU intensive.


Although almost everyone has daily contact with it, about half of the Germans do not know what is meant by the concept artificial intelligence. »AI is at play when the smartphone automatically groups the stored photos according to faces and topics such as vacation or translates texts from one language into another,« Schölkopf explains. Digital language assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana that respond intelligently to spoken language also utilize AI algorithms.

AI is currently experiencing a worldwide boom, not the least because of its strongly growing economic sig­nif­icance. The USA and China are investing billions in this technology, which will fundamentally change work­ing life. Intelligent robots moved into factories, such as in the automobile industry, on a large scale even before the turn of the century. In the future, intelligent systems will increasingly perform routine tasks in offices.

Bernhard Schölkopf, 51, is a pioneer in this ›third industrial revolution‹, as he refers to it. »The first was based on energy stemming from water power and steam, and the second on energy from electrification. The third and present one replaces energy with the concept of information.«


There are many different approaches for intelligent computer systems. As early as in the 1950s US scientists were conducting research on AI. They simulated the thought processes of human experts in what were called expert systems, which were fed if–then rules. From the stored rules »If it rains, the street is slick« and »If the street is slick, it is easy for cars to skid,« the expert systems were able to derive independently »If it rains, it is easy for cars to skid.« This was, of course, a purely formally logical act of computerized data processing. The systems did not have any idea what a street or a car is. Nonetheless, the development was accompanied by an enormous amount of hype. The AI legend Marvin Minsky from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology asserted at the time: »We humans will be lucky if intelligent robots still keep us as their pets in 50 years.« Little was left of all this half a century later. Nonetheless, AI researchers did develop the first high-level programming languages for computers (e.g., Lisp), which are easier for programmers to understand than pure machine code consisting of zeroes and ones, thus laying the foundation for the field of information science.