Nucleus of artificial intelligence in Europe

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Thmoas Hofmann.

Thmoas Hofmann.

The Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems has established itself as an address for AI research and the promotion of young scientists. "We answer pressing questions that arise today," says its co-director Thomas Hoffmann.

In the field of artificial intelligence, ETH Zurich and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) have been working closely together for five years. This spring they agreed to continue their research partnership, the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems, for further five years until 2025. The CLS was founded in 2015 in a joint effort to work together on the cross-disciplinary research questions regarding the design and analysis of natural and man-made learning systems. The cooperation spans all levels, from leading experts at the senior scientist level to junior scientists.

In an interview in the " Spotlight Stories " of the ETH Department of Computer Science, Thomas Hofmann, Co-Director of the Center, takes stock, looks to the future and explains why the topic of artificial intelligence requires thinking beyond national borders.

Promoting talent and practice-oriented research

"The CLS gives us the opportunity to attract international talents," says Hofmann. The exchange of personnel is also very valuable. At the heart of CLS is its doctoral training program. According to a CLS news release of May 2020, 24 young researchers are following this route, with another six joining soon following the 2020 selection.

As Hofmann explains, the Center is pursuing a wide range of research questions. "Numerous publications have already been produced in areas ranging from robotics and computer vision to causality and theoretical fundamental research." At the same time, the theoretical questions are very relevant to practice, says Hofmann: "Our fundamental research does not only bring benefits in the distant future - we answer pressing questions that arise today."

The future in Europe

With regard to the future of the CLS, Hofmann sees the CLS as one of the nucleus of a European network of AI researchers. "Research institutes in Europe must become organised and join forces," he says, "if European countries do not think beyond their borders, they will have little success." One such network is ELLIS, which is connecting outstanding AI research across Europe and in which CLS members participate.

Looking ahead, CLS will deepen the academic exchange. For example, senior scientists from the MPI-IS have been appointed as Affiliated Professors at ETH. Starting 1 June 2020, Metin Sitti, a Director at the MPI-IS in Stuttgart, has been appointed an affiliated professor of Physical Intelligence at ETH Zurich. Sitti is also deputy co-director of the Center for Learning Systems. Currently, 51 members and associated members are engaged at CLS: 35 professors from ETH Zurich and 16 directors and group leaders from the MPI-IS.

Florian Meyer