FORSCHUNG LEBEN – the Magazine of the University of Stuttgart

Designing the new

A unique ecosystem for artificial intelligence is emerging in Baden-Württemberg

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the driver for drastic changes. Its potential is enormous and competition for the commercialization of innovative applications has already begun. In addition to financial support and targeted research, ethical issues and the involvement of society as a whole are of great importance. In his guest article for FORSCHUNG LEBEN Winfried Kretschmann, Minister President of Baden-Württemberg, explains how Baden-Württemberg can succeed in establishing itself as a leading digital region.

Winfried Kretschmann (c) Ministry of the State of Baden-Württemberg
Minister President of the State of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann

Certain inventions and radical innovations such as printing, the steam engine and electricity have shaped entire epochs. In this context, economists speak of basic technologies that gradually penetrate all areas of life and fundamentally change the direction of economic, social and political development. The most important basic technology of our time is artificial intelligence (AI). Its field is digitization. Its food is data.

Even though the foundations of AI were laid long ago, its “childhood phase” has only just begun; a childhood in which machines are learning to see, speak and read. We have to distinguish between two phases: an initial growth spurt when increasingly powerful chips and memories made it possible to analyze and evaluate huge amounts of data (“old AI”). And a second phase in which AI is developing from a data assembly line worker to a dynamic problem solver that experiments for itself, generates data and learns (“new AI”).

It is crucial for our future to focus fully on the new AI, on machine learning and deep neural networks. Its potential is far greater than that of the old AI and its influence will soon be felt everywhere, especially in the industries that shape Baden-Württemberg, the “three Ms”: mobility, mechanical engineering, medicine. This is not just about increasing productivity, but about a new way of thinking, new business models and restructured markets. We in Baden-Württemberg want to exploit the opportunities offered by this development and minimize its risks.

On the way to becoming a digital lead region

The state government is investing around one billion euro during the current legislative period to achieve this goal. We want to become a digital lead region, for example to detect diseases even earlier and to combat them more specifically, to invent a completely new, more intelligent form of mobility and to protect our natural resources more effectively.

The universities play a decisive role in this context as drivers of innovation, users and critical promoters of digitization and artificial intelligence and also as an investor in our country's most important resource: people's minds.

The foundations of the new AI were laid primarily in Europe. Pattern recognition, the all-purpose computer and deep learning are European inventions. The notion that we have been left behind in this development is a marketing fairy tale. It is true that we are facing tough international competition and that the USA and China, in particular, are devoting considerable resources to advance the commercialization of innovative applications. We will only be able to maintain our economic clout in the future if we keep up with them, and we will only be able to have a say in the ethical standards that will apply in the future by taking the lead. This is why the state government has developed an interdepartmental strategy for artificial intelligence. We want to exploit Baden-Württemberg's strengths: a strong economy, excellent science and good connections and communications between these two areas. On this basis, we want to develop a unique ecosystem for Artificial Intelligence.

One central concern in this context is also to involve ordinary people in shaping digital change and to reflect upon the ethical aspects of the digital transition. For the same reason, we are advancing transdisciplinary collaboration between the humanities and social sciences as well as the technical sciences, and in July 2018 we launched the “Society in Digital Transition” research network. This is about ethical orientation, changes in the world of work and questions of sustainable development. It is not just about going faster, higher, further, but also about the conscious handling of AI with regard to its consequences for humans and nature.

Visit to the Cyber Valley: Minister President Winfried Kretschmann and the Austrian Federal President Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen (r.) with robot Apollo, which was developed at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. (c) Ministry of State Baden-Württemberg
Visit to the Cyber Valley: Minister President Winfried Kretschmann and the Austrian Federal President Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen (r.) with robot Apollo, which was developed at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

Cyber Valley as a magnet for early career researchers

At the same time, we are in the process of establishing AI research in Baden-Württemberg at the highest level and offering top talents from all over the world a home here. Only a location of this type will be attractive enough to inspire researchers and business enterprises and to bind them for the long term, which is why we founded the “Cyber Valley” in 2016 together with the Max Planck Society, the universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen and strong companies.

It has already become a beacon of the scientific landscape of our country and belongs to the top 10 centers worldwide for machine learning as well as being a magnet for leading scientists, for young people from all over the world who want to do research here or try their hand as creative entrepreneurs.

Other activities have been added, such as the establishment of endowed chairs and large third-party funded projects such as the Clusters of Excellence “Data Integrated Simulation Sciences” and “Machine Learning - New Perspectives for Science” at the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen and the “Machine Learning” Competence Center at the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems Tübingen/Stuttgart. According to the plans of the federal government, the Competence Centre is to become a component of the German AI network - and thus probably also part of a Franco-German AI network.

Networking European research

Other activities have been added, such as the establishment of endowed chairs and large third-party funded projects such as the Clusters of Excellence “Data Integrated Simulation Sciences” and “Machine We have already taken the first steps and our investments are beginning to bear fruit. Nevertheless, we still have a lot of work to do. The federal and state governments must develop a common strategy and coordinate it at the European level to join forces. Countries such as Canada with its three AI centers (including the Vector Institute) are demonstrating that we can achieve a tremendous amount in a very short time as long as everyone pulls in the same direction. The state government is making an important contribution to this and is supporting this development with considerable funds. We want the Cyber Valley to grow rapidly, become more structured and create links to the first-rate AI being carried out in other places within the state such as Karlsruhe and Freiburg. We also want to make the Cyber Valley an important element of a networked European AI research environment. Only if we concentrate our forces throughout Europe will be able to form a counterweight to the USA and China.

We therefore welcome the European Union’s AI strategy and support the ELLIS initiative of leading European AI researchers to establish a European AI Institute modelled on the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). We need a common approach and the courage to think bigger! We also welcome the German government’s idea of building application hubs. There are numerous strong institutions throughout the country that can provide a long-term impetus for application with new knowledge, for example in the fields of medicine and cyber security.

But public funding cannot solve everything. We also need a rethink in business, society and politics. We have played a decisive role in shaping the end of the industrial era, but we must not rest on our laurels. Instead, our goal must be to play a decisive role in shaping the digital era that is just beginning, and to develop new visions for the world of data. A seat of learning such the University of Stuttgart is an excellent partner for this.

Best regards,
Winfried Kretschmann
Minister President of the State of Baden-Württemberg

Winfried Kretschmann trained as a teacher of biology and chemistry in Hohenheim and also taught in Stuttgart. He has been politically active since his university studies and co-founded the party “Die Grünen” in Baden-Württemberg. Starting as a keynote speaker in the Green Ministry of the Environment, Kretschmann was parliamentary party leader of his party from 2002 to 2011. He has been Minister President of Baden-Württemberg since the 12th of May 2011.

Andrea Mayer-Grenu

Andrea Mayer-Grenu

Scientific Consultant, Research Publications

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