German researchers have been working on artificial intelligence for more than three decades. Their dedication drives the technological development of AI and influences public discourse, funding decisions, and the direction of research. Here are some of the most prominent German AI researchers.
Whether in research, politics, the public or business, artificial intelligence is a topic everywhere in Germany, especially in view of technological progress and global competition. From a political and social perspective, AI is indispensable.
The term artificial intelligence was first institutionalized in 1988 with the founding of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). This pioneering institution launched AI research in Germany, with initial locations in Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken.
The DFKI is still an important German AI institution today. With the AI boom of recent years, however, many actors have established themselves in research and business institutions throughout the country. The most influential players among them play a major role in determining the discourse in this area.
Federal Ministry of Research supports DFKI
To strengthen Germany’s visibility and competitiveness regarding AI on the global stage, the Federal Government launched the National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI Strategy for short) in 2018.
Five billion euros will fund AI research projects and innovative developments up to 2025. The aim is to increase the focus on AI made in Germany. The strategy includes targeted funding for universities and centers of excellence, as well as for individual research projects.
Most of the funding flows through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which has been headed by Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) since 2021. Her ministry supports the aforementioned DFKI with several million euros per year. The DFKI now operates sites in several German cities with over 1,100 employees and works closely with politics and business in numerous committees.
One of DFKI’s founding directors is Wolfgang Wahlster, who also served as the institute’s director from 1997 until early 2019. Wahlster was a computer science professor at Saarland University for 36 years, specializing in cognitive assistance systems, among other things.
Today, he is one of the best-known AI researchers in Germany. Winner of numerous prizes and honorary doctorates, including the “German Future Prize” in 2001, Wahlster is now one of the most important intellectuals in Germany. According to him, “AI made in Germany” could develop into an export hit.
The current head of DFKI is Antonio Krüger, also a computer scientist at Saarland University with a focus on cognitive assistance systems. In 2018, Krüger was appointed by the CDU-CSU parliamentary group as an expert to the German Bundestag’s Enquete Commission on “Artificial Intelligence – Social Responsibility and Economic, Social and Ecological Potential.” For two years, the commission dealt with the effects of the increasing use of AI in various project groups.
Well-known German AI researchers
Another expert member of the Enquete Commission is Katharina Zweig. A biochemist and bioinformatician by training, she currently heads the Algorithm Accountability Lab at the Department of Computer Science at TU Kaiserslautern.
As a university professor, her focus is on the impact of algorithms on individuals, organizations, and society, as well as communication about them. In 2016, she co-founded the platform AlgorithmWatch, for which she was awarded the Theodor Heuss Medal two years later. She was also awarded the Communicator Prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Donors’ Association for Outstanding Science Communication in 2019.
Elisabeth André is one of the ten influential minds in German AI research selected by the Gesellschaft für Informatik e. V. (GI) in the Science Year 2019. As the holder of the Chair of Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence at the University of Augsburg, the computer scientist researches new technical methods of human-machine interaction and how these can be simplified. André has received numerous other awards, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2021. She is a member of the Academia Leopoldina and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.
Like Elisabeth André, computer scientist Bernhard Schölkopf has been named one of the defining minds of Germany’s AI research in 2019. Schölkopf is also a member of the Leopoldina and since 2011 has been director of the newly founded Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, where he also heads the Department of Empirical Inference.
He is a co-initiator of the Cyber Valley of the Stuttgart-Tübingen region, Europe’s largest research consortium in the field of artificial intelligence. Here, the universities of Tübingen and Stuttgart cooperate with major corporations such as Daimler, Porsche, Amazon and BMW, as well as the Max Planck Institute and the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Kristian Kersting, computer science professor for machine learning at TU Darmstadt, is known among other things for his research on statistical relational AI and probabilistic deep learning. His focus is on questions of moral agency in AI. As a member of ATHENE, Europe’s largest research institute for IT security, Kersting’s research interests have a strong European orientation.
In 2019, he was named a Fellow of the European Association for Artificial Intelligence (EurAI) and the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems (ELLIS). In the same year, he received the “German AI Prize”, endowed with 100,000 euros, for his scientific contributions to the field of AI.
Kersting is also a founding member of hessian.AI, a research network of 13 Hessian universities that aims to conduct basic research and also promote transfer to industry and society.
AI research has to reach the economy
As part of its AI strategy, the German government is funding innovative, ready-to-implement AI projects until 2025: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are to be supported in integrating artificial intelligence into their business practices. The very fact that the strategy is to extend to German SMEs shows the importance attached to AI from an economic perspective.
An important network in this context is the Plattform Lernende System (platform learning systems), which was launched by the BMBF in 2017. Here, nearly 200 experts from business, science and society are organized in various working groups to develop positions and guidelines for the ethical application of AI technologies. Wolfgang Wahlster is one of the members of the platform’s steering committee.
A well-known figure when it comes to AI in business is Tina Klüwer. Klüwer, who holds a doctorate in computer linguistics, is the head of the Artificial Intelligence Entrepreneurship Center – or K.I.E.Z. The Berlin center is an initiative of Science & Startups, the merger of the startup services of Berlin’s universities and Charité University Medicine. The center promotes science-related startups as well as their scaling and internationalization.
In July of this year, Klüwer was also appointed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as a member of the Future Council. The new body was appointed for the duration of the 20th legislative term and is tasked with developing proposals to strengthen the research and innovation system, resilience and technology sovereignty.