German AI is A1

With ever-increasing amounts of data to make sense of, AI will be the companion technology of the future. And with IBM’s $200m (€174.5m) investment in the Watson IoT center earlier this year, Munich is shaping up to be a global hub for machine learning.

November, 2017

A small bakery in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district has been noting days where wastage of croissants is significantly higher than others. The owner runs his datasets through the IBM Watson IoT’s artificial intelligence program and finds the wastages directly correlate to the weather. He can therefore optimize operating efficiency according to the weather forecast and his profitability jumps.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is turning out to be an extremely useful tool across all industries – and Germany is at the forefront of global research and development activity. Large institutional investors run AI programs to make trading decisions at lightning speed.

Industrial machines imbued with AI can learn customer quirks, order their own maintenance and even interpret speech across languages. More applications of “machine learning” are found daily, from crunching statistical streams to optimizing city traffic flow, to a small bot that ensures an accurate Google search for the wine buff.

In February IBM opened a $200m research center in Munich, the Watson IoT center. It represents the company’s largest investment in Europe in more than 20 years. And today, 6,000 global clients are tapping Watson IoT services. Watson’s mission is to gather ever-larger datasets and look for new correlations and explanations, using an algorithm that learns when it’s exposed to new data instead of being programmed by an individual. The process enables the machine to engage in a dialogue with people, learn how to improve its answers and make sense of the increasingly huge amounts of data generated in a connected world.

IBM’s Highlight Towers in Munich, Bavaria, the IT giant’s global headquarters for the Internet of Things (IoT). The Watson IoT center opened in February 2017 and cost $200m.

© picture alliance/Matthias Balk/dpa

“There are more than 9bn connected devices operating globally, generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data daily,” says Niklas Waser, Vice-President of Watson IoT Europe. “However, 90 per cent of that data is never used. The market for making sense of these devices is expected to reach €1.45tn by 2020.”

Germany seemed the logical choice for the investment – the perfect platform for research and development across a number of sectors, Industry 4.0 in particular. “Germany has a number of world-renowned institutes such as DFKI, Fraunhofer Institute and Max Planck Institute carrying out research in AI,” says Ross Turner, head of engineering at Visual Meta, a Berlin start-up which uses AI to customize a shopping portal called Ladenzeile. “In addition, the general education level of computer scientists in Germany is very high, which means that the majority of them have a very good understanding of AI technology and concepts. This has helped to build up AI know-how in the German economy on a broad scale.”

The future of AI

It is still early days for AI, but there are so many applications for it and directions it could go in. “Increased computing power and wider availability of data have seen techniques such as deep learning come to the fore,” says Turner. “This has fueled some state-of-the-art results in fields such as image recognition and natural language processing. There is a lot of growth potential in areas such as workplace automation, conversational interfaces, smart homes and driverless cars.”

In terms of accomplishing specific tasks, AI can be considered mass market, but as Turner points out, the point at which we will be able to interact with robots that can exhibit self-awareness or communicate effortlessly in natural language is still some way off.

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