Mr Wahlster, how long have you been involved with artificial intelligence?
Since the early 1980s when I did some basic research into AI for my dissertation on how to teach a computer to understand natural language. At that time, I was a lone warrior in the field in this country. The DFKI was founded in 1988 together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and our industry partners. It is now the largest AI research center in the world.
How important is Germany as a location for AI research?
We have produced pioneers in many areas. For example, in the analysis of image sequences and in autonomous driving. The first autonomous car did not drive in Silicon Valley, as some people mistakenly think, but in Munich 15 years ago. At that time the Federal Armed Forces College developed a Mercedes van and sent it down the Autobahn at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour.
Is the Federal Republic still competitive today?
Artificial intelligence is now found in numerous industries. Automobile companies such as BMW and the world’s largest suppliers Bosch and Continental have their own AI laboratories. The laser scanner manufacturer Sick is also a beacon in this field: almost every AI laboratory worldwide uses their sensors. German companies are very good at linking physical products to the Internet, and we have a big head start in the smart home market.
Does this lead to foreign companies investing in German tech?
Of course. For example, the agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere has built an R&D center next to the DFKI. This was no coincidence: the region is home to many important companies.