Intelligent systems for tomorrow’s world

Max Planck Research Award 2011

March 16, 2011

Sebastian Thrun from Stanford University and Bernhard Schölkopf from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have been awarded the 2011 Max Planck Research Award, which is endowed with 750,000 euros for each award winner. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society honour two outstanding scientists who have brought significant progress to a research field that is at the interface of different disciplines.

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Sebastian Thrun teaches and conducts research at Stanford University. Since 2004 he has headed the Stanford Institute for Artificial Intelligence, one of the world’s largest and most important institutes in this field. The 43-year-old information scientist works at the interface between artificial intelligence and robotics. His main interest is robotic systems which are able to learn and move independently. One of his achievements has been to show that it is possible to use a mobile robot to create a map of the surroundings without the availability of prior knowledge and to estimate the robot’s position and orientation in the process effectively. His work also opens up new fields of application for robots beyond industrial mass production. In 1997 he developed the “Rhino” robot, which was able to provide a guided tour through the Deutsches Museum Bonn autonomously. The successor, “Minerva”, was tested in 1998 at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. Other robot models can chart mines or use speech to communicate with humans. Sebastian Thrun has therefore achieved findings of extreme scientific importance concerning the ability of mobile systems to orientate themselves.

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Bernhard Schölkopf is a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart. The 43-year-old mathematician and physicist is also one of the founding Directors of the newly-established Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart and Tübingen. He is one of Europe’s leading researchers in the field of machine learning. He researches computational methods, so-called algorithms, which can be used to program computers to react flexibly to new situations.

Bernhard Schölkopf’s research results have made the algorithms for machine learning more efficient. Statistical estimation problems can thus be generalized to such a degree that they can be used on biological-medical issues, as well as problems relevant to the social sciences and philosophy.

The Max Planck Research Award, the international research award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society, is financed with funds from the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. It supports German and foreign scientists working in particularly promising disciplines. One award is given to a researcher working in Germany and one to a researcher working abroad who have already achieved international recognition, and are expected to continue to produce outstanding scientific results in international collaborations. The call for nominations rotates on an annual basis between subfields within the natural and engineering sciences, the life sciences and the humanities.

The prize was awarded on October 19, 2011 in Berlin.

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