Saarland University and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) celebrated the handover of the baton from Professor Dr. Wolfgang Wahlster to Professor Dr. Jana Koehler with an academic symposium. The ceremony with international contributions from DFKI‘s ecosystem took place on 25 February at the Saarland Informatics Campus in Saarbrücken. Professor Koehler has held the Chair of Artificial Intelligence in Saarbrücken since 1 February 2019 and is also the new CEO of DFKI. She will lead DFKI together with Dr. Walter Olthoff, CFO since 1997. Professor Wahlster will continue to serve DFKI as Chief Executive Advisor.
The German Federal Government and the Federal States of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland started to invest in AI research back in the 1980s. Prof. Dr. Wahlster took over the chair of Artificial Intelligence at Saarland University in Saarbrücken in 1982. He was significantly involved in the foundation of DFKI in 1988, scientific director from the beginning and CEO since 1997. After more than 20 years at the top of the company, Prof. Wahlster retired from management. The appointment of Prof. Dr. Koehler as successor to Prof. Wahlster at Saarland University and as CEO of DFKI is the result of an international call and a process that began in 2017.
The festive symposium focused on the appreciation of the scientific and entrepreneurial achievements of Prof. Wahlster and the handing over of the baton to Prof. Koehler. The future prospects of AI, international strategies and opportunities were presented in three keynote speeches. Prof. Dr. Randy Goebel, Chair of Computing Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, discussed the Canadian perspective. Prof. Dr. Hans Uszkoreit, Scientific Director, Artificial Intelligence Technology Center (AITC), Beijing, spoke about his long lasting experience in China. The European perspective was analyzed by Prof. Dr. Oliviero Stock, Head of AI Research, Center for ICT, Trento.
Minister President Tobias Hans thanked Professor Wahlster for his extraordinary commitment: “You have contributed significantly to the fact that DFKI has developed into a research center of international renown and can compete with internationally outstanding centers of excellence. For decades, they have rendered outstanding services to the development of the research field of Artificial Intelligence in Germany 1/4 and are undisputedly among the most recognized computer scientists in the world. In addition, with your intuition for the social potential of scientific topics, for the innovation opportunities and needs of industry, you have been an important partner of politics over the.”
The President of Saarland University, Professor Manfred Schmitt, confirmed: “With the handover of office that has now taken place, it is important for both the University and the DFKI to continue and further strengthen the highly successful path of close and fruitful cooperation. With Professor Jana Koehler, we have been able to win an excellent scientist and impressive personality with university roots, far-reaching insight into AI and a vision for future cooperation between university and nonuniversity research. With the departure of Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks on behalf of the University, the University and the entire location are losing a personality who has made an enormous contribution to the successful development of the Saarland Informatics Campus. As an outstanding thought leader and visionary, he has shaped generations of students and scientists at our university and far beyond. Prof. Wahlster fascinated and inspired many young people to become involved in computer.”
The Chairman of DFKI's Supervisory Board Prof. Dr. h.c. Hans-Albert Aukes paid tribute to the achievements and cooperation over the past two decades: “Today's event truly marks a milestone in the exciting history of DFKI. For more than 20 years, Prof. Wahlster, as Chairman of the Board of Directors, has been driving the scientific development of DFKI as well as the development of the company. New topics with worldwide impact have been developed, new research areas, new Living Labs and new locations opened. This was a very eventful and very successful time. As Chairman of the Supervisory Board, I would like to thank Prof. Wahlster on behalf of all shareholders and I wish Prof. Koehler a happy hand for her new task. I am sure that Prof. Wahlster will maintain friendly relations with DFKI and with myself.”
DFKI CFO Dr. Walter Olthoff explained: “DFKI has been a huge success story for more than 30 years, both scientifically and economically. In 2018, we set a new record for our financial volume, increased the number of industrial shareholders and welcomed our 1000th employee. I would like to thank Prof. Wahlster for more than 20 years of joint work in the executive management team. We are on the right track and I am looking forward to working with Prof. Jana Koehler.”
Commenting on AI's opportunities and her agenda as DFKI CEO, Prof. Jana Koehler said: “The work of DFKI has been incorporated into many solutions for industry and has simplified the transfer of innovation for AI technologies. However, we were also able to incorporate exciting research problems from practice into application-inspired basic research, which we are working on with university partners. These are outstanding achievements of the DFKI staff and also very personal successes for Prof. Wahlster, whom I would like to thank warmly for the intensity and energy he invested in setting up and managing DFKI,” says Prof. Koehler. “In its research and innovation work, DFKI has developed successful formats such as Living Labs and Competence Centers. A new addition will be Transfer Labs, in which we will work with industrial partners over the long term on fundamental breakthroughs in AI. Today, Germany 2/4 ranks among the top 5 most innovative countries in the world. To keep it that way, we must continue to strengthen the innovation and transformation capabilities of our economy and put operational excellence at the top of the agenda. Today, AI enables intelligent systems that recognize patterns, make targeted decisions and optimize processes. This enables better use of resources and makes technical solutions more flexible and efficient. But people are and will remain the source of value creation. The goal of my work as DFKI CEO is to create AI applications through research that do good and we can be proud of: Intelligent products and processes that open up new markets, new business models and strengthen the Germany economy.”
Prof. Wolfgang Wahlster summed up: “I am glad that the generational change at the top of DFKI that I was striving for, coincides with a new heyday in my field of research. The enormous worldwide interest in artificial intelligence makes this transition easier. Further German Federal States want to establish DFKI locations and many companies from Germany and abroad want to become shareholder of DFKI. The German Government will strengthen basic research at the national AI centers and 100 new AI professorships will be announced. These are the best preconditions for the continuation of DFKI´s success story under the new leadership of Prof. Jana Koehler, whom I wish a good hand in this very complex management task. The success in the last 30 years with a doubling of turnover every 10 years would not have been possible without the excellent cooperation with our Chairman of the Supervisory Board Prof. Aukes, our CFO Dr. Olthoff, the more than 20 DFKI professors and the more than 1000 employees of DFKI. Another decisive factor was the support provided by the Federal Government, three Federal States and our industry shareholders, to whom I would like to express my sincere thanks once again today. It was a great honour and pleasure for me to serve DFKI from the very beginning. I will continue to be available to DFKI and its shareholders for advice and support at any time.“