Prof. Wahlster is awarded the 2001 German Future Prize

DFKI, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence Kaiserslautern and SaarbrĂĽcken, November 29th/30th, 2001

The 2001 German Future Prize - the President's Prize forTechnology and Innovation - was awarded yesterday to Prof. Wolfgang Wahlster in a ceremony in the Max DelbrĂĽck Communications Center in Berlin.

The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, presented the German Future Prize to Prof. Wahlster for his project "Computer Language Processing for Dialog and Translation Assistants". Prof. Wahlster led the project Verbmobil, which was executed by a consortium of partners from both science and industry, to internationally recognized success. The project has given rise to a number of marketable products and startup companies.

The 500,000 Deutschmark President's prize is awarded each year for outstanding innovations in technology, engineering, or the natural sciences. Proven prospects for practical application, unrestricted marketability, and the creation of new jobs are crucial criteria for the selection of nominees. In 2001, four research groups and projects were nominated for the final selection process. The jury made its decision shortly before the ceremony in which President Johannes Rau presented the prize.

Prof. Wahlster, director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and professor at Saarland University, is the first computer scientist to receive this prize. In a brief speech, Prof. Wahlster said: "I am glad to have received this high honor now, in the middle of my career, and not at the end of my years of active research. The prize both encourages and obligates me to continue to tackle important open problems in the area of human-technology interaction, to create innovations that will lead to a humane knowledge society, and to inspire and educate young students who can contribute to this fascinating area of computer science. This prize will give a great boost to the rapid dissemination of the results of our research: I'm sure that our twenty spin-off products and sixteen startup firms will now be joined by others, which will lead to the creation of more new jobs and of further innovations of lasting value.

He thanked the jury, the sponsors of the prize, and his project partners. "It is wonderful that the German Future Prize has been awarded for the first time in the field of language technology, where the user of technology plays a central role. This award will also allow the Saarland - my own home and place of work, which already enjoys a concentration of computer science research that is unique in Germany - to enhance further its reputation as a significant center of high-tech research and development. I am deeply grateful to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), to the Karl Heinz Beckurts Foundation, and to the Helmholtz Association for proposing my project for the most important prize of my career. Without the support for my research over many years by the Computing Systems department of BMBF, this breakthrough could not have been achieved. The biggest "thank you" of all goes to the more than 100 colleagues and to all of the organizations that took part in the project - without them, all this could not have been accomplished."

Immediately after the presentation of the prize, JĂĽrgen Schreier, the Saarland's Minister of Education, congratulated Prof. Wahlster: "This is a great success for the Saarland".

After 20 years of intensive research into a novel approach to language processing, Prof. Wahlster and his team achieved a widely recognized breakthrough: The system Verbmobil, which was fully implemented as a prototype by the end of the year 2000, recognizes a spoken utterance, analyses the input, translates it into a target language (currently: German, English, or Japanese), generates an utterance in that language, and articulates that utterance. Verbmobil is a landmark achievement, and not just because of its technical capabilities: Already, several spoken dialog systems have been developed on the basis of Verbmobil technology and brought to market, and six spin-off companies have been founded by former members of the Verbmobil team.

This development is a major step forward in the field of language technology. Without computers that can process speech effectively, the vision of world-wide access to the huge body of digitally stored knowledge for everyone, at any time, and at any place would remain a dream in the era of the mobile internet and UMTS. For this reason, language technology is a key technology for the creation of a knowledge society.

Only when it is in principle possible for every person to speak a query or a command to a computer system in their native language, and when they can hear the system's response in everyday language, will human-computer interaction have reached a stage where the computer is an integral component of a universal technology for the knowledge society. Since electronic interaction will be a ubiquitous component of daily life, of work, and of education, serious obstacles can arise for persons who are not capable of participating in such interactions. So that these individuals are not excluded from the knowledge society, language technology is being employed for the creation of information services designed to be used by anyone, independent of education and age, in a fully intuitive manner via everyday speech.

Verbmobil technology has been developed further in the project SmartKom, which is being supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and directed by Prof. Wahlster. SmartKom can understand not only speech but also gestures and even facial expressions. Multimodal communication, which opens up new prospects for applications for the coming generation of wireless devices based on UMTS, is a key technology for the future.

Contact: Reinhard Karger, M.A., Head of Public Relations
German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI)
Stuhlsatzenhausweg 3, Building 43.8, D-66123 SaarbrĂĽcken, Germany
Phone: +49 681 302 5253, Fax: + 49 681 302 5341
E-Mail: karger@dfki.de, Internet: http://www.dfki.de

Photos of Prof. Wahlster, information about specific projects, and a recent interview are available at the following addresses:

http://www.dfki.de/zukunftspreis
http://www.deutscher-zukunftspreis.de/aktuell/index.htm

In Germany, the award ceremony can be seen on the TV channel Phoenix starting at 4.15 pm on Friday, November 30th. The channel ZDF will broadcast a summary on the same day after the "heute-journal".