A couple of weeks ago, I was first introduced to the existence of Cyber Valley. My initial guesses as to what it could be included a) a newly released video game or b) a TV series.

Hint: Both of these guesses are wrong — if you haven’t googled it yet, see if you can get it right without checking. I later looked into it some more, and here’s what I found:

What exactly is Cyber Valley?

Cyber Valley is a research consortium, initiated in 2016 by Bernhard Schoelkopf. It is located in the region between Stuttgart and Tuebingen, Germany, and has grown to be the biggest research cooperation in Europe within the field of Artificial Intelligence. Its partners include “the state of Baden-Württemberg, the Max Planck Society with the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Universities of Stuttgart and Tübingen, as well as Amazon, BMW AG, Daimler AG, IAV GmbH, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Robert Bosch GmbH, and ZF Friedrichshafen AG … Moreover, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft recently joined Cyber Valley as an associated partner. Cyber Valley also receives support from the Christian Bürkert Foundation, the Gips-Schüle Foundation, the Vector Foundation, and the Carl Zeiss Foundation”, according to its website.

So far, ten research groups and professorships have been established, and the corresponding fields of research range from Neuronal Intelligence to Locomotion in Somatic and Biorobotic Systems. I will not get into the details of what exactly these research groups deal with (mostly because I don’t really understand most of it either), but you can read more here if you’re interested!

What’s the Goal of Cyber Valley?

According to their website, the goal is to research AI methods locally, while keeping in mind that there are both positive and negative uses for such. They see it as important that the project remains embedded in open society and that there’s critical discussion around questions and issues. The establishment of research groups as well as professorships and being able to offer PhD programs for over a hundred doctoral students is supposed to counteract the lack of experts in the field of AI.

Lastly, they mention that Cyber Valley promotes startup-culture within science so that findings from fundamental research can be applied swiftly. The active exchange between industry research and fundamental research is supposed to provide new impulses for both sides to create ideal conditions for spinoffs.

What’s Next for Cyber Valley?

Based on what has been reported in an older newspaper article of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the german government wants to invest three billion Euros and establish a total of 100 professorships by 2025. The prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, said that “swiftness and excellence is what counts when it comes to competing with big players like Silicon Valley or Shenzhen, and if Berlin can’t do it, we will”.

What I also found interesting is that the founder of Cyber Valley, Bernhard Schoelkopf, stated that he also initiated the project to keep upcoming scientists and researchers from leaving Europe for North America or other locations, but also to attract people from the outside of Europe to come and work here. According to him, young researchers should not have to feel like there are no opportunities to work and/or research for promising and excellent institutions in their home country respectively on their continent.

As you might have noticed on the list of partners of Cyber Valley, Amazon is establishing an AI-Lab including 100 researchers and engineers until 2021. However, as you might already suspect, this has turned out to be a controversial topic: Last year, protests have taken place locally regarding the installment of an Amazon Lab. After some discussion within the municipal council, Amazon has been given green light. I did a quick google search to see whether there have been any other protests recently, but most of the activity seems to have happened last year. The radio silence might also be due to COVID, so we’ll see what comes next in regards to that after the situation has gone back to a more normal state.

Closing Thoughts

Since Tuebingen is relatively close to Switzerland, I’m interested in seeing how this affects my country, its adjacent regions as well as our technical universities like ETH or EPFL in the near future in terms of research. I find the keeping-researchers-within-Europe-point to be a good and very important one.

The protests regarding Amazon are not unexpected. I personally find ethical questions and discussions revolving around AI very interesting and will be closely following future events and talks. In my opinion, the fact that such research is taking place locally is definitely a chance to make a positive and meaningful contribution to what the application of AI methods will look like in the future.

As always, thanks for reading, and see you next time!