One of the most prominent scientific challenges of our time is to cope with the complexity which arises in biology, medicine, engineering, economics, sociology and many other areas of high societal relevance. Learning systems are able to perceive large and complex information, and they can adjust and adapt their behavior to influences from their environment. Natural learning systems are, for example, the brain, the nervous system, and living organisms down to the smallest scales and bacteria. Artificial learning systems are, for example, robots that can adapt their behavior to their environments, or software systems with machine learning abilities and making predictions based on big data sets.
Natural as well as artificial learning systems are often influenced by highly unreliable, stochastic factors. Both the natural sciences and the engineering sciences with their complementary scientific methods of analysis and synthesis explore such learning systems by interacting with them, by modeling them, and by explicit construction or reconstruction. However, to date a general understanding of learning systems and a comprehensive approach to their analysis and design is still largely missing. The goals of the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems are to achieve a fundamental understanding of perception, learning and adaption in complex systems, by providing a platform for exchange in research and education.
The Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) and ETH Zurich first joined forces in 2013 by forming a unique Research Network on Learning Systems (RNLS). Under the umbrella of RNLS, several events – including a Summer School with more than 100 participants – were initiated which brought together leading researchers and junior scientists from MPI-IS and ETH for the first time.
Building on this success, MPI-IS and ETH proposed the establishment of the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems (CLS) with an initial run time of five years. The CLS was officially inaugurated by the presidents of ETH Zurich and the Max Planck Society on November 30, 2015, thus becoming the first joint center between the German Max Planck Society and the world-famous Swiss research institution. The activities of the Center are regulated by an official cooperation agreement signed off by both partners.
In April 2020, following the completion of a successful evaluation, the two partners further strengthened their cooperation with an agreement to extend the joint research venture for another five-year period. Both sides place a high value on this cooperation, believing that strong academic exchange in Europe is vital in order to actively shape developments in modern AI and leads to a higher impact than if every research institution were to forge its own path.
International Max Planck Centers
The Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems is one of around 20 international Max Planck Centers of the Max Planck Society. The Max Planck Centers form platforms within scientific cooperation programmes, where the participating Max Planck Institutes and their international partners can bundle their knowledge, experience and expertise and combine complementary methods and know-how to create added scientific value.
Max Planck Centers are currently operating in 13 countries around the world in addition to the corresponding Max Planck Institutes in Germany. The Max Planck Centers constitute a substantial reinforcement of the international cooperation efforts of the Max Planck Society and aim to raise the quality of scientific cooperation projects with first-class international partners in pioneering areas of research to a completely new level.