Under the umbrella of their successful research partnership, the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems, two world class research institutions in the field of intelligent systems have further intensified their strategic connection with the appointment of four outstanding researchers from ETH Zurich as Max Planck Fellows. The new Fellows share research goals strongly aligned with those of MPI-IS, and will contribute expertise complementary to that found already at the German institute.
Tübingen/Stuttgart/Zurich – The Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) is intensifying the cooperation and further strengthens the joint research efforts with ETH Zurich in Switzerland. The Max Planck Society – partnered with ETH since 2015 through the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems (CLS) – has appointed Prof. Dr. Otmar Hilliges, Prof. Dr. Thomas Hofmann, Prof. Dr. Andreas Krause and Prof. Dr. Klaas P. Prüssmann as Max Planck Fellows.
Max Planck Fellow Programs aim to promote cooperation between outstanding university professors and Max Planck researchers. In parallel to their duties at ETH Zurich, each professor will set up and lead a new research group at the hosting institute, the MPI-IS, under arrangements specific to CLS. These Fellowship groups will tackle research goals complementary to those already covered at ETH Zurich and MPI-IS, intensifying the academic exchange and exploring further synergies between the research partners. The Fellowships will initially run until April 2025.
“These appointments will be a great asset to our institute and create strong scientific synergy and added value for both sides, the MPI for Intelligent Systems and ETH Zurich,” comments MPI-IS Managing Director, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schölkopf. “This builds on the existing success in co-supervision of students and joint publication within the CLS framework. We anticipate that the increased engagement will be both active and impactful.”
All four appointed Max Planck Fellows have an outstanding track record in research close to the scientific orientation of the MPI-IS:
Prof. Dr. Otmar Hilliges, who is Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Institute for Intelligent Interactive Systems in the Department of Computer Science at ETH Zurich, works at the intersection of machine learning, computer vision and human-computer interaction. He researches new methods to interpret human motion and other activity from low-level sensor data such as images or body-worn sensors. As Max Planck Fellow, Hilliges will lead a group on Human-centric Vision & Learning in Tübingen.
The Perceiving Systems Department of MPI-IS Director Michael J. Black and Hilliges’ group at ETH Zurich already have an excellent working relationship as testified by joint publications and several co-supervised students in the context of the CLS doctoral program. The common denominator across the groups is a joint interest in the computational modelling of human pose, shape and appearance as well as the analysis of human behavior in the context of intelligent systems. The Max Planck Fellowship will allow the groups to further the state of knowledge towards a more holistic machine understanding of human appearance and activity that is strongly grounded in the context and interactive setting of the observed subject. Of particular interest are settings in which humans interact with artificial systems (e.g., robots) and with each other.
Additionally, there is the possibility for synergy and collaboration with the Haptic Intelligence Department led by MPI-IS Director Katherine J. Kuchenbecker. Both groups study the motion of the hand and its interaction with objects. The Hilliges team has developed novel glove technology for capturing hands and interaction. Meanwhile, Kuchenbecker’s team is developing novel touch-sensing devices as well as methods to provide haptic feedback, e.g. in virtual reality. The Max Planck Fellowship will provide the opportunity for these groups to share and build on their joint interests.
The research focus of Prof. Dr. Thomas Hofmann, who is a Full Professor of Data Analytics in the Department of Computer Science at ETH Zurich and Co-Director of CLS, lies on deep learning – on its mathematical foundations as well as its applications. This includes contributions to optimization for machine learning, but also investigations into specific topics such as normalization and regularization techniques and understanding of generative models. Hofmann is one of the leading AI scientists in Europe, displaying a unique blend of theoretically principled yet often highly applicable research, and a track record for pioneering fields. At the MPI-IS in Tübingen, Hofmann will lead a group on Coordinative Intelligence. The group will interpret intelligence as a coordinative and communicative process – a good complement to the working groups and departments at MPI-IS.
Thomas Hofmann has been actively involved in research in machine learning since 1993, when he worked on neural networks for robust model-based control. In 2005 he was invited to be the founding Director of the Google R&D Center in Zurich. After almost 8 years at Google, Hofmann moved back to the academic world, joining ETH Zurich as a Professor for Data Analytics in 2013.
Prof. Dr. Andreas Krause is a Full Professor of Computer Science at the Institute for Machine Learning in the Department of Computer Science at ETH Zurich. He also serves as Chair of the ETH AI Center, Academic Co-Director of the Swiss Data Science Center and head of the ELLIS Zurich Unit. Krause pursues a wide range of topics in machine learning, reinforcement learning and AI. His goal is to “bridge the gap,” developing new theory and algorithms with guarantees, and demonstrating their utility on interdisciplinary applications ranging from computational sustainability to robotics to experimental design to information gathering on the web. A central focus of his group is on computational foundations of reasoning under uncertainty and reliable data-driven decision making. As Max Planck Fellow, he will lead a research group on Interactive Learning at the MPI-IS in Tübingen.
Andreas Krause is among the internationally leading machine learning scientists of his generation. He uniquely combines profound theoretical insight and practical impact, and covers areas that are currently not sufficiently represented at the MPI-IS, such as reinforcement learning or Gaussian process modelling. Having Krause join as a Max Planck Fellow will provide an opportunity to substantially intensify the strong research collaboration already established with the MPI-IS – particularly the investigations at the intersection of causal inference which is a core topic investigated by Bernhard Schölkopf’s Empirical Inference Department.
Prof. Dr. Klaas P. Prüssmann is a Full Professor for Bioimaging at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBT) in the Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at ETH Zurich. Prüssmann heads the Magnetic Resonance Technology and Methods Group at IBT, combining expertise in physics, engineering and the life sciences to advance magnetic resonance for biomedical research and healthcare applications. At the MPI-IS’s Stuttgart location, he will lead a group on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
Early in his career, Prüssmann was a pioneer of the transition of MRI from its original sole imaging principle (so-called gradient encoding) to its present paradigm, which is a fusion of this mechanism with array detection. Boosting the speed of the technique, MRI with array encoding (also known as ‘parallel imaging’) saw quick introduction to commercial MRI systems and clinical practice. It has since been a default technique in ubiquitous use.
The affiliation of Klaas Prüssmann at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems is envisaged to serve as a framework for joint research in two areas. The primary field of planned collaboration is in the field of micro-robotics as pursued by MPI-IS Director Metin Sitti and other members of his Physical Intelligence Department. Additionally, collaborations with the Empirical Inference Department directed by Bernhard Schölkopf are planned.
The appointment of the four ETH Professors as Max Planck Fellows mirrors existing arrangements in which senior scientists from MPI-IS have been appointed as Affiliated Professors at ETH – further strengthening the ties between both parties through the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems. CLS is a partnership between the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) and ETH Zurich which was founded in 2015 in a joint effort to work together on the cross-disciplinary research questions regarding the design and analysis of natural and man-made learning systems. Bringing together leading researchers in the field of learning systems, the goals of the Center 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 cooperation spans all levels, from leading experts at the senior level to junior scientists obtaining their Ph.D. In May 2020, following a successful evaluation, the Max Planck Society and ETH Zurich agreed to extend the Max Planck ETH Center for Learning Systems for another five-year period, until April 2025. Both sides place a high value on the cooperation, believing that strong academic exchange in Europe is vital for the field of AI and leads to a higher impact than if every research institution were to forge its own path.