Alexander von Humboldt professorship in prospect: AI expert negotiates with Ulm University

14. December 2021

The University of Ulm once again has a chance of winning an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship and thus the most highly endowed German research award. The preferred candidate is AI researcher Professor Sven Koenig, who has now been selected by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in a multi-stage process. If the appointment negotiations are successful, Sven Koenig could move from California to Ulm from 2022 – funded with up to 5 million euros.

Artificial intelligences (AI) are vastly superior to humans in many narrowly defined specialised areas. However, unknown, complex situations can quickly push such systems to their limits – especially when several AI actors have to coordinate. The research area “Multi Agent Systems” promises support in the decision-making and action planning of several AI systems. Professor Sven Koenig from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles is a leader in this special field: he enables individual AI actors or entire “robot teams” to make sensible and timely decisions even in complex situations.

The practical relevance of this research area can be illustrated by a warehouse in which numerous robots process online orders. How can the online retailer ensure that the robots fulfil their orders efficiently, in a specific order, choose short paths and do not collide? For such scenarios, Sven Koenig has combined methods of optimisation and machine learning and developed a very efficient coordination algorithm in many years of cooperation with “Amazon Robotics”. Other areas of application are, for example, the planning of drone flights or just-in-time manufacturing.

In future, Koenig, a computer scientist and business economist, will contribute his expertise as a Humboldt Professor at the University of Ulm: If the appointment negotiations are successful, the German-born researcher will head a newly founded “Centre for Intelligent-Collaborating Systems”. “One of the strengths of the University of Ulm is the combination of knowledge-based AI research with machine learning. This interface offers numerous points of contact for Professor Sven Koenig, who will of course also set completely new impulses. We are in a positive mood to be able to attract this extraordinary researcher,” emphasises University President Professor Michael Weber, who is himself a computer scientist.

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is aimed at academics who conduct research abroad. From a total of 22 nominees, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has selected 10 potential Humboldt Professors.
-professors from a total of 22 nominees. This time, 6 of them come from the field of artificial intelligence. If the appointment negotiations are successful, the top researchers from the USA, the Netherlands or the UK will move to the German university that nominated them. These universities are given the opportunity to sharpen their profile through the Humboldt Professorship and to expand their international competitiveness.

The award is granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for 5 years with up to 5 million EUR each. Further funding is provided by the host German university.

About Prof. Sven Koenig

Professor Sven Koenig studied computer science and business administration at the Universities of Hamburg and Berkeley as well as at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (USA), where he also earned his doctorate. Further stations led Koenig to the Georgia Institute of Technology as an “Assistant Professor” and to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he has held a professorship since 2011. The award-winning researcher is a Fellow of the renowned American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as well as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

Prof. Sven Koenig has been selected for a Humboldt Professorship and could move to the University of Ulm from 2022. [Foto: Sven König]