Fabian Westerheide is Managing Director of Asgard Capital Verwaltung GmbH and invests in start-ups using ‘Künstliche Intelligenz (KI)’ [Artificial Intelligence - AI ]. In addition he organises the “Rise of AI“ conference, where European’s AI-experts meet every year. He also coordinates ‘Künstliche Intelligenz‘ at the Bundesverband Deutscher Startups [Federal Association of German Start-ups].
Mr. Westerheide, your work allows you an excellent insight into the market. In your opinion, what can Berlin offer to qualify as an AI-location?
Berlin attracts talents from all over the world. This is so important as companies are set up, managed and developed by people. Berlin offers an immense quality of life made up of work, culture, recreation and pleasure.
But Berlin’s advantage only lies in the German market. There are more founders, more digital concerns and more investors (focussed on start-ups) in Berlin than in any other German city. 50 per cent of all AI-companies are located in Berlin (see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/german-artificial-intelligence-landscape-fabian-j-g-westerheide/).
Berlin is considered to be a start-up Mecca and a global innovation centre of the future. As compared to other technology locations such as San Francisco, New York or London, what makes Berlin so different?
In the international ranking Berlin is on position 20, does, however, not occupy a top position (see https://asgard.vc/global-ai/). San Francisco, New York, and London offer two important benefits. First of all, the eco system is much older. Therefore, there are more mature companies, more work in the digital sector and there is also much more experience. At the same time, these cities have more capital available to them. The number of investors as well as the extent of their funds is by far more significant than compared with Berlin.
However, the still low costs of living are in favour of Berlin. Also, Berlin is captivating in a way that focus is on the people and not on business.
What made you set up Asgard and how did or does Berlin come into this?
I started working for the European company builder ‘Team Europe’ a decade ago. During that time I was involved in founding Berlin’s first venture-capital company ‘Point Nine Capital’. Science Fiction has fascinated me since I was a child. And it was therefore logical for me to combine my professional experiences (investing in technological companies) at some point with my passion (Artificial Intelligence). This idea brought about Asgard in 2014.
Before coming to Berlin, I spent some time in Mexico and the U.S. By the end of 2000 Berlin’s attraction was immense as this city was so completely different to the rest of Germany. Berlin allows everyone to be what you want to be. There is no ruling upper class and the city welcomes mavericks and newcomers. It became apparent to me that Berlin is on the way to become Europe’s digital centre. In addition, life in Berlin is by far less expensive than London or Zurich. Berlin offers you a high standard of living, with the same cultural possibilities as other metropolis.
And - Berlin is clearly structured. Internationally viewed the city is very small, compared to New York, London, Shanghai or Hong Kong. Sometimes Berlin feels like an international village. The city has a lot of charisma and therefore attracts a certain type of people.
In respect of Artificial Intelligence - what kind of potential do you see for Berlin and how do you assess the German willingness to invest in future technologies in general?
There is rather a reluctant willingness to invest in new technologies in Germany. This applies to governments as well as to companies. The rate of investments is declining year by year. Germany does not even manage to maintain status quo, and instead, we are gradually left behind. Everybody who has visited Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai can see what cities could be like - in a modern world.
In addition, the population is somehow hesitant to acknowledge new technologies. People do not believe in a better future. The vision how technology can help people to live longer and happier is missing in Germany.
Berlin has this potential. We have researchers (e.g. the DFKI [German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence] and Fraunhofer), we have entrepreneurs, investors and talents. However, the city reacts too slowly in a time where speed increases daily. As mentioned before, Berlin is still better than many other German cities. But this is not about national competition; Berlin has to compete on a global level, in order to attract the best companies, the most successful founders, and the financially strongest investors.
With your ‚Rise of AI‘ conference you bring together leading European AI-researchers and experts for an exchange. What are the challenges and opportunities behind the Artificial Intelligence of tomorrow?
Artificial Intelligence is the most important technology of the 21st century. It applies to politics, economy, society and our individual lives. Artificial intelligences gain knowledge and influence our decisions and our wellbeing daily. In this, each and every AI reflects the developer’s culture. The data entered into the systems, shape the algorithms. An artificial intelligence from China will behave differently compared to an artificial intelligence from Germany. If we are not careful we will end up in a digital world, controlled by Artificial Intelligence, which do not comply with our own ethics and moral understanding. It is therefore so very important that we build up our own strong Artificial Intelligence industry.
And what are the opportunities or benefits of an Artificial Intelligence?
The benefits are quite clear. An artificial intelligence helps us to live healthier and to cure illnesses faster. It will take us to our destination safer and faster. It takes work off our shoulders, supports processes and turns life to become more agreeable. But at the same time we surrender control, which in a way is not a problem. However, we will have to ask the question who will still be able to influence the algorithms in the end. As long as the dominating Artificial Intelligence companies are not located in Europe, they will never make decision in favour of our population.
Artificial Intelligence is one of the most important technologies of our time. What do you recommend to people and companies who want to be involved in developing artificial intelligence?
Nobody can turn their back to this development. Artificial Intelligence will not disappear, but become more and more important every day. If we do not deal with this today, we will be very surprised by tomorrow. However, it will be too late by then.