Laure Poirson, Project Lead AI Grid © Laure Poirson

23 August 2023

"The AI Grid is not an elitist program. It gives many bright, young minds the chance to network with researchers on the same wavelength."

AI Grid is a pan-European network that brings together dedicated young scientists with fresh ideas to leave established paths in AI research. In highly specialized micro-communities, members work together on groundbreaking AI solutions for societal and economic issues, supported by renowned experts. The network promotes the exchange between young talents and experienced AI experts, while as an initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, it places a special focus on the international and interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge between the young talents.

Ms. Poirson, AI Grid promotes exchange and synergies between young talents and renowned AI experts. Who can apply and what are your goals with this initiative?
The AI Grid initiative strengthens exchange and synergies between young talents in the field of artificial intelligence. We enable master's students and doctoral candidates from AI to advance their research work more quickly and to build up their own highly qualified expert network at an early stage. The AI Grid creates the basis for this: with a tailored mentoring program, regular network meetings, international collaborations and Science & Innovation Tours in Europe. We also visit highly innovative hubs, initiate panel talks with players from science and industry, and much more for our members. Young researchers thus get a "foot in the door" to fast-track themselves for an AI-related career. And thought of on a larger scale, it is also a great measure for Germany to further counter the shortage of skilled workers and to make the country a leading location in artificial intelligence.

And this is also important: the AI Grid is not an elitist program. Rather, it gives many bright, young minds the chance to network with researchers on the same wavelength while making contacts with renowned professors and experts from industry.

To become part of our community, young students apply on the website and submit their research papers, future plans and info on their motivation to join the network. We continuously receive applications from young talents from all over Germany.

Since our launch six months ago, we have already selected more than 65 talented researchers. By 2025, we want to give 250 young scientists a career kick. We are very confident that we will achieve this goal.

In the AI Grid, highly specialized micro communities of experts are formed. What does this collaboration look like and what is the end result?
We are forming AI micro focus groups on topics that are particularly relevant at the moment. These include Explainable AI, Human Machine Teams and Reinforcement Learning and also Approach to Computer Vision, Trustworthy AI etc. In these highly specialized teams, young researchers with an interdisciplinary profile exchange information about their research and initiate collaboration projects. On our community platform, they can easily find like-minded people in similar fields via the visible profiles of all members - and then set up groups on relevant topics themselves.

We will also soon be launching challenges in the "Prompt-a-Thon" format. This involves members working together to solve a problem using generative AI. The interesting thing about this format is how fast it is. A "Prompt-a-Thon" creates images, texts, articles, brochures or program codes based on collected information - and it does so directly and immediately. We are very much looking forward to working with companies and organizations.

The AI Grid relies on a tailored mentoring program with renowned AI experts such as Prof. Dr. Elisabeth André, Prof. Dr. Hans Uszkoreit and Prof. Isao Echizen. How does this actually work and what effects do you hope it will have on the development of the young talents who participate?
We are proud of our highly qualified network of mentors not only from Germany, but also from Europe and internationally. The AI Grid has professors on board from universities in Berkeley, Pennsylvania, Tokyo, Israel, Switzerland and Sweden. They volunteer their time and knowledge to provide helpful input to young researchers. This is a great opportunity for young AI researchers in Germany to establish contacts with world-renowned research institutions. They get feedback on their research and at the same time insight into research programs abroad. This mentoring is an additional support and a great career booster. It is an "on-demand" program where members can access the support of multiple mentors depending on their needs. This gives a lot of flexibility and increases synergy.

We also have entrepreneur mentors. They accompany young scientists on their way to founding a company. The program combines academic and applied research in an ideal way.

In addition to mentors from academia, you are also looking for mentors from industry. What kind of profile do you envision here and what advantages do the mentors themselves gain from it?
The AI Grid wants to close the gap that still exists between research and business. That is why we are very interested in AI experts from industry who would like to get involved in the AI Grid. Their profiles can vary, but they should have recognized AI expertise and preferably have earned a PhD in order to better understand the academic background of our members. For companies, of course, the AI Grid is a great opportunity to discover bright young minds eager to put their research into practice.

A diverse and interdisciplinary community is especially close to our hearts. That's what makes a network so rich. That's why we specifically call on women to apply to become members (currently 23%). Clearly, we are happy to have any female mentor who is a role model.

The project also aims for strong European networking. What potential do you see here for the future and how can the Berlin AI ecosystem, as the home of the initiative, support and benefit?
We are forging links with numerous research and innovation institutions outside Germany. About three times a year, we organize AI Grid Science & Innovation Tours across Europe, where our members get to know other AI ecosystems and learn about potential research collaborations.

On-site, we meet with early-stage researchers, high-profile professors and relevant stakeholders, as well as growing companies and startups. These tours give our members the chance to build an extensive network in just a few days that will be of great benefit to their future careers.

We recently met leading AI stakeholders in Stockholm and are currently planning the next meetings in Zurich and Barcelona. This will be exciting, especially meeting with AI experts from Disney Research in Zurich.

We are active nationwide and are based in Berlin. This way, we stay in close contact with relevant local players in our ecosystem and can collaborate more easily. We are particularly excited about our collaboration with Berlin Partner, who opened the doors for us at the TOA Festival last June. We have some joint plans for the future, wanting to organize events together and the like. Berlin Partner also brought us together with the Catalan representation in Berlin, with whom we are now launching the upcoming Science Tour in Barcelona. It is so much more efficient to work with strong partners!

You work with renowned luminaries and young talents. What distinguishes the next generation of AI experts?
It's very clear: the new generation of young AI scientists is conducting research to address the major challenges facing our society, especially those that place a heavy burden on the environment. So we are moving towards "Green AI", i.e. AI methods in areas that are relevant in terms of sustainability. And that's a great thing!

For example, a young researcher in our community is analyzing how glaciers melt to more accurately predict temperature trends in the climate crisis.  Another scientist wants to optimize the cycle of lithium batteries for electric cars. And a young psychologist is looking at the crisis of trust between humans and artificial intelligence.

It may sound a bit trivial, but for me, technology is useful when it helps us live better. Otherwise, it is superfluous. In very concrete terms, this means that we need to develop solutions to make our prevention and healthcare systems more efficient, to move around more easily and in a more environmentally friendly way, to build an equal and efficient education and training system, to live better, etc.

This is exactly what we need all these young talents for!

Thank you, Laure Poirson, for your time!