Lorenz Hufe, Co-founder at BLISS © Privat

08 April 2024

"One of our main tasks will be to prevent the exodus of local AI talent."

BLISS is a student organization in Berlin that brings together like-minded people who share a great interest and passion for the field of machine learning. At the weekly meetups, students have the opportunity to learn from experienced researchers, discuss the latest papers from the field of AI in a reading group or take part in hackathons and other workshops. #ai_berlin caught up with Lorenz Hufe, one of the founders of BLISS, to find out more about the initiative and the competitive market for machine learning talent.

Hello Mr. Hufe. With BLISS, you have set up a machine learning community by students for students, which was awarded the "We are TU Berlin" prize. How did the initiative come about and is it also open to students from other Berlin universities?

We are delighted to have received recognition for our voluntary work in the form of the "We are TU Berlin" award. We founded BLISS as a non-profit association in order to achieve two goals that were close to our hearts.

Our first motivation was the desire to create a space in Berlin where all people interested in artificial intelligence can exchange ideas and learn together. In addition, BLISS is an initiative that opens up many opportunities and offers its members, especially students from Berlin's universities and colleges, the chance to get involved. It is often difficult for students to establish a network in the field of AI or to conduct their own research. In the USA, for example, much more is being done to intensively support students in this area and BLISS is following suit.

Our initiative is open to all students and early careers and we plan to further increase our efforts to integrate students from all Berlin universities this year.

Exchange and community building are an important part of BLISS. What event formats are there and what do they offer young students in particular?

BLISS has a lot to offer. On the one hand, we are continuing our BLISS AI Speaker Series, where this season we welcome leading researchers from renowned institutions such as DeepMind, Microsoft, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the Technical and Free University of Berlin. We also organize regular reading circles where we meet weekly to read and discuss current research papers. These events are open to all interested parties and are not exclusively for students.

We also have a program exclusively for students. In May, for example, we are organizing two special events: On the one hand, a networking meeting for FLINTA* people in the field of Artificial Intelligence to meet role models and make important contacts. On the other hand, we are organizing a hackathon in close cooperation with Google, which is exclusively open to students. This programming competition is intended not only to provide participating students with specialist knowledge, but also to provide them with valuable contacts and support them in their professional and personal development.

How does BLISS promote entrepreneurship and innovation among its members?

BLISS offers a space in which its members can pursue and express their own visions. Seeing how the idea of a lecture series suddenly becomes a real program that regularly brings around a hundred people into a room encourages people to dare to do more, perhaps even to found a company.

In addition to this inspiring effect, we provide direct impetus through our active participation in hackathons. Last year, for example, two members of our association won a hackathon organized by Google, where they were able to prevail against almost 200 professional developers. These successes are not only proof of the high level of commitment of our members, but also serve as motivation for others to strive for similar successes.

The collaboration with K.I.E.Z. is of particular importance to us, as we pursue a common goal: to strengthen and promote the transfer of knowledge between research and industry. For example, we organized a one-day hackathon in cooperation with K.I.E.Z., in which participants had to reconstruct image data from a faulty sensor. Through this collaboration, we are able to create a framework in which innovative ideas can emerge and grow, which ultimately contributes to the development of a dynamic and resilient start-up landscape.

TU Berlin is training the next generation of specialists in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning and your events bring students into contact with the business world. In your view, what is the situation at the interface between research and practice, where talent is desperately sought?

In my opinion, there is definitely room for improvement in this area. In Germany, we place great value on freedom in research, which is absolutely justified. However, the strong independence of universities from industry means that students' access to companies is limited, as there is little intensive cooperation between these two areas. This is where BLISS offers a significant advantage: we are able to represent the interests of students independently of corporate and university policy influences. We not only provide our members with access to research institutions, but also work together with companies, which we consider to be important partners. In our view, BLISS plays a crucial role in building a bridge between the interests of research, industry and the needs of students.

Berlin is a focal point for many talents worldwide. What makes the city and its location so attractive - also in comparison to other cities?

Berlin is creative, lives inclusion and is a global metropolis. People and ideas come together here that cannot meet anywhere else in this way. I am convinced that this is the reason why the Berlin AI ecosystem has developed so well in recent years. Many people don't even know that Google DeepMind, Microsoft, AI4Science and AWS Research are doing research in Berlin!

Artificial intelligence is a key technology that is being developed and used by more and more companies, as well as in research and public administration. What is the situation in your community? How do members prefer to get involved? What motivates them?

Our members are highly motivated to address real problems with their expertise in the field of AI. However, it is a challenge for many German companies to use AI in a targeted and successful way. This leads to a certain reluctance to cooperate and support students in our specialist field. This is in stark contrast to the treatment of AI talent in other countries. BLISS has already received several offers of support from companies in the UK and the USA, even if they do not have a direct location in Germany. In contrast, many German companies do not know how to attract the attention of BLISS members, for example through internships. This makes it clear that we still have a lot of work to do in Germany. This continues to motivate me. I am convinced that we can cover the entire spectrum of AI in Berlin: from cutting-edge research to entrepreneurship and teaching. One of our main tasks will be to prevent the exodus of local AI talent. BLISS plays a key role in this by establishing early connections between talent and the AI ecosystem in Berlin.

Thank you very much for the interview.