Helmholtz Artificial Intelligence Cooperation Unit (HAICU)

The Perfect Team: HAICU Helps Data Science Experts Strengthen Artificial Intelligence in the Helmholtz Association

Research in Applied Artificial Intelligence will now be accelerated in the Helmholtz Association on an interdisciplinary and cross-center basis: HAICU, the acronym of the Helmholtz Artificial Intelligence Cooperation Unit, was launched in March 2019. In this dedicated unit, methods of artificial intelligence for applications in all research areas of the Helmholtz centers are being developed, implemented and disseminated. The HAICU research platform with Professor Fabian Theis as its director is based at Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Prof. Fabian Theis, HAICU-Direktor © Helmholtz Zentrum München/ Anna Sacher

In order to generate new findings from the huge, complex and heterogeneous amounts of data of digitized research and to finally convert them for innovative use, scientists depend on the support of computers. For artificial intelligence (AI), big data is like fodder – according to the principle: the more data, the more accurate the interpretation. "Although ‘bigger’ per se doesn’t necessarily mean better," said Professor Fabian Theis, director of the Institute of Computational Biology at Helmholtz Zentrum München and Professor of Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems at TUM. "Bigger only leads to success when AI gets smarter with every new data point and thus becomes able to sift through and combine the data with increasing efficiency. And that’s precisely what we’re working on.”

Programming and training AI

When fed a lot of data and given a lot of training, AI can detect cross-connections and new trends that would have remained hidden from the human brain. In HAICU, data science experts jointly develop intelligent applications for all relevant research issues emerging from the various Helmholtz centers and implement these in situ. HAICU is an independent platform for a prototype in the area of "Information and Data Science" and a think tank for AI and machine learning within the Helmholtz Association. It consists of the coordinating unit based at Helmholtz Zentrum München and headed by Theis and five local units for specific research areas: the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Helmholtz Center Geesthacht, Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf and the German Aerospace Center Oberpfaffenhofen. "As a ‘national hub’, we are aware of our responsibility at Helmholtz Zentrum München and will dedicate all our enthusiasm and competence to expanding AI at the Helmholtz centers," said Theis.

The mission of the coordinating unit is to conduct research in the field of applied AI itself with the combined expertise and capacity of three junior and two senior groups. In addition, ten experts are available as so-called AI consultants to develop applications from the various Helmholtz centers to solve a wide range of problems. The "Coordination & Outreach" subunit within the base unit matches inquiries and expertise and coordinates support.

Applying big data

The Helmholtz Association is in an excellent starting position to develop applied AI. For example, it already operates large research infrastructures for nuclear and particle physics, a supercomputer, satellite missions or handles complex stem cell simulations. HAICU will use all of this data and become the key catalyst for becoming a global leader in the field of applied AI and in turn contribute to research once again. "The Helmholtz Association already has access to a treasure trove of big data that is growing exponentially," said Helmholtz President Professor Otmar D. Wiestler. "At all its locations, and in all the individual disciplines, it boasts world-leading approaches and outstanding methodological expertise. But it is only through their interaction that unforeseen possibilities arise. With annual funding totaling 11.4 million euros, Helmholtz now provides the know-how and manpower in HAICU to exploit these synergies. As a result, Helmholtz centers will now become a sought-after cooperation partner for industry, also in the field of artificial intelligence, and the resulting spin-offs will strengthen the German economy as a whole."

Up to date through an innovative network

Theis and his teams at the base unit can draw on special experience and expertise at Helmholtz Zentrum München: Just last year, in 2018, the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus was successfully launched here as an independent construct with its own management and independent research. Many years of experience from the cooperation of the core facilities with industrial partners as well as cooperation with the two Munich elite universities can be adapted for HAICU.

With Theis as director, who has networking in his blood not only as a data science expert, you can be sure that he will drive HAICU forward to success with full enthusiasm and creativity: In addition to networks on communication platforms and social media, international visitor programs, video streamings by international experts, symposia and workshops, for example in hackathons with coffee and pizza, the knowledge of the community shall be applied synergistically.

"HAICU and above all its base here at Helmholtz Zentrum München will further reinforce Munich’s position as the location for future-oriented top-level research, and will also consolidate and intensify our collaborative partnerships with industry and the two universities of excellence TUM and LMU“, said Professor Matthias Tschöp, CEO of Helmholtz Zentrum München. "And of course, wide-reaching synergies exist in the fields of informatics, robotics and machine learning, especially with Technische Universität München. We are delighted, and we see the funding of HAICU as recognition for the activities we have already initiated in the key technology field of artificial intelligence and its application in biomedicine. Both Helmholtz President Otmar Wiestler and Markus Söder, Minister President of Bavaria, regard artificial intelligence as a central to future-oriented research. Thanks to this funding and the outstanding scientific expertise available at the the centers, the Helmholtz Association will underline Germany’s research at world class level."

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