Prof. Staab is one of the leading international experts on the Semantic Web, i.e., the research area that deals with semantic understanding of data. His further research focuses on artificial intelligence, especially in the context of natural language processing, and human-computer interaction on the web. Steffen Staab was appointed to the Cyber Valley Professorship "Analytic Computing" at the University of Stuttgart on February 1, 2020.
Florian: Professor Staab, you are a professor of artificial intelligence (AI) and hold the "Analytic Computing" chair of the Cyber-Valley Initiative at the University of Stuttgart. What does the Cyber Valley Initiative mean for the research in AI?
Steffen Staab: The initiative is the largest research network in artificial intelligence in Europe with partners in science, industry and the state of Baden-Württemberg. This opens up a wide range of cooperation opportunities for us in the research department and with companies. These range from the basic research of the Max Planck Institute and the business-oriented development of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to internationally operating companies such as Bosch. In this way, our region is raising its profile as a top-class location for research and the development of artificial intelligence.
Florian: What impact can the use of artificial intelligence have on people's lives?
Steffen Staab: The influence of artificial intelligence will gradually affect our entire society. From smart buildings that automate ventilation and heating, to optimized traffic routing based on data about prevailing traffic and autonomous vehicles, to the medical environment in which doctors are supported by AI systems in their decision-making. We are already seeing how our environment is being shaped by AI in the form of intelligent search functions on the internet, assistance systems for dermatologists and in the use of robots at home and in the industry.
Florian: You are the mentor of the start-up Semanux as well as the PhD supervisor of three of its founders. What fascinates you so much about eye tracking in relation to artificial intelligence?
Steffen Staab: I have been working on the topic of eye tracking for quite some time, since 2011 to be precise. I am fascinated by the fact that it is possible to determine people's attention to different areas of the screen. From these subconscious processes, one can derive many highly interesting conclusions, such as which content on the screen was interesting to the viewers, which content the viewers only skimmed over, or which content the viewers may have had problems understanding. Among other things, we were already able to show how eye tracking can be used to automatically categorize photos. This is particularly relevant in today's flood of photos from smartphones and social media. After that, we successfully worked on the intuitive and accessible control of computers with eye tracking and finally combined it with other modalities such as touch control and voice input. The knowledge gained is now being implemented in Semanux for everyday use.
Florian: What advice can you give to company founders in the AI field?
Steffen Staab: A very important point is the generalization of AI. If you have to adapt the software to too many different use cases, you lose the flexibility you need for a company.
Florian: Do you think Semanux's software will have commercial success?
Steffen Staab: Absolutely because many millions of people will benefit from it when operating computers.
Founding partners of the Cyber Valley Initiative are the State Baden-Württemberg, the University Stuttgart and Tübingen, the Max Planck Society with the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, as well as Amazon, the BMW AG , the IAV GmbH, the Mercedes-Benz-AG, the Porsche AG, the Robert Bosch GmbH and the ZF Friedrichshafen AG. Cyber Valley is also supported by the Christian Bürkert Foundation, the Gips-Schüle-Foundation, the Vector Foundation and the Carl-Zeiss-Foundation. In addition, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is a Cyber Valley partner.