We humans have a need to exchange ideas with like-minded people and to network, it's practically in our DNA. This need for sharing knowledge is most pressing in the field of artificial intelligence, which is constantly evolving and bursting with innovations. In 2018, the AI consultancy Taival recognised this demand and launched the AI Monday networking event series. The events always take place on Mondays in different cities across Europe and include exciting talks and important networking opportunities. At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the event was quickly transformed to an online format.
Juri Stobbe is the head of Taival Germany and co-founder of AI Monday. We talked to him about his favourite places in Berlin, the thriving AI ecosystem and why we should all do more than just focus on risks.
Mr Stobbe, what do you like most about Berlin? Where do you prefer to spend your time?
I am a Berliner. I grew up in Berlin and love this city. I think its greatest asset is the diversity, freedom and countless opportunities that this city has to offer.
I also love cycling. As a triathlete, I spend a lot of time on the streets of Berlin as well as in the many lakes, outdoor pools and parks of the city and the surrounding region. Since our family has had a dog, we've been exploring the new, beautiful, green areas in Berlin.
With AI Monday Berlin, launched in collaboration with Berlin Partner and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), you created an event series for AI actors and other interested partners to exchange ideas. How did it all start?
Before we founded Taival in 2017, we noticed that the discussions at AI events were often very technological and driven by IT experts. However, we were and remain convinced that the subject should be approached from the perspective of specific business use cases and value-based pilots in order to optimise the value of AI for companies. Under the working title "AI Fireside Conversation", we quickly came up with the idea of using a concept that is a mix of the TED Talk format and Mobile Monday or GeoMonday, which in previous years have become popular formats around the world. And in recognition of these early pioneering tech events, we named our series AI Monday. From then on, the journey took its course and we are thrilled to see how our little idea has grown into a large community of businesses and technology experts.
How did you feel about having to move AI Monday online due to the coronavirus pandemic? How has the series developed since then?
The pandemic has not diminished interest in AI. On the contrary - despite a veritable flood of new digital content, webinars and conferences, often at the same time, we still have three-digit registrations. The possibility of attending our events from any location has attracted many new members. We also found it easier to find inspiring speakers, thanks to the possibilities of online event hosting.
However, there is one area that we have not yet been able to restore to the previous level: networking and informal get-togethers. Although we have tried many different providers and solutions, Zoom and the like cannot adequately replace the obligatory chat over pizza and beer.
Berlin is now well positioned when it comes to networking and knowledge exchange in the field of artificial intelligence. Which AI hubs and accelerators do you think stand out?
I think it's the mix and diversity that makes the city so special: many solution providers, start-ups and larger companies, start-up hubs and innovation laboratories, co-working spaces, etc. make it particularly attractive for companies and talent to feel at home in Berlin. In addition, the city has a very good reputation around the world, which is why many experts from abroad explicitly want to come to Berlin. Local universities and research institutions also offer a lot of potential and opportunities to research, develop and create new things in the field of AI.
In the past, conferences such as Rise of AI and the like have brought many experts to Berlin. The opening of the AI Campus in Berlin by Merantix, which was widely reported in the media, has increased the city's popularity as a tech hub. The DFKI is expanding its capacities in Berlin, AI and healthcare are booming in Berlin, but also large companies such as Amazon, SAP and Zalando have set up large AI research labs here in Berlin. I would therefore not just point to individual things, but rather the entire ecosystem as a whole.
AI Monday also takes place at other locations across Europe. How do you rank AI developments in those cities compared to Berlin? In what areas is Berlin ahead, where does it still need to catch up?
Berlin is in a great position here. But locations like Stuttgart and Munich with their many medium-sized and large, not only automotive-focused, investment-friendly companies have significantly more sales potential for innovative start-ups. Where in Berlin there is a lot of focus on research, innovation and prototypes, solutions are quickly put into production here in the south. This naturally incentivises start-ups to develop profitable solutions and products faster. Initiatives such as appliedAI in Munich or Cyber Valley in Tübingen are small, very well-financed successful examples where you can certainly learn a thing or two.
Are there any noticeable differences between attendance and participation in AI Monday events in Berlin compared to, for example, Copenhagen, Helsinki or Stuttgart? Do the ideas and presentations differ depending on the location?
The differences are not that great. We notice this mostly in the communities that have formed around the events. In Stuttgart and Helsinki, for example, we have a solid core of participants who are always there and actively promote the event on social media. Leipzig has a lot more local flair than other locations, Copenhagen and NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) are organised by partners and are therefore special in their own way. About a third of all participants at the events are tech people: data engineers and scientists, ML experts, etc., although this may vary slightly depending on the theme for the respective event. A little more than a third are from the "business field": CEOs and entrepreneurs, heads of departments, innovation labs and consultancies. The rest are students and other diverse groups. I still remember a conversation in Copenhagen with a primary school teacher.
If you had one wish, what would you wish for in the field of AI for Berlin in the future?
I would like politics, research and everyone involved in AI and machine learning to focus on exploiting the incredible possibilities that this technology gives us. And only take measures to address the problems that come with it when they actually arise. Let's talk less about regulation, ethics and the like, but rather about how small and medium-sized entrepreneurs can digitize their processes, automate them with AI, deliver better results using a mass of collected data and ML algorithms, and create completely new business models from them. Let us show which methods and approaches are necessary, how companies have to adapt, which talents they need and how they can find and train them. Promote, inform & inspire. Focus on the doing and less on potential concerns and risks.
Last but not least: Which AI Monday events can Berliners look forward to in the near future?