While it’s not unusual for new Google offices to spring up overseas, their expansion to Berlin this past January makes sense on a number of levels.
They didn’t just head to the German city to enjoy its culture, media and startup scene, after all; the company confirmed that some of the new “Googlers” in their city-center location will focus on the research and application of artificial intelligence, especially deep learning. This reflects two of Berlin’s strengths: They have a diverse, international talent pool and a fast-expanding landscape of networked research and economic facilities that are pushing the boundaries of technology. This combination of features makes them a prime location for AI research and development.
Berlin’s reputation as an AI hub has been gaining momentum since the mid-2000s, when companies started flocking to the capital to launch their ventures. Over roughly the last decade, Berlin has produced more AI companies than any other German city. Reinforcing the capital’s success, a recent study by the Berlin Technology Foundation identified 223 AI-focused companies there that employ about 5,000 people and generate almost 500 million euros in revenue.
Moving forward with AI research
Professors at academic institutions across Berlin are researching and teaching various areas of AI application. Over 230 AI-related research projects were carried out in Berlin between 2007 and 2017, many of them realized at internationally-renowned centers such as the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, the Berlin Center for Machine Learning and the Berlin Big Data Center. These projects have produced interdisciplinary work in a wide range of fields, including health technology, speech and image recognition systems, intelligent analysis of massive data/cognitive assistant development, interactive textiles, educational technology and collaborative robots.
The director of the Berlin Big Data Center at TU Berlin, Volker Markl, noted that “there are leading companies with a strong focus on AI, such as Amazon, SAP, Google and Siemens, in Berlin.” He also said that the Berlin startup scene “offers a unique ecosystem for research and technology transfer in the field of artificial intelligence, with cutting-edge research in the field of data science, especially in the essential basics of data management and machine learning.”
Inspiring new technology businesses
It’s no surprise that the German technology market isn’t in the same sized league as the American model. But could that be an advantage? Dr. Susan Wegner, vice president of data, artificial intelligence and governance at Deutsche Telekom, thinks so. She sees an asset in the city’s many opportunities to link research with practice.
“The founder scene in Berlin is still more relaxed and more transparent, and therefore the exchange [of ideas] is made easier and [is] currently very inspirational,” she said.
Though around 80 percent of startups are operating in the business-to-business sector, there is a diverse range of applications for AI companies in Berlin. Other key areas include entertainment, business and process management, as well as health and mobility intelligence. Some of the city’s prominent players include AI research lab and venture builder Merantix, AI anti-fraud startup Fraugster, Audatic — a deep learning system that improves hearing aids by filtering unwanted sounds and enhancing interesting ones — and Parlamind, which creates intelligent customer care agents for service teams.
Berlin AI innovator example: Brighter AI
Brighter AI, “Europe’s Hottest Startup” and inception award winner at GTC Europe 2018 by NVIDIA, anonymizes visual data, such as people’s faces or license plates, while keeping the content natural and fully analyzable. The deep tech startup is already working with automotive companies to accelerate camera data collection and thereby the development of self-driving cars. The technology makes data collection in public compliant according to privacy regulations worldwide, such as GDPR in Europe, CSL in China and the upcoming CCPA in the US.
Europe’s next AI capital?
Berlin’s expanding startup ecosystem, coupled with its established tech firms and collaboration between academia and industry, makes the city a flourishing environment for AI innovation.
In November 2018, as a commitment to support further AI endeavors, the German government announced its plan to invest €3 billion ($3.4 billion) to boost the country’s AI capabilities and research over the next six years. Private sector companies are expected to match that number, bringing the total investment to €6 billion ($6.79 billion.) This new AI strategy also includes building 12 AI R&D centers and creating 100 university chairs focused on expanding AI capabilities.
By 2025, the annual revenue of AI companies in Berlin is expected to reach over €2 billion ($2.26 billion.) New conference formats such as Rise of AI, DeepBerlin and many smaller events are emerging from a desire to change society in yet unforeseen ways.
There is a massive potential waiting to be tapped, not just by Google. The real question is not whether Berlin’s AI is already the smartest in Europe, but how smart can it become in the future.