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Amazon is opening a research centre in Germany dedicated to artificial intelligence, as part of an effort led by Germany’s Max Planck Society to create the world’s leading hub for AI around Stuttgart and Tübingen.

The hub, called Cyber Valley, was launched last December when the Max Planck Society, two technical universities and the State of Baden-Württemberg joined forces with six leading companies including Facebook, BMW and car parts supplier ZF to combine academic and industry research to advance artificial intelligence. 

Amazon, which this month purchased AI human modelling start-up Body Labs, said that as well as joining the initiative it would open a research centre in Tübingen and create 100 jobs dedicated to expanding applied research with AI. 

The Amazon Research Center will mean the US ecommerce behemoth is part of “one of the largest research partnerships in Europe in the field of artificial intelligence”, said Ralf Herbrich, director of machine learning at Amazon. 

Martin Stratmann, president of the Max Planck Society, told the Financial Times: “[Amazon] sees this is a major hub being established in Europe, a special industry environment coming up. It tells me that in this very competitive field, we have achieved quite some standing.” 

The Max Planck Society comprises 84 institutes around the world dedicated to specific areas from microbiology to astronomy. Its Institute for Intelligent Systems, established in 2011 at two locations in Stuttgart and Tübingen, aims to do for artificial intelligence what Stanford University did for digital technology, resulting in Silicon Valley. 

“The principal idea is to take the strength of German expertise, which is manufacturing, and combine it with software to form intelligent machines,” Mr Stratmann said. 

Stuttgart is the headquarters for Daimler, parent of Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, the sports car maker, and Bosch, the world’s largest supplier of car parts and holder of the most patents in autonomous driving technology. All three are founding members of Cyber Valley. Tübingen is a university town focused on the life sciences, including cognition and how the brain works. 

The aim of Cyber Valley is to combine the two cities’ strengths to develop artificial intelligence in the fields of human cell research, mobility and any other area involving enormous amounts of data. 

“You cannot do AI today without big data,” said Mr Stratmann. “That’s why academia teams up with industry.” 

Amazon, like all partners involved, will contribute €1.25m to establish new research groups in the area. It has also agreed to pay €420,000 a year to sponsor doctoral and postdoctoral students and will also sponsor two “distinguished Amazon scholars” — Michael J Black, co-founder of Body Labs, and Bernhard Schölkopf, a leading scientist in the field of machine learning. 

Body Labs, acquired by Amazon for an undisclosed amount, is a start-up focused on scanning human bodies and creating digital replicas of them. 

Mr Stratmann said artificial intelligence was an open field and nobody can say what it will bring in the coming decades. “Medicine, science, engineering, it changes everything,” he said. “We are living in times of revolutionary change for science and technology.”

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