Everybody’s heard of artificial intelligence. Entire Hollywood films and best-selling novels have asked: When will robots be truly “intelligent”? And what will happen then? Since April 2017, Steven Peters has been building up an Artificial Intelligence Research team at the Mercedes-Benz Group. The team’s tasks cover the entire spectrum of automotive development.
Mr. Peters, why are so many people fascinated by artificial intelligence?
Although AI isn’t really a new field of research, it has developed at a breathtaking pace in recent years. Things which experts would have thought impossible just a few years ago can now be demonstrated in practice. However, I would like to point out that I think the topic is sometimes exaggerated and this can lead to disappointed expectations. But it’s certainly something that’s already changing our world and that can enrich our personal and professional lives.
What does AI mean exactly?
The main element of today’s AI is machine learning, which is also referred to as statistical learning. This means that AI is mathematics. Cutting-edge IT and the availability of large amounts of data (big data) enable AI to find and use very complex patterns in a highly automated manner. Such pattern searches are also used to “understand” everyday scenes in photographs, for example.
What precisely does your team do?
AI has become an important tool for Mercedes-Benz. We are algorithm experts who are trying to discover the crucial patterns in driving and use situations as well as in components and test data. Once we have found these patterns, we can work together with the specialist development departments to improve existing functions or create completely new ones. We then test the first prototypes in cooperation with in-house users and customers. This aspect, in particular, makes AI a very interdisciplinary field in which algorithm experts work together with function developers, psychologists, and designers.
Strictly speaking, AI is not a newfound field of research, but the development of the topic over the last years has been breathtaking
Can you give us an example?
Sure. If our customers repeatedly use a function in a certain way, we can study these patterns to develop a system. The next time the function is required, the system can predict its use in advance, and adjust itself automatically. A simple theoretical example of this would be to employ the system for a heated seat.
Another interesting research task is to assess the emotions of the vehicle occupants. It would enable us to adjust the steadily growing range of entertainment and relaxation programs to the car occupants’ preferences.
Are there any limits to this?
Certainly. Anticipating all of the driver’s wishes isn’t really our main goal. After all, things can quickly become creepy if the car responds too much to each of the occupants’ needs. It would make you ask yourself whether you are still in control. Our AI programs aim to increase our customers’ comfort and ensure safe operation, but they should always be comprehensible as well and must never be obtrusive.
Where is Mercedes-Benz already using artificial intelligence?
In addition to the examples I’ve mentioned, we’re also using AI to improve knowledge transfer within the Group. For example, when new engineers join the company, the system can help them find their way around because it already “knows” all of the existing vehicle designs at Mercedes-Benz. In this way, we can train algorithms to permanently secure the wealth of experience that has been built up at the company over the decades. Finding a solution to a problem might simply require the system to suggest that a new engineer contacts a certain experienced colleague, for example.
Do you have a tip for job applicants?
Simply come by and talk to us. Startups and universities are very important partners for us. For the past year, we’ve been a partner of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the United States, for example, as well as a founding member of Cyber Valley here in the Stuttgart area. We’ve also been able to give students from Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Ulm, and Tübingen a small glimpse of our daily work during hackathons, such as the one we held in cooperation with Mercedes-Benz TSS GmbH at Motorworld in Böblingen last November.
In short, a job here might just be the thing for you if you don’t think that artificial intelligence is a new artistic movement, mathematics has always been one of your strong points, and you want to work on Mercedes-Benz’s AI team. To find our job openings, click here.