More cutting-edge research in Germany should facilitate the Excellence Initiative of the federal government and federal states in the coming years. Funds of 1.9 billion euros are available for this nationwide until 2012 – financial means that should contribute to improving the international competitiveness of German colleges.
In a multistage process, the international group of experts summoned by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG) awarded the contract at Saarland University as well as the request for a Cluster of Excellence to the theme “Multimodal Computing and Interaction” and also the concept of an international graduate school for computing sciences in 2007.
Together, both establishments shall be funded for this with around 40 million euros by the federal government and states over the coming five years.
Start into a knowledge-based society
The starting point of the Cluster of Excellence is the observation that our living and working conditions have dramatically changed over the past three decades – commonly described as the start into a knowledge-based society. Today, digital content is omnipresent. Ten years ago, such content generally consisted of text; today it is expanded as audio, video and graphics. It has become a challenge to organize this multimodal information in a robust, efficient and intelligent manner, to understand and to investigate as well as to create reliable systems with intuitive multimodal interaction opportunities.
The “Multimodal Computing and Interaction” Cluster of Excellence rises to this challenge. In this counted, the term “multimodal” describes various types of information such as text, language, pictures, video, graphics and high dimensional data as well as also types of perception and communication – particularly through seeing, listening and human expression.
Multimodal processing and interaction
Day-to-day interpersonal communication is based on a number of different modalities (language, mimic, gesture and so forth). The first research aim is a similar natural multimodal interaction with information systems, anywhere and at any time. The systems must consider the environmental context, react to language, text and gestures and reply with language, text, video, virtual representation or by means of virtual characters.
The second research aim is to improve the abilities of computer systems to record, process and present data of completely different modalities efficiently and robustly. Also large, divided, noisy and incomplete multimodal data should be analyzed and interpreted; the recorded knowledge should be prepared and visualized in real-time. We call this multimodal processing.
Participating in the Cluster of Excellence are computer scientists, computer linguists, linguists, phoneticians, bioinformaticians, and also psychologists and sociologists. The Cluster is organized into nine research areas.
Four of these (Text and Speech Processing, Visual Computing, Algorithmic Foundations and Secure Autonomous Networked Systems) are more basis-oriented, while the other five (Open Science Web, Information Processing in the Life Sciences, Large-Scale Virtual Environments, Synthetic Virtual Characters and Multimodal Dialogue Systems) are more strongly oriented to application. The cluster encompasses the leading German faculties for computer sciences and computational linguistics and phonetics of Saarland University, the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence as well as the newly-founded Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. A central aim of the cluster is the qualification and promotion of the younger generation of scientists. The predominant part of the requested means is therefore foreseen for the establishment of 20 junior groups. The engaged institutes have agreed upon a joint long-term research programme that forms the foundation of this venture.
Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Seidel has been scientific director at the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science since 1999 as well as professor at Saarland University. He has been spokesman of the Excellence Cluster “Multimodal Computing and Interaction” since 2007. In 2003, Seidel was awarded the Leibniz Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for his scientific performance.