On 10th of December 2019 at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), the leading international conference on machine learning, ELLIS announced the establishment of the first 17 ELLIS units across 10 European countries and Israel. Built around outstanding AI researchers, the newly established research units are devoted to tackling fundamental challenges in AI with a focus on research excellence and societal impact. An open call resulted in 28 proposals from 13 countries, each of which committed local funding of at least 1.5 Mio € per year for at least five years, 20% thereof reserved for ELLIS network activities such as student and faculty exchanges and the organization of joint ELLIS research programs and workshops. Proposals from Alicante, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Darmstadt, Delft, Freiburg, Helsinki, Linz, Lausanne, Leuven, Oxford, Prague, Saarbrücken, Tel Aviv, Tübingen, Vienna (IST Austria) and Zürich (ETH Zürich) were selected by an international evaluation committee, based on proven scientific excellence and the implementation of measures to foster the ELLIS mission. To avoid conflicts of interest, all the reviews were done by scientists of countries different from the units being evaluated. The list of directors of ELLIS units includes European researchers such as Wolfram Burgard, Sepp Hochreiter, Thomas Hofmann, Sami Kaski, Nuria Oliver, Bernhard Schölkopf, Yee Whye Teh, Luc van Gool and Max Welling.
The ELLIS network will continue to grow. Additional strong proposals from a variety of places (including the Italian Institute of Technology and Cambridge University) are still in the evaluation process. The presentation of all units in the first batch is planned to take place in Spring next year, and the next deadline for submitting ELLIS unit proposals will be March 1st, 2020.
The reviewed ELLIS units include more than 35 ERC grants among their faculty, 17 ACM/IEEE (and similar) fellowships, 15 memberships in National Science and Engineering Academies, and have co-funded or contributed to at least 36 startups. Together, the first approved ELLIS units are committing well above 200 Mio € of their own budget for the first 5 years. Their research topics include fundamental machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, robotics, human-centric and trustworthy AI, and application areas such as environmental modeling, autonomous systems design, biology and health. They all focus on modern AI, which relies heavily on machine learning methods such as deep neural networks that allow computers to learn from data and experience. Machine learning recently made great progress in solving long-standing challenges in computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing and machine translation. It is the driver of modern AI applications such as self-driving vehicles and advancements in medicine. ELLIS puts particular emphasis on advancing the foundations of machine learning to become more data-efficient, interpretable, robust and human-centric.
In addition to outstanding academic quality, diversity is a key focus in ELLIS. All units have committed to taking specific actions to ensure that the future of Artificial Intelligence is created by teams drawing from multiple perspectives in terms of area of expertise, seniority, gender and country of origin.
The establishment of the ELLIS units is the next step towards the realization of the ELLIS vision of an intergovernmental European AI program with multiple ELLIS institutes performing world-class multi-disciplinary research in machine learning and related areas.