Professor of AI: “This technology is here to stay”

29 September 2020

Portrait of Thomas Schön

Thomas Schön leads AI for Research, a five-year initiative in which researchers from all areas of Uppsala University.

Hello there... Thomas Schön, newly appointed Professor of Artificial Intelligence, a post made possible by a grant of SEK 15 million from the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation. Why is this the time for a professorship in artificial intelligence (AI)?

“AI is a technology that is very much part of our existence; for example, safer vehicles and better healthcare are already saving lives. That said, there are areas in which we have barely begun to reflect on the opportunities it presents to us. What is clear however, is that this technology is here to stay, that its development is unremitting and that every choice we make today will impact on us in the future. So, we must quickly take command over what form we want it to take.”

How will you be organising your work?
“I see AI as a tool that can help us to meet many of the major challenges facing our society. When just over two years ago I was tasked with sketching a structure for Uppsala University’s work in the field, we therefore fairly quickly settled on an interdisciplinary profile. These forms are now ready and in the autumn we will be launching AI for Research, a five-year initiative in which researchers from all areas of the University will meet to develop ideas, perspectives and projects that will hopefully take on a life of their own at their respective home departments.”

What will you yourself be bringing to the new environment?
“Over 10 years of research into machine learning. This is a central component of AI in which computers learn to identify patterns and draw their own conclusions with the aid of data, mathematical models and algorithms. It should certainly not be confused with traditional intelligence and the ability to achieve complex objectives. Rather, these algorithms are like recipes – a set of ingredients that when correctly combined generate a specific result; for example, an automated interpretation of ECGs developed with Brazilian cardiologists that currently demonstrates accuracy in identifying the most common ECG deviations on a par with human doctors.”

Where will AI for Research be in five years?
“I arrived at Uppsala seven years ago as a newly appointed professor in automatic control with funding for two doctoral students. Today, we have a team of over 20 and are part of WASP, Sweden’s largest ever single research programme; my point being, that the upshift in AI has been so intense that it is difficult to make predictions. My ambition, however, is that we will generate flexible collaborations that contribute to education and research at Uppsala University and thereby make a clear and long-term contribution to strengthening Sweden’s AI profile.”

Last modified: 2021-02-14