At the heart of the Leibniz AI Lab is the opportunity to work with outstanding scientists from all over the world. Since the beginning of the Future Lab, several professors have already been guests in Hannover and have contributed their share to the research and given new impulses. Prof Grigoris Antoniou from the University of Huddersfield joint the Leibniz AI Lab in January 2023. We wanted to get to know him a little better and asked about his research, the Leibniz AI Lab and life in Germany.

Portrait of Grigoris Antoniou

Start-ups are trained to present their idea in a so-called “elevator pitch”. Can you describe your research in a nutshell?

My long-term research interests lie in artificial intelligence. I come from the tradition of knowledge-based AI, where the idea is to represent knowledge about the world and make decisions based to it. A modern manifestation of such AI are modern knowledge graphs that prevail in many domains and are used by essentially all Web technology giants. The emergence of big data and data-based AI has led me to evolve my research focus to explainable, responsible, and safe AI which is not satisfied with black-box solutions. I am looking at ways of combining the two kinds of AI (knowledge-based AI and machine learning.

In recent years, I have been applying AI methods to the medical domain, and particular mental health conditions, working closely with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). I have co-developing solutions for decision support for clinical diagnostics of adult ADHD and adult autism, as well as suicide risk assessment.

Why did you become part of the Leibniz AI Lab?

L3S has an excellent international reputation and includes in Prof. Nejdl and Prof. Auer outstanding world-class research leaders. In fact, they work in the same broad areas of semantic technologies and AI.

Leibniz AI Lab has a strong focus on applying AI to medicine and this is squarely relevant to my recent research focus which is on AI for mental health. So, when I got the chance, I jumped at the opportunity to take up a visiting professorship to work with the Leibniz AI Lab and its surrounding research environment, including L3S, TiB and Hannover Medical School. I hope I can enrich the Lab with my AI expertise and my strong focus on a key application area (mental health).

What wisdom would you pass on to (future) PhD students?

Be bold: go for significant problems and follow your ideas and dreams (but make sure they are ultimately feasible)

Seek excellence: excellence is nurtured through interaction with excellence. So look for great researchers in your institution and the international community. Talk to senior researchers, listen to their advice, use them as mentors. Exchange ideas with young researchers like yourself, develop shared research roadmaps. Nowadays, scientific advance does not rely on individual researchers siting in their office but is mostly based on joint efforts.

Network: You will a strong network to develop your career

Be resilient: Rejection is a common experience in the academic world.
If there is valid criticism consider it, if the criticism is unfounded (it is often the case) move on to the next target. Remember: we count our successes (e.g., in our CVs), not our failures!

What do you like best about living and working in Germany?

Germany is the country in which I spent many formative years of my life:
I studied here, I did a PhD and was a postdoc here, I even had a short tenure as Professor in Bremen. So, Germany is a second home country to me. Having spent many years in various countries and higher education systems, I have a sharpened view of some big advantages of working and living in Germany.

Regarding work, what I like most with Germany is the ability to focus on longer-term goals instead of chasing short-term goals. The reason is that there is not the bean-counting, excessive controlling system that has spread in many higher education systems around the world. In Germany, academic freedom is still taken seriously and researchers have more room to follow their ideas. Of course, results matter and you cannot hide, but you tend to feel self-empowered (at least after you landed a professorship). For me as a visiting professor, there are no teaching or administrative responsibilities, so I can enjoy the freedom of advancing my research ideas working with other people within the Leibniz AI Lab and its research ecosystem.

The most important aspect of life are the people who surround you. I have always found Germans to be friendly, upfront (no talking behind your back) and many of them eager to engage with foreigners. On the surface, Germans are obviously not the warmest people around, they take their time to get to know you, but once they do, you earn friends for life. This is not a cliche, I have made many friends in Germany, and we are close friends even after decades of separating geographically. I look forward to making new friends during my stay in Hannover. Other aspects I like about life in Germany are the variety of food, the existence of independent art cinemas, and the transportation networks that allow a nice lifestyle without the need of a car.

Introducing our guest professors: Grigoris Antoniou