“You can’t research AI on paper” – Hessen opens AI innovation laboratory
Hesse has a new AI supercomputer – and offers advice on it: On the campus of the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, the TU Darmstadt and the Center for Artificial Intelligence hessian.ai together with Digital Minister Kristina Sinemus have the AI innovation laboratory around the data center Green IT Cube ( GITC) ceremonially opened. The new AI high-performance infrastructure within the GITC is intended to enable the development, training, testing and evaluation of AI systems and machine learning applications. The infrastructure of the high-performance data center is central to this. The AI innovation laboratory in Darmstadt also offers advice and is open to companies, start-ups and science as a contact point.
The hessian.ai computer in the Green IT Cube has 304 graphics cards (GPUs) from NVIDIA, 38 computing nodes and half a petabyte of storage space. NVIDIA is currently considered one of the leading hardware providers for AI infrastructure. According to those responsible, the hardware weighs a total of around six tons and several kilometers of cable were installed. This infrastructure is one of the top 300 supercomputers worldwide and also occupies a special position among non-commercial data centers: According to Mira Mezini, co-director of hessian.ai, the computer in the Green IT Cube is currently ranked 80th among all supercomputers and is considered the largest non-commercial offer in Germany (the numbers were given orally). In addition to the 10 million euros from state funds for NVIDIA hardware, the Hessian Ministry of Science provided 5.5 million euros for the expansion of the Green IT Cube into a research and transfer center, for example for the water cooling of the mainframe. The Green IT Cube (GITC) data center has now been awarded the Blue Angel eco-label for sustainability due to its relatively low energy consumption. Subsidies are also said to have flowed to Darmstadt from EU pots (REACT-EU program), which have been pushing the expansion of the data center since 2016.
Computing capacity: AI needs more than paper
Just as nuclear physics is not possible without particle accelerators, AI cannot be researched on paper, Mira Mezini emphasized on site. The computer science professor and engineer heads the Hessian Research Center for AI (hessian.ai) with her colleague Kristian Kersting: According to her, powerful hardware is a prerequisite for basic research, and basic research enables innovation. What is special about the Darmstadt innovation laboratory for artificial intelligence is a triad of hardware, consulting and cutting-edge research. As co-director of hessian.ai, Mezini speaks for a network of 13 universities spread across Hesse. The federal state funded the hessian.ai project with 38 million euros.
According to the Hessian Digital Minister Sinemus, the laboratory that has now opened is the fifth elementary pillar of the Hessian AI future agenda that the state is implementing. Her federal state founded a center for responsible digitization (ZEVEDI) in 2019, invested 38 million euros in the center for artificial intelligence hessian.ai (2020), a program to promote start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over 55 million euros and 120 projects have already been financed with 35 million. At the beginning of February, the AI test center AIQ (AI Quality & Testing Hub) was launched in Frankfurt am Main, which will also offer test seals and audits for AI quality in the medium term. The AI innovation laboratory in the Green IT Cube and the consulting services attached to it are intended to strengthen the German and European AI ecosystem, companies and the location.
In this context, the minister shared her vision of Hessen as a future “Silicon Valley in Europe” in the opening speech. Sinemus has set itself the goal of further promoting the “KI made in Hessen” brand. The future will show whether this comparison can be redeemed – the approach is quite remarkable. For the minister and the others present, it was clear that one’s own IT infrastructure is an important step towards independence from buying or renting computing capacity or ready-made models from other providers abroad; In view of the massive price increases for corporate customers in the cloud and office sectors that Microsoft has just announced, this is no small concern. Technical sovereignty appeared implicitly or explicitly in some of the greetings. The President of the TU Darmstadt, Tanja Brühl, also underlined the claim to bring together cutting-edge research, infrastructure and “tailor-made advice” so that basic research and the new methods and inventions arising from it can find their way directly from science into the economy, society and value creation.
(Image: Silke Hahn)
“We need to improve our own algorithms”
“We universities want and need to learn how to improve our algorithms, and we want to spread AI,” explained Brühl. Disruptive basic research is the prerequisite for technical innovation. Your TU therefore relies on partnerships and cooperation across location boundaries as well as on the formation of research priorities. Among other things, the TU works with the state of Hesse and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and will open a joint laboratory on March 23.
Numerous founders of start-ups who already use the computing infrastructure or will use it in the future were also there and presented their companies – these were spin-off companies from research projects at the TU Darmstadt. Flying drones from Wingcopter, recipes for plant-based raw materials and food production (Döhler Group), protein research, for example for mRNA vaccines (Proteineer), language models for argument mining (summetix), cognitive process automation and robotics for industrial plants (Wianco Ott Robotics) and special algorithms for the automotive industry (Compredict) were some of the business ideas presented, most of which have already resulted in viable companies. What all of these projects have in common is that they solve application-oriented problems – and they rely on computing capacity, such as that offered by the Darmstadt site with the hessian.ai computer in the Green IT Cube.
A data center operator present in the audience asked what the industry had to offer SMEs and start-ups so that they could work well. Nils Gaehlert, Managing Director of Wingcopter, put into words what probably applies in a similar way to the entire industry: Usability is important, i.e. the ability to be integrated into the company’s processes “without a lot of frills”. An early integration, if possible, already for the training processes, is helpful. His company and those of other providers collect the data themselves, so legally secure storage and hosting in Europe is of great interest. Or as Gaehler finally put it: “Any company would be very happy if it could host the data in Europe.” The AI high-performance computing infrastructure just presented in Darmstadt should meet this wish of Gahlert and his colleagues.
Host: Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR)
The host of the event was the new European particle accelerator center “Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research” (FAIR) located at the GSI Helmholz Center in Darmstadt, whose managing directors Paolo Guibellino and Ulrich Breuer emphasized their openness to further partnerships. According to Breuer, the core structure of the Green IT Cube has been in operation since 2016, and the data center has been awarded the Blue Angel eco-label for its energy efficiency. Among other things, the servers are water-cooled, which was noticeable during an inspection in the surprisingly low room temperature for a data center.
We then had the opportunity to see the particle accelerator, the department for therapeutic heavy ion research and the extensive FAIR area under the expert guidance of the physicist and spokesman for the Helmholtz Institute, Dr. Ingo Peter to visit. If you want to get an impression for yourself, you can follow a drone flying over the FAIR site or watch the recording of the daily topics from February 21, 2023 (from minute 25:13), in which the ARD television team inspects the area and a drone through it send the particle accelerator.
Six new elements have been discovered at the GSI Helmholtz Center and since the 1990s, a heavy ion treatment for tumor therapy has been developed, which has given new life to those who are about to die in some types of cancer, especially in the brain area. Next door, the decay products of heavy ion collisions are examined under laboratory conditions, which provide information on the origin of the universe – hence the slogan of the center, “exploring the universe in the laboratory”. Precise radiotherapy with heavy ions is also being continuously developed. Together with the AI supercomputer, this makes the FAIR/GSI campus a special location where visitors can immediately understand how closely interlinked outstanding basic research and advances in technology are.
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