Benjamin Schäfer (KIT)
Benjamin Schäfer has headed the junior research group DRACOS (Data-driven analysis of complex systems) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology since 2022, where he also teaches as a tenure track professor. Benjamin Schäfer studied physics and earned his doctorate at the University of Göttingen. After several years abroad with stations in England and Norway, he returned to Germany in 2022. We talked to Benjamin Schäfer about his work.
What are you currently working on?
Benjamin Schäfer: I aim to solve complex problems of our time, focusing on sustainability and especially the energy transition and the power grid. Enormous amounts of data become available about power system operation. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can handle these enormous amounts of data but need to do so in a transparent way. Obtaining classifications or forecasts without explanations limits their use severely. Hence, I aim to explain “black box” models using interpretability tools or develop outright interpretable models. For example, an algorithm should explain which external factors, such as the feed-in of photovoltaic systems, the current electricity price or the time of day, are relevant for its prediction of the power grid frequency or household consumption.
What is your personal motivation?
Benjamin Schäfer: I want to make the world a better place. This means conducting research on making our energy system sustainable, leaving the next generations with a liveable planet. This also means being inclusive and open in research, enabling people and unlocking their potential. I have not originally planned to become a leader but changing things that are not good is much easier if you can change and implement them yourself. Hence, I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to build and lead my own international and interdisciplinary team.
What kind of challenges are you facing in the near future?
Benjamin Schäfer: My group and my own role are still very much in a transition: I am constantly applying for additional funding to realize new ideas, while simultaneously I am still looking for PhD students and in particular PostDocs to fill the positions for which I have already obtained funding. Leading, organizing and mentoring such as team is no simple task. In addition, I am becoming much more active in teaching this year which is both great as a new opportunity to interact with students but also taxing on my time.
If you could make a wish for something for your research, what would you wish for?
Benjamin Schäfer: I would wish that industry partners and other academics would be more open when it comes to sharing their data.
Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?
Benjamin Schäfer: That is very difficult to judge. I currently observe an explosion of new AI-related research and numerous opportunities in terms of third-party funding and faculty positions. It feels like a gold rush. In 5 years, I still expect a lot of funding to be in the system. Maybe the mainstream hype has gone down. In 10 years, optimists might already expect an “Artificial General Intelligence” that can solve almost all problems, while I personally expect that we will still work on specialized solutions for energy systems. Only time will tell.