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AiThority Interview Series With Pascal Kaufmann, Founder & President, Mindfire


We need to create human-level AI, as I think that a singular human brain is not able to cope any more with today’s challenges.

Know My Company

Tell us about your journey into the Intelligent tech industry. What galvanized you to start Mindfire?

I believe in the power of talent and creativity. Ultimately, human-level AI will be created, either by a large governmental initiative, in a country whose value system I don’t agree with, or by one of the major tech companies. In both cases, I don’t think this will be for the benefit of the people. This is why I am determined to take on a leading role in the global race for AI. Mindfire is the answer to the global AI race, by the people and for the people; it is the most interesting endeavor of all.

We need to create human-level AI, as I think that a singular human brain is not able to cope any more with today’s challenges.

Think of our inefficient research system, the UN Development goals, diseases and other challenges that would be revolutionized by means of AI. Either we build it or someone else does.

What does it take to start and succeed in a Deep Learning Tech startup ecosystem?

Ultimately, it is the access to talent that the most crucial.

Secondly, it is the mindset and the inspiring atmosphere that triggers the best ideas.

And thirdly, one should be aware that Deep Learning is a subset of Machine Learning which is again a subset of statistics.

I don’t think that there will be a qualitative breakthrough based on today’s Deep Learning architecture as the brain is most likely not a Big Data machine – rather the contrast: The Brain does everything to keep data away, it seems to be much more a small data engine.

How do you prepare for an AI-driven world as a business leader?

I don’t think that in a world with human-level AI people or businesses, leaders will need to work anymore. It is a good thing to handover any job to the machines, and I could perfectly imagine a future where people don’t need to work anymore. 

In the transition phase, however, business leaders need to be aware of the difference between automation, digitalization and AI. Everything business leaders are facing today has to do with automation or digitalization, which are strongly related. In my view, there is no AI today as we don’t yet understand the principles of intelligence. All that we see and discuss in particular in the media is (brute force) automation. It is wise to understand what can and should be automated and what not, in particular for a business leader.

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How is AI/ML unlocking the capabilities in Human Intelligence?

I am rather skeptical about AI, ML or DL: If you need 300mio pictures of cats in order to say it is a cat, a horse or a cow, to me that doesn’t seem too intelligent. Big Data, today’s “AI” or DL algorithms don’t mimic anything like intelligence. AI would be much more about “small data”, like the little children do when they cuddle a cat, they know once and forever what a cat is based on a single encounter. Hence, there is nothing like AI today.

What are the foundational tenets of your AI/ML Missions? How could business and society benefit from your initiatives?

Mindfire does everything except diving into further ML or standard AI sessions. We are seeking to crack the brain code, understand the principles of human-level intelligence. Ultimately, when we have human-level AI, the way we do research will be revolutionized, the bare meaning of what it means to be human will be challenged as the machines have similar or superior capabilities. Again, we need to create AI to keep up and to be able to solve today’s challenges.

What are your top predictions and must-watch AI/ML-related technologies for 2018-2022? How much of these technologies would be influenced by socioeconomic trends?

In a sense, everything related to Augmented Reality, i.e. small lenses directly attached to the eyeballs, I see as very promising. Ultimately humans should be able to think with the power of a thousand brains, as they have access to any know-how that there is in the world.

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If those lenses could anticipate questions before they arise, that would be wonderful. Such technology might emerge within the next years. In general, everything that anticipates questions before they arise will be interesting. The company Starmind, which Marc Vontobel (CTO) and I founded a few years ago, is about to release such technology before 2022.

Tell us about your Mindfire programs?

Mindfire is structured like the Moon Landing program of that NASA led. Mindfire runs so-called “Missions”, where a gathering of up to 100 of the smartest people in the world are carefully selected, according to many selection criteria that people need to pass when applying; this can be done via

The talents are prepped and then invited to the Swiss Alps, close to Davos in Switzerland, where they come together and meet the fore thinkers and luminaries of our time. After having digested the latest state of the art in neuroscience, ethics, biology, alternative AI approaches, and related technologies, the group of people are split into different groups and then tackle the brain code.

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The task is nothing less than to extract and understand the principles of intelligence and create prototypes that demonstrate a breakthrough in AI.

What do we need to pay attention to when building AI in the Mindfire program?

Ultimately, the human race will develop human-level AI. To me, it is like in the stone age some hundred thousand years ago when people sat together around a fire and discussed the pros and cons of fire. Some agreed that the fire is dangerous and should be extinct. Others argued that one can do a lot of good, but fire needs to be understood and tamed for the sake of mankind.

It has the potential to burn everything and the potential to do a lot of good. Ultimately, the man decided to tame, cultivate and understand the usage of fire.

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I think it needs to be the same when it comes to intelligence. We don’t have any alternative than trying to understand and benefit from human level AI for the sake of mankind. We can’t, and we shouldn’t stop scientific progress – AI will be developed in the coming years, and I think that a qualitative breakthrough is upon us in the next few years as it is the first-time scientists across the globe can work together based on latest collaboration technologies.

Do you think “Weaponization of AI/ Intelligence” is the biggest threat to the mankind now?

Not at all. There are many more immediate threats than that. Think of the ecological and socio-economical challenges people face. The Terminator scenario is about as likely as overpopulation on Mars. However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot crack the brain code in the next few years. I just think that robotics, in contrast to the qualitative understanding of the brain, lags significantly behind.

The Crystal Gaze

What AI and machine learning start-ups and labs are you keenly following?

As the head of Starmind-X, I am following, of course, the projects our AI teams are pushing. In addition, I carefully watch what the major AI teams in this world of companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Microsoft, Tencent, IBM et al.

What technologies within AI and computing are you interested in?

I am mostly interested in alternative, completely novel topics in AI. In particular, I am interested in Artificial Life, Cellular automata and spike timing dependent plasticity algorithms.

As an AI leader, what industries you think would be fastest to adopting AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for AI technology markets?

Anything that is rule-based is repetitive and does not have a lot of manual work involved, could and should be automated. I think this holds true for about 50-80% of all jobs in the world. When there is an advancement in robotics, ultimately all jobs could be handed over to machines, freeing people from labor and allowing them to focus on the essential, on endeavors and things that are really interesting.

When you talk in “AI Technology markets” I think we should think of the gaming industry, where emotions are triggered. Personally, I think that the entertainment industry will most benefit from the latest progress in computers and so-called AI algorithms.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Having a human assistant really frees me from work today. Human level AI will be able to free me in a similar way.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

I highly respect Prof. Dr. Rolf Pfeifer’s views, the Swiss AI pioneer. Curious what I also could learn what Demis Hassabis statements would be, the founder of DeepMind.

Thank you, Pascal! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.

Pascal Kaufmann is the founder and President of the Mindfire Foundation. A neuroscientist, tech-entrepreneur and the visionary behind Mindfire, is determined to unite the best talents worldwide to tackle the mind code. Kaufmann connected living brains to machines at Northwestern University, IL, USA and built one of the first cyborgs, feeding information directly into brain tissue. He takes a skeptical view on the current state of AI and is convinced that Human-like Artificial Intelligence can and must be created by and for the people as an answer to the challenges of the 21st century.

The+Mindfire+Foundation (1)

The Mindfire Foundation is a Swiss non-profit which is focused on understanding the foundational principles which make up human intelligence and applying those principles to the development of artificially intelligent organisms.

Mindfire aims to achieve this through the implementation of a series of Missions. Each mission gathers the top minds across various fields of science, to collaborate and brainstorm solutions to a structured series of challenges. The first of which is the creation of an artificial organism.

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