#5QW: Peter Knees
Peter works multidisciplinary in music information retrieval, an intersection of artificial intelligence and music, and deals with recommender systems.
Peter Knees is Assistant Professor at the Research Unit Information & Software Engineering. He works in music information retrieval, which is an area that can be described as an intersection of artificial intelligence and music. He deals with recommender systems for music, but another aspect of his work is making tools for people who create music, such as producers or musicians. “Our goal is not to replace humans or creativity, but to help them use the outcomes of our research to support and inspire them,” Peter explains.
How did you get in touch with Informatics?
I got in touch with computers early on during my childhood. My father had—and still has—a very vivid interest in computers. So I grew up in an environment where computers were always around and fascinating. I gradually got more and more involved as I grew up. My father had a Commodore 64, video games were always there, so for me, it was just a natural thing. Computers were just another toy, but still, they were not perfect and there were things that did not work, so you start to investigate how these could be fixed - that is probably a first way of getting into Computer Science. In terms of real science and becoming a scientist that was during my Master’s.
What makes Informatics so fascinating for you?
If I think about it on a larger scale, it is pretty fascinating how information and ideas can transform reality. I think this was not possible before. Like formalising a problem, applying mathematics can have a massive impact on society and people. And having a universal machine that can do all these things, that is pretty amazing. However, I also think that we have to become more multidisciplinary in Informatics. We cannot stick to dealing with Computer Science for its own good alone, it is more than that. It is one of the central sciences in the decades to come and we have to understand that we need to be the intermediaries to all these different fields in science.
What makes you happy in your work?
The highlights are the educational aspects of it. When you are communicating something to students or other people and you realise that it might have changed their view or has an impact on them - these are the most rewarding moments to me. When you worked on a problem for a long time and you get some sort of breakthrough - these are also very happy moments, but long term happiness comes from this passing along knowledge to other people. Working with people is massively inspiring and the best part of it. It is also helping me when focussing on scientific problems.
Which talents should people bring along for a career in Informatics?
A structured approach to tackling problems, creativity is essential and persistence - these things you have to have and bring to the table yourself. Everything else, like programming skills, you can learn at university.
Why do you think there are still so few women in Informatics?
Studying Informatics still has the image of a boys’ club, and I am afraid that it is not even a wrong image. I think there is nothing about Computer Science that favours men or women in terms of talents. I really can’t see anything. I think that Computer Science would benefit a lot if we had a representative distribution of women and men like 50:50. It is the field that transforms society, currently and in the upcoming decades, and as such it is very important to have women just as present as men when it comes to defining what systems should look like and what the relevant research questions are. I think it is getting better, but it is not where it should be.
Interview: Claudia Vitt, 2019