English version

In the English version of my website, I only include articles published in English, of which there aren’t too many at the moment. Go to the German version (change the language in the upper right corner) to get a more representative picture of what I write about, even if you can’t read every article!

Workshop Report: Decoding Communication in Nonhuman Species II

Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing

Three years ago, in August 2020, the Simons Institute co-hosted a workshop on Decoding Communication in Nonhuman Species. Looking back at the titles of the talks, none used the AI buzzwords that have become household terms in the course of the last several months: ChatGPT, large language models, generative AI, chatbots. This past June, the Institute co-hosted a follow-up workshop, Decoding Communication in Nonhuman Species II

“The Impact of Russian Tweets, If Any, Was Limited”

Zeit Online

Did Donald Trump only become president thanks to Russian trolls? That explanation is too simple, argues a group of researchers. They found no evidence for it in a study.

The fact that Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016 was partly due to the fact that Russian actors had influenced the electorate through ads and social media posts ­– at least that’s the gist of press reports and books on the subject. Researchers repeatedly proved that there were large-scale efforts from Russia to create sentiment for Trump and against Hillary Clinton on social networks. 

What is more difficult to measure is how much influence messages from Russian trolls actually had. For some time now, evidence has been mounting in research that there has been a tendency to overestimate their impact. A recent study, published in the journal Nature Communications, has concluded that Russian efforts on Twitter had virtually no impact on the election results.

 Jan Zilinsky is one of the authors of the study. The Slovakian-born economist works at the School of Social Sciences & Technology at the Technical University of Munich. His research focuses on how voters’ positions are influenced

“Our idea was to lay out a positive narrative”

Zeit Online

25 years ago, Peter Leyden predicted the boom of digitalization – but also warned of a pandemic, the climate catastrophe and Russian aggression. Now he predicts what’s coming next.

Science fiction writer William Gibson recently tweeted a snippet with ten bleak predictions from a 25-year-old cover story in “Wired” magazine, calling it “perversely pessimistic at the time.” The tweet went viral. But those “spoilers” were really just an appendage to the larger story, which predicted a “long boom” and the blessings and benefits of a digital society. ZEIT ONLINE spoke with one of the two authors, Peter Leyden, exactly a quarter century after the story was published.

We have a Momo!

Nora Coenenberg and I won the German Youth Literature Prize 2021 in in the non-fiction category for our book “100 Kinder” (“100 Children”). The award trophy is a bronze statue of Momo, the protagonist of Michael Ende’s novel of the same name. This is the video of the prize ceremony at the Frankfurt book fair on October 22.

Chatting with whales

(This article from Hakai Magazine was re-published in a number of online publications, among them The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine and IFL Science.)

An ambitious project is attempting to interpret sperm whale clicks with artificial intelligence, then talk back to them.

“I don’t know much about whales. I have never seen a whale in my life,” says Michael Bronstein. The Israeli computer scientist, teaching at Imperial College London, England, might not seem the ideal candidate for a project involving the communication of sperm whales. But his skills as an expert in machine learning could be key to an ambitious endeavor that officially started in March 2020: an interdisciplinary group of scientists wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to decode the language of these marine mammals. If Project CETI (for Cetacean Translation Initiative) succeeds, it would be the first time that we actually understand what animals are chatting about—and maybe we could even have a conversation with them

“In flow there is no room for rumination”


In psychology, the concept of “flow” is a state we attain when we enter completely into a challenging activity and forget everything else around us. It was coined by the Hungarian-American researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In his house in Los Angeles, he spoke to us about the history behind his idea, and the role that simplicity and complexity play in it.

When and how did you come up with the concept of flow?

The idea must have come when I started rock climbing in Italy, before I emigrated to the United States. I did a lot of climbing in the Alps, in Switzerland, Austria and Italy. When I came into the US at first, Chicago was completely flat, and then I discovered the Grand Tetons. In the summers, I used to take a train or a bus and get down to Colorado and Wyoming and do mountain climbing. I started writing about climbing in journals as an experience of sport, but also as a way of discovering oneself and coming to terms with life.

I think it is probably very important that you gave the phenomenon that name, “flow”.

At first it was just a feeling. One day when I was swimming in a river up in Northern California, I thought: oh, that’s the feeling that I get when I climb. And I ended up calling that the flow experience, it was a natural analogy.

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“The Internet Is Being Scapegoated in a Lot of Ways”

Zeit Online

(This is an extended version of the interview in Zeit Online – I thought some of the parts that were omitted might be interesting to readers.)

Is the internet broken? Tech evangelist Tim O’Reilly doesn’t think so. He still believes in its positive effects. A conversation about cheetahs, elephants and Donald Trump

Tim O’Reilly has coined terms like “Web 2.0” and “Open Source” and has been called the “Oracle of Silicon Valley”. As founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, he has published several books on topics such as Windows, Twitter and Unix, for example. In his latest work, “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” he writes about what he calls the “Next Economy.” In an interview with ZEIT ONLINE, he speaks about artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet status quo.

Mr. O’Reilly, would you rather be governed by a president like Donald Trump or by artificial intelligence?

That depends a lot on which AI. Just like it depends on which person.


There are likely going to be many types of AI, just like there are many types of living beings. And they will have different abilities. A horse can beat a human in a race, and so can a cheetah. But a human being can do many things they can’t. So let’s talk about specific skills.

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