Portrait of Simon Burton
»My strength is that I am interested in several different topics and disciplines.«

With his work, Prof. Dr. Simon Burton is seeking to make AI safer. The key question that drives him: How can we reduce the technical risk associated with complex autonomous systems in a demonstrable way?

August 1, 2023

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Prof. Dr. Simon Burton is Scientific Director of Safety Assurance at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cognitive Systems, IKS, and also heads an international and interdisciplinary expert group at ISO (the International Standards Organization). This team is working to develop one of the world’s first safety standards for the use of AI in road vehicles. Its research focuses on “Safe Intelligence”, a field in which disciplines such as functional safety, systems engineering, machine learning (ML), and AI ethics intersect.

A career that started early, before joining the automotive industry

Simon, who grew up in a small town on the east coast of England, has a solid background in information technology. After completing his studies in England and graduating in 1996, he initially worked as a software developer in the telecommunications industry. His interest in research soon drove him back to university, however, where he focused on the verification of safety-critical software and made a valuable contribution to the transfer of technology between research and industry.

This was followed by a 20-year career in the automotive industry. Most recently, he held the role of Director of Vehicle Systems Safety at Robert Bosch GmbH. In this role, his projects included strategy development for safe automated driving systems.

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»My strength is that I am interested in several different topics and disciplines. This allows me to connect things and bring the right people together.«

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Prof. Dr. Simon Burton

Research interests and role at Fraunhofer IKS

Simon has been a visiting professor at the University of York since 2019, and joined the Fraunhofer IKS in September 2020 to devote more time to the management of research projects. At the Fraunhofer IKS, his research includes the question of the steps that have to be taken in the development of an ML-controlled function to ensure safety, and how to prove that this function is safe despite residual errors in the ML models.

»I don’t necessarily consider myself a conventional ML researcher. I am more interested in the engineering perspective: How can we integrate the technologies so that we are able to both benefit from them and ensure that the system is safe? This naturally requires an understanding of theoretical concepts from the field of ML and safety engineering, so as to bring these two fields closer together« he explains.

Despite his many years in industry, he has never lost touch with the world of research. Simon sees himself as being an important link between the worlds of industry and research.

Dr Simon Burton Foto von M Kroll 75
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Prof. Dr. Simon Burton: »In my work, I make sure that I avoid getting bogged down in abstract details. Instead, I try to apply scientific approaches from different disciplines to solve real-world engineering problems.« (Photo: Fraunhofer IKS/M. Kroll)

Life in Munich and personal interests

Simon has found a new life in Munich, which he values very much. »I find Munich to be a wonderful city to live in. I especially enjoy its proximity to the mountains. At the weekends, I am able to go hiking outside in the fresh air and unwind.«

In his spare time, he enjoys playing guitar and bass and listening to bands such as Metallica and Mastodon. Another surprising hobby of his is skateboarding. »You probably can’t tell by looking at me, but I love to get out on a skateboard in the summer.« He also enjoys jogging in one of Munich’s many parks. In the winter, he likes to go snowboarding.

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