Cognitive Systems


Cognition involves the processing and analysis of information within a system to control its behavior. Cognition summarizes the combination of perceptual processes, mental processes and (motor-driven) actions that occur unconsciously or consciously. Using the example of humans, such processes can be studied in detail. Our cognitive abilities allow us, for example, to interact with objects and people in our environment and to react flexibly to external influences, to develop creative solutions to problems and to acquire new knowledge. We do this by using different senses, drawing on experiences from similar contexts, and by our ability to learn, reason, and plan actions. Systems that collectively provide such cognitive performance are referred to as cognitive systems. These can be realized in an organism as well as implemented in the form of a technical artifact. We call the latter cognitive technical systems.

The study of cognitive systems and their properties is an inherently interdisciplinary field of research at the intersection of different sciences, e.g. computer science, in particular artificial intelligence and neural information processing (Neuroinformatik), physics and engineering, psychology, biology and neuroscience, and various clinical sciences such as psychiatry. Philosophy also provides the framework for a critical examination of the assumptions and methods of scientific research on cognition and discusses ethical framework conditions and consequences.

In order to achieve such functionality, systems shall be equipped with mechanisms that provide capabilities to implement

·         perception and cognition,

·         learning and memory,

·         planning, decision-making and reasoning, and

·         interaction.

In the English Master of Science (MSc) course "Cognitive Systems" at Ulm University, the theoretical and empirical basics of such cognitive abilities are presented and models are developed. These models make it possible to investigate and evaluate mechanisms of cognitive systems - both biological and technical. To this end, theoretically grounded concepts and behavioral functions are linked and investigated in psychophysical studies and psychological tests. The results form the basis for the further development of theories and models of cognitive functions as well as for diverse applications. Such applications range from, e.g. new generations of assistance and companion systems, intelligent robots or vehicles, intelligent devices and games to intelligent cities, with the aim of supporting and improving human performance.

What can I do with an MSc degree in Cognitive Systems?
The profile of this course of study qualifies graduates for work in scientific research as well as in industrial areas with career fields where the seamless interaction of humans and technology plays a central role. Cognitive systems are extremely important to information technology in intelligent systems development and to scientific investigations of human-machine interaction with a focus on human capabilities and system’s adaptability to user preferences. Such domains and contexts reach into the automobile industry, medical technology, design and evaluation of intelligent systems components, and to all high-tech fields in general. Other potential career paths include research and development in cognitive ergonomics, multimedia, e-learning, interface design or, for instance, prosthetics. Specific tasks in such fields include the conception and development of hardware and software solutions or the implementation of improvements on the basis of market research or in the context of usability engineering. In all, Cognitive Systems combines several disciplines: cognitive science (the study of minds’ processes), computation (the technology utilized by computers and technology), and intelligent systems development (design and realization of intelligent systems with capabilities of learning, reasoning, and memory).

What distinguishes a degree in Cognitive Systems from a corresponding degree in Computer Science, Media Informatics or Psychology? The qualification in the undergraduate subjects of Computer Science and Psychology is focused on the disciplinary core topics and offers a broad spectrum of activities in industry. For interdisciplinary questions, which are located at the interface between these subjects, graduates with knowledge from both scientific fields are required, experts with interdisciplinary methodological knowledge. While graduate students in Media Informatics supplement the computer science basics with basics of design and media technology, the focus in Cognitive Systems is on the combination of empirical and functional analysis of cognitive processes. These range from sensory processes, knowledge-based planning, reasoning and decision-making, to motor performance, e.g. in navigation, haptic manipulation and others. The investigation of learning processes of declarative and procedural knowledge as well as the control of working memory are core topics of the investigation and development of cognitive systems.

The career opportunities for graduates with an interdisciplinary education from both the area of psychology and computer science are already excellent, but the demand will likely grow even further. Several companies in Ulm and the surrounding region are potential employers for graduates of the master's course Cognitive Systems. For example, the research area of automotive technologies offers various domains in which cognitive functions of future technological solutions are mandatory. Self-driving cars with non-monitored driving capabilities (level 3 to 5) require surround sensing and analysis, autonomous planning, and decision-making function. Such functionalities and mechanisms are at the core of cognitive systems research. Research and development branches of automotive, sensor and intelligence, and communication and telecommunication have settled in the Science Park Ulm or in the surrounding regions of the city of Ulm. Furthermore, topics such as cognitive ergonomics, interface design, or usability are highly relevant for several small and medium-sized enterprises in the Ulm region, who work in the areas of transport technology, mechanical engineering, or auditory perception and speech recognition technology.

Graduates with an MSc degree in Cognitive Systems also have the best prerequisites for a subsequent academic career. The interdisciplinary training prepares graduates for doctoral positions in projects or graduate programs. This applies to interdisciplinary topics, for example, in the life sciences, neurosciences, interactive technologies or intelligent systems.

The disciplines of computer science, engineering and psychology are organized within one faculty at the Ulm University. Due to this special situation graduates of the course also have excellent opportunities for pursuing further interdisciplinary research careers regarding cognitive systems in Ulm, but also in other research institutions.

This graphic presents the four thematic pillars of the master's programme in Cognitive Systems: Planning & Reasoning, Learning, Perception and Interaction.

Dr. Markus Maucher

Academic Staff
Studienkommission Informatik

89081 Ulm
Room: O27 3206
Telephone: +49 731 50-24106

Prof. Dr. Heiko Neumann

Vice Chairman
Institute of Neural Information Processing

89081 Ulm
Email: heiko.neumann(at)
URL: zur Website
Room: O27 4303
Telephone: +49 731 50-24158