A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend the second IS-GEO summer institute, in Hawaii. The meeting was led by Suzanne Pierce and Daniel Fuka, who managed to bring together more than 40 participants with different background and expertise. From the environmental sciences side, we had researchers specialized in areas such as Hydrology, Ecology or Meteorology. From the intelligent systems side, we had experts in sensor handling and deployment, data analytics, data integration, reproducibility and data visualization. We participated together by assembling and deploying hand-made sensors in the 8 different ecosystems of Hawaii’s Big Island. All while the volcano was still active and hurricane Hector approached from the south-east! But let me go step by step.
What is IS-GEO?
For those who are not familiar with the organization, IS-GEO (https://is-geo.org) is a Research Collaboration Network (RCN) funded by NSF through the EarthCube program that aims to bring together researchers from Intelligent Systems (IS) and Geosciences (GEO). The RCN has had presence in top conferences like AGU, where it has led a session for the last couple of years. In addition, we organize (yes, I am part of the RCN as well) monthly teleconferences where we invite an expert from either the IS or GEO side to talk about their latest research. Have a look here: https://is-geo.org/resources/research-presentations/
Exploring NEW research, not just exposing previous work
From the very beginning, the objectives of the event were made clear: collaborate together, define new challenges, enhance communication among attendants and finally define potential robust collaborations. These objectives are key in interdisciplinary conversations, as a fruitful collaboration will only happen when both sides are interested in different aspects of the same research problem. The program was structured so we would have a few presentations during the morning and then spend some times crafting sensors and deploying them in the afternoon. There were different teams with flexible structure and we spent quite some time in the vans when going to the field, which allowed everyone to talk to everyone else about their expertise and interests.
An unexpected guest: Hurricane Hector
Hurricane Hector introduced a change of plans. Instead of deploying just a few initial stations, we decided to prioritize sensor deployment during the first days, and then see if by the end of the week we could visualize actual data that could measure the impact of the hurricane. We had a quick introduction to the different type of sensors, and I was amazed how Arduino and open hardware initiatives have facilitated the integration and reading from them. It makes you want to create a small sensor station at your home!
One of the perks of being surrounded by scientists is that we had access to the local meteorologist, Harry Halpin, who provided reports of the movement of Hector every day before starting the sessions. Supercool!
It was also thanks to him that we were able to come close to the lava cam (http://lavacam.org/), which reports continuously about the status of the volcano. And take pictures of the recent lava burst, such as this one:
Building and planting sensors on the field:
We managed to deploy several sensor/weather stations in different ecosystems of the island. Some were deployed in some of the houses of the attendants, such as Dan Fuka’s backyard:
But some others were deployed in further points of the island. In this case, several attendants are setting up a weather station near a Buddhist temple:
Or near a mountain, on an old lava field. The dome is a research facility to simulate the living conditions in mars:
Once the stations were set, we connected them to the CHORDS platform and visualized them in a map (http://is-geo.chordsrt.com/sites/map). Mike Daniels explained how all data is available for download, and how to set up stations that register new data in CHORDS. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to do data analysis, but learning about the data acquisition process is a valuable lesson for all the attendants. Collecting data requires hard work, and integrating and visualizing it to make it useful is full of challenges, from sensor calibration to error detection.
Personal collaboration outcomes and takeaways:
I wish there were more events like this one, combining a potential asset to the community (a data product that reflects the impact of Hector and future hurricanes) with hands on sessions that explain how to create, program and collect data from sensors. I now appreciate more the amount of work that goes into the data collection process. Furthermore, I hadn’t created any circuit for a long time. It’s always good to refresh your memory with some Arduino hands on.
During the week, I also had the chance of collaborating with Suzanne Pierce and Daniel Hardesty-Lewis to create workflows for groundwater modeling. In fact, we were able to describe in a machine readable manner how to invoke Modflow with different recharge files and add it to a model registry. With a little more effort, we will be able to also connect this work to data collected by a platform such as CHORDS.
Planet Texas 2050 is going to be big! Created after hurricane Harvey’s disaster, this project is going to deploy a whole new cyberinfrastructure to study climate variations, track the impact of pumping and trying to predict how to irrigate different regions. I hope we can collaborate within our MINT project (see last bullet point)
The Ronin Institute looks like a great organization to apply for research grants when you can’t change locations.
IkeWai, like Planet Texas 2050, will set up a sensor infrastructure for data analysis. Many opportunities for data analysis!
Privacy and sensor data: There are many open questions on who should own sensor data when installed on private property. On the one hand, sensors could give away personal information about the owner. On the other hand, sensors could be exploited to detect illegal activities, such as water pollution.
Grafana is looking great for sensor data visualization. You can even configure alerts!
[Self promotion :D] I gave a presentation and demo on our Model INTegration (MINT) project, where we are trying to bring together models from economy, agronomy, hydrology and meteorology to answer important questions about a region. The project is only 6 months old, but so far we are doing great progress! See our IEMSs paper for a full description of MINT!
Last week I attended the 9th edition of iEMSs in Fort Collins, Denver. IEMSs is a bi-annual conference that brings together between 300 and 400 researchers from software engineering, intelligent systems, environmental modeling and decision making domains (among others). There were very few people that knew about ontologies and Semantic Web, which makes it a unique experience to learn about the problems from other communities. Going to this kind of events (outside of your community of expertise) has been eye opening for me in the past, and I cannot recommend it enough. Get out of your community bubble once in a while J
What was I doing at iEMSs?
I attended the conference to present 3 papers about our Model Integration project (MINT). The papers describe an overview of the project, in which we aim to reduce the time required to integrate together models from climate, hydrology, agriculture, economics and social sciences. In addition, we introduce a new approach to describe model variables and processes using the Ontosoft software registry and our plan to integrate Pegasus and Emely for efficient model coupling. More information is available in the conference program (hopefully our papers will soon be available in the conference proceedings as well). Overall, the presentations were well received and I was glad to learn that there is huge interest in some of the problems we are tackling, such as the description of models to facilitate their reusability or enabling model coupling.
One of the best parts of the conference were the keynotes. Temple Grandin started on Monday with a cry for acceptance of visual thinkers (“I see risk, other people try to measure it!”) together with the need to get closer to the infrastructure we use every day. Get out of the office and get your hands dirty once in a while!
The last keynote speaker was Thomas Vilsack, former US Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama administration. This is the first keynote I have seen given by a politician, with no slides and a direct but compelling speech. The speaker tackled several problems related to modeling, from the role of science in different debates (GMOs and climate change) to the need for new sustainable solutions given the increase of population around the globe. How can we make models that convince farmers and policy makers about the long term consequences of their actions? How can models be used to increase the productivity per individual acre? Can we find solutions so we become better consumers of food? How can we reduce and reuse food waste?
Excellent wake up call from former US Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack on conflicting short- and -long term challenges in Agriculture- e.g. ecosystem markets #iEMSs2018pic.twitter.com/fjEa6r4V7m
Given that many sessions happened in parallel, this is a personal vision with the highlights of the talks I attended to:
Ibrahim Demir’s FloodAI is a very cool approach that mixes science with visual explanations early detection observations. They have done an impressive amount of work to be able to communicate their results with chat bots. No wonder why he won a conference award!
Alexei Voinov described surveys, tools and methods for participatory modeling. Remaining challenges are a) people tend to use the tools and models they are more familiar with, rather than experiment new ones in different contexts; b) Failure in method execution is not reported.
Ruth Falconer (University of Abertay) and the use of videogames in environmental modeling.
Sarah Mubareka’s report on integration of models of biomass supply. Creating accurate indicators for estimating biomass in Europe is a real challenge, as everyone one uses different definitions and metrics in their country.
Last week I attended the annual EarthCube All Hands Meeting (ECAHM) in Alexandria, Washington. Since it’s been a while since I last wrote my last post, I think it would be interesting to share my notes and highlights here for anyone who missed the event.
ECAHM meetings are usually very enriching experiences, as they bring together a variety of researchers from different fields related to geosciences, ranging from computer scientists to volcanologists or marine biologists. The purpose of the meeting is to gather the community together and hear everyone report back from their EarthCube NSF funded projects, which are targeted towards improving cyber-infrastructure in the geosciences. As a computer scientist, I think this is a great meeting to attend for two main reasons: first, you always learn something new, even if it’s not in your domain. Second, people are extremely grateful to your contributions, as you are helping them become more effective when doing their science.
So, what was I doing at ECAHM 2018?
I attended the meeting to present our latest progress in OntoSoft, a distributed software metadata registry we created at ISI to facilitate scientists describe their software. You can see the poster abstract online (and soon the poster itself). I also participated on a “speed-dating session”, where I got to discuss for half an hour how to describe software with a domain scientist; and I substituted Yolanda Gil in a panel for external partnership opportunities, where I presented the Open Knowledge Network initiative. This effort, led by NITRD, is a great opportunity of creating a shared open knowledge graph that would be used for both research and industry to refine and curate its contents. The idea is that this knowledge graph becomes part of the US infrastructure the same way supercomputers currently are, so anyone could benefit from it and also contribute to it. It looks like the NSF is keen to pursue this objective too.
Two colleagues of mine also presented other initiatives I am involved in. Deborah Khider showcased our efforts towards structuring metadata and creating standards in the paleoclimate sciences, together with a set of tools that a team of paleo-climate scientists have developed to work with that structured data. She also managed to mix Star Wars and Star Trek themes in her poster and presentation, which was well received by the attendants (I think everyone stopped at her poster)
As expected, keynotes at ECAHM are nothing like venues such as AAAI or IUI. The first speaker was Dean Pesnell (NASA) and he presented the research carried out by his team on studying the sun and sun spots. Why is this related to geosciences? Because the sun could be considered “our ground truth for the universe”, and anything related to its activity has many implications in any of the fields of geosciences. Their main problem is how to analyze the amount of data that they have. Each of their datasets may contain several hundred million images, so proper metadata is crucial (you don’t want to find out you have downloaded 300 million images for nothing). Dean showed some impressive videos of their observations of the sun, as well as their pipelines to handle “very big data” analyses.
The second speaker was Sarah Stamps, and she talked about continental rift and the Tanzania Volcano observatory. Apparently, geologists are one of the few people in the word who would run towards an erupting volcano, instead of away from it. Sarah described the EARS system (East African Rift System) they are setting up, and how they teamed up with CHORDS to enable real time analysis of the observations they measure on the field. Thanks to her work, they are developing an early warning system for hazard detection! Sarah was departing soon to set a few more observing stations in the field, so best of luck!!
The third speaker was Caroline S. Wagner, who gave some metrics on the social side of interdisciplinary collaboration across disciplines. Science has become increasingly collaborative and team based, and the number of international collaborations have doubled in the past years. The number of countries producing 95% of research has gone from 7 to 15, which indicates we are moving in the right direction. However, more than 50% of the articles are currently never cited. A few takeaways from this talk are: 1) International collaborations start face to face, so go to different events and meet new people; 2) Diverse teams usually take longer to be productive, as people don’t usually speak the same language. Be patient!!; 3) Work towards a solution, not towards interdisciplinar teams. Interdisciplinarity should be the means to an end, not the end itself.
Below are some additional highlights I found interesting for the EarthCube community.
Eva Zanzerika reported on the NSF 10 Big Ideas, which nicely summarize the interests of the agency in terms of funding in the next years. The report has been out since more than 1 year ago, but it’s never too late to catch up!
Doug Fils presented their plan for turning P418 turning into something bigger. In case you don’t know, P418 currently tracks the metadata of datasets exposed as schema.org and aggregates it in a search engine (a search engine for scientific data). Future plans are to ingest other types of resources and make the code base stable.
Interesting working lunch idea: A napkin drawing exercise. Do you know how to present your idea with a simple sketch?
I have just returned from an amazing IUI2017 in Limassol, Cyprus and, as I have done with other conferences, I think it would be useful to share a summary of my notes in this post. This was my first time attending the IUI conference, and I am gladly surprised with both the quality of the event and friendliness of the community. As a Semantic Web researcher, it was also very positive to learn how problems are tackled from a human-computer interaction perspective. I have to admit that this is often overlooked in many semantic web applications.
What was I doing in IUI2017?
My role in the conference was to present our paper towards the generation of data narratives, or, in a more ambitious manner, our attempt to write the “methods” section of a paper automatically (see some examples here). The idea is simple: in computational experiments, the inputs, methods (i.e., scientific workflows), intermediate results, outputs and provenance are explicit in the experiment. However, scientists have to process all these data by themselves and summarize it in the paper. By doing so, they may omit important details that are critical for reusing or reproducing the work. Instead, our approach aims to use all the resources that are explicit in the experiment to generate accurate textual descriptions in an automated way.
I wanted to attend the conference in part to receive feedback on our current approach. Although our work was well received, I learned that the problem can get complex really quickly. In fact, I think it can become a whole area of research itself! I hope to see more approaches in the future in this direction. But that is the topic for another post. Let’s continue with the rest of the conference:
The conference lasted three days, with one main keynote opening each of them. The conference opened with Shumin Zhain, from Google, who described their work on modern touchscreen keyboard interfaces. This will ring a bell to anyone reading this post, as the result of their work can be seen on any Android phone nowadays. I am sure they will not have problems finding users to evaluate their approaches.
In particular, the speaker introduced the system to capture gestures to recognize words, as if you were drawing a line. Apparently, before 2004 they had been playing around with different keyboard configurations that helped users write in a more efficient manner. However, people have different finger sizes, and adapting the keyboard to them is still a challenge. Current systems have several user models, and combine them to adapt to different situations. It was in 2004 when they came with the first prototype of SHARK, a shape writer that used neural networks to decode keyboard movements. They refined their prototype until achieving the result that we see today on every phone.
However, there are still many challenges remaining. Smart watches have a screen that is too small for writing. And new formats without screen such as wearable devices or virtual reality don’t use standard keyboards. Eye tracking solutions have not made significant progress, and while speech recognition has evolved a lot, it is not likely to replace traditional writers any time soon.
The second speakers was George Samaras, who described their work to personalize interfaces based on the emotions shown by the users of a system. The motivation for this need is that currently an 80% of the errors of automated systems are due to human mistakes rather than mechanical ones, especially when the interfaces are complex, such as in aviation or nuclear plants. Here cognitive systems are crucial, and adapting the content and navigation to the humans using them becomes a priority.
The speaker presented their framework to classify users based on the relevant factors in interfaces. For example, the verbals prefer textual explanations, while imagers like image explanations for e.g., browsing results. Another example is how users prefer to explore the results: we have the wholist, who prefer a top down exploration, versus the analysit, who would rather go for bottom up search. This is can become an issue in collaborations, as users that prefer to perceive the information in the same way may collaborate more efficiently together. A study performed over 10 years with more than 1500 shows that personalized interfaces lead to a faster task completion.
Finally, the speaker presented their work for tackling the emotions of users. Recognizing them is important, as depending on their mood, users may be keen to see the interface in one way or the other. They have developed a set of cognitive agents, which aim to personalize services and persuade users to complete certain tasks. Persuasion is more efficient when taking into account emotions as well.
The final keynote was presented by Panos Markopoulos, who introduced their work on hci design for patient rehabilitation. Having a proper interaction with patients (in exercises for kids and elderly people, arm training for stroke survivors, etc.) is critical for their recovery. However, this interaction has to be meaningful or patients will get bored and not complete their recovery exercises. The speaker described their work with therapists to track patient recovery in exercises such as pouring wine, cleaning windows, etc. The talk ended with a summary of some of the current challenges in this area, such as adapting feedback from patient behavior, sustaining engagement on the long run or personalization of exercises.
Recommendation is still a major topic in HCI. Peter Brusilovsky gave a nice overview of their work on personalization in the context of relevance-based visualization, as part of the ESIDA workshop. Personalized visualizations are now gaining more relevance in recommendation, but picking the right visualization for users is still a challenge. In addition, users are starting to demand why certain recommendations are more relevant, so non-symbolic approaches like topic modeling present issues.
Semantic web as a means to address curiosity in recommendations. SIRUP uses LOD paths with cosine similarity to find potential connections relevant for users.
Most influential paper award: Trust in recommender systems (O’Donovan and Smyth), where they developed a trust model for users, taking into account provenance too. Congrats!
Exploration of datasets from natural language queries. Christina Christodoulakis presented an approach to help analysts explore the next query to perform based on previous queries. A cool feature being explored here is that they abstract queries using hierarchies (e.g., what is a “sum of money over period of time” instead of “revenue per month”). Kevin McCurley introduced Analyza, an impressive effort led by Google to explore data with conversation. Originally motivated to simplify complex interfaces when retrieving data from CSVs, they have developed a virtual data analyst that breaks down queries into smaller pieces to help users translating their natural language questions to database queries. I wonder if we will see this feature soon in Google spreadsheets, as it looks tremendously useful.
The gala dinner showed me something: the people of Cyprus know how to eat. It is the first time I see a table so full of food. And new dishes they kept coming! It felt like the meal of Mannekenpix, one of the 12 tasks of Asterix.
IUI 2017 had 193 participants this year, almost half of them students (86); and an acceptance rate of 23% (27% for full papers). You can check the program for more details. I usually prefer this kind of conferences because they are relatively small, you can see most of the presented work without having to choose and you can talk to everyone very easily. If I can, I will definitely come back.
I also hope to see more influence of Semantic Web techniques to facilitate some of the challenges in HCI, as I think it there is a lot of potential to help in explanation, trust or personalization. I look forward to attending next year in Tokyo!
The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference (AAAI) is held once a year to bring together experts from heterogeneous fields of AI and discuss their latest work. It is also a great venue if you are looking for a new job, as different companies and institutions often announce open positions. Last week, the 31st edition of the conference was celebrated in downtown San Francisco, and I attended the whole event. If you missed the conference and are curious about what was going on, make sure you read the rest of this post.
But first: what was I doing there?
I attended the conference to co-present a tutorial and a poster.
The poster I presented described the latest additions of the DISK framework. In a nutshell, we have adapted our system for automating hypothesis analysis and revision to operate on data that is constantly growing. While doing this, we keep a detailed record of the inputs, outputs and workflows needed to do the revision of the hypothesis. Check out our paper for details!
Ok, enough self-promotion! Let’s get started with the conference:
In general, the quality of the keynotes and talks was outstanding. The presenters did a great job and effort to talk about their topics without jumping into the details of their field.
Rosalind Piccard started the week by talking about AI and emotions, or, using her own terms, “affective computing”. Detecting the emotion of the person interacting with the system is pivotal for decision making. But recognizing these emotions is not trivial (e.g., many people smile when they are frustrated, or even angry). It’s impressive how sometimes just training neural networks with sample data is not enough, as the history of the gestures play an important role in the detection as well. Rosalind described her work for detecting and predict emotions like the interest of an audience or stress. Thanks to a smart wristband they are able to predict seizures and breakouts in autistic kids. In the future, they aim to be able to predict your mood and possible depressions!
On Tuesday, the morning keynote was given by Steve Young, who talked about speech recognition and human-bots interaction. Their approach is mostly based on neural networks and reinforced learning. Curiously enough, this approach works better on the field (with real users) than with simulated results (for which other approaches work better). The challenges in this area lie in determining when a dialog is not accurate, as users tend to lie a lot when providing feedback. In fact, maybe the only way of knowing that something went wrong in a dialog is when it’s too late and the dialog has failed. As a person working on the Semantic Web domain, I found interesting that knowledge bases are an uncharted territory in this field at the moment.
Jeremy Frank spoke in the afternoon session for IAAI. He focused on the role of AI on autonomous space missions where sometimes the communications are interrupted and many anomalies may occur. The challenge in this case is not only to be able to plan what the robot or ship are going to do, but to monitor the plan and explain whether an order or a command did what it was actually supposed to. In this scenario, having new software becomes a risk.
On Wednesday, Dmitri Dolgov was in charge of talking about self-driving cars. More than 10 trillion miles are travelled every year across the world, with over 1.2 million casualties in accidents that are 94% of the time a human error. The speaker gave a great overview of the evolution of the field, starting in 2009 when they wanted to understand the problem and created a series of challenges to drive 100 miles in different scenarios. By 2010, they had developed a system good enough for driving a blind man across town, automatically. In 2012, the system was robust enough to drive in freeways. By 2015, they had finally achieved their goal: a complete driverless vehicle, without steering wheel or pedals. A capability of the system that surprised me is that it is able to read and mimic human behavior in intersections or stop signs without any trouble. In order to do this, the sensor data has to be very accurate, so they ended up creating their own sensors and hardware. As in the other talks, deep learning techniques have helped enormously to recognize certain scenarios and operate accordingly. Having the sensor data available has also helped. These cars have more than 1 billion virtual miles of training, and they are failing less and less as time goes by.
The afternoon session was led by Kristen Grauman, an expert in computer vision who analyzed how image recognition works in unlabeled video. The key challenge in this case is to be able to learn from images in a more natural way, as animals do. It turns out that our movement is heavily correlated to our vision sense, to the point that if we don’t allow an animal to move freely when it’s growing up and viewing the world, it may be damaged permanently. Therefore, maybe machines should learn from images in movement (videos) to understand better the context of an image. The first results in this direction look promising, and the system has so far learned to track relevant moving objects in video, by itself.
The final day opened with a panel that I am going to include in the keynote group, as it has been one of the breakthroughs of this year. An AI has recently beaten all the professional players against whom it has played in Poker (one to one), and two of the lead researchers in the field (Michael Bowling and Tuomas Sandholm) were invited to show us how they did it. Michael started describing DeepStack and why Poker is a particularly interesting challenge for AI: while in other games like chess you have all the information you need at a given state to decide your next move, Poker is an imperfect information game. You may have to remember the history of what has been done in order to proceed with your next decision. This creates a decision tree that is even bigger than complex board games like Chess and Go, so researchers have to abstract and explore the sparse tree. The problem is that, at some point, something may have happened that wasn’t taken into account in the abstraction, and this is where the problems start.
Their approach for addressing this issue is to reason over the possible cards that the opponent thinks the system has (game theory and Nash equilibrium play a crucial role). The previous history determines distributions of the cards, while evaluation functions have different heuristics based on the beliefs of the players in the current game (deep learning is used to choose the winning situation out of the possibilities). While current strategies are very exploitable, DeepStack is one of the least, being able to make 8 times what a regular player makes while being able to run in a laptop during the competition (the training part takes place before).
Tuomas followed introducing Libratus, an AI created last year but evolved from previous efforts. Libratus shares some strategies with DeepStack (card abstraction, etc.), as the Poker community has worked together on interoperable solutions. Libratus is the AI that actually played against the Poker professionals and beat them, even when they had a 200K $ incentive for the winner. The speaker mentioned that instead of trying to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent, Libratus focused on how the opponent exploits the strategies used by the AI. This way, Libratus could learn and fix these holes.
According to the follow up discussion, Libratus could probably defeat Deepstack, but they haven’t played against each other yet. The next challenges are applying these algorithms to solve similar issues in other domains, and making an AI that can actually be part of a table and join tournaments (this may imply a redefinition of the problem). Both researchers ended up stating how supportive the community has been providing feedback and useful ideas to improve their respective AIs.
The last keynote speaker was Russ Tedrake (MIT Robot labs), who presented advances in robotics and the lessons learned during the three year DARPA challenge on robotics. The challenge had a series of heterogeneous tasks (driving, opening a valve, cut a hole in a wall, open and traverse a door, etc.). Most of these problems are faced as optimization problems, and planning is a key feature that has to be updated on the go. Robustness is crucial for all the processes. For example, in the challenge, the MIT robot failed due to a human error and an arm broke off. However, thanks to the redundancy functions, the robot could finish the rest of the competition using only the other arm. As a side note, the speaker also explained why the robots always “walk funny”: their center of mass. It facilitates the equations for movement, so researchers have adopted it to avoid more complexity in their solutions.
One of the main challenges for these robots is perception. It has to run constantly to understand the surroundings of the robot (e.g., obstacles), dealing with possible noise data or incomplete information. The problem is that, when a new robot has to be trained, most of the data produced with other robots is not usable (different sensors, different means for grabbing and dealing with objects, etc.). Looking how babies react with their environment (touching everything and tasting it) might bring new insights in how to address these problems.
-The “AI in practice” session that occurred on Sunday was great. The room was packed, and we saw presentations from companies like IBM, LinkedIn or Google.
I liked these talks because they highlighted some of the current challenges faced by AI. For example, Michael Witbrock (IBM) described how despite the advances in Machine Learning applications, the representations used to address a problem can barely be reused. The lack of explanation of deep learning techniques does not help either, specifically in diagnosing diseases: doctors want to know why a certain conclusion is reached. IBM is working towards improving the inference stack, so as to be able to combine symbolic systems with non-symbolic ones.
Another example was Gary Marcus (Uber labs), who explained that although there has been a lot of progress on AI, AGI (artificial general intelligence) has not advanced that much. Perception is more than being able to generalize from a situation, and machines are currently not very good at it. For example, an algorithm may be able to detect that there is a dog in a picture, and that the dog is lifting weights, but it won’t be able to tell you why this picture is unique or rare. The problem with current approaches is that they are incremental. Sometimes, there is a fear to step back and look at how some of our current problems are addressed. Focusing too much on incremental science (i.e., improving a small percentage of the precision of the current algorithms), may lead to get stuck in local maximums. Sometimes we need to address problems from different angles to make sure we make progress.
– AI in games is a thing! Over the years I have seen some approaches that aim to develop smart players, but attending this tutorial was one of the best experiences in the conference. Julian Toeglius gave an excellent overview/tutorial of the state of the art in the field, including how a simple A* algorithm may almost be a perfect player for Mario (if we omit those levels when we need to go back), how games are starting to adapt to players, how to build credible non player characters and how to create scenarios that are fun to play automatically. Then he introduced other problems that overlap with many of the challenges addressed in the keynotes: 1) How can we produce a general AI that learns how to play any game? And 2) how can we create a game automatically? For the first one, I found interesting that they have already developed a benchmark of simple games that will test your approach. The second one however is deeper, as the problem is not creating a game, or even a valid game. The real problem in my opinion is creating a game that a player considers fun. At the moment the current advances consist on modifications of existing games. I’ll be looking forward to reading more about this field and its future achievements.
– AI in education: Teaching ethics to researchers is becoming more and more necessary, given the pace at which science evolves. At the moment, this is an area often overlooked in any PhD or research program.
– The current NSF research plan is not mute! Lynne Parker introduced the creation of the AI research and development strategic plan, which expects to remain untouched even after the results of the latest election. The current focus is on how AI could help to the national priorities: liberty (e.g., security), life (education, medicine, law enforcement, personal services, etc.) and pursuit of happiness (manufacturing, logistics, agriculture, marketing, etc.). Knowledge discovery and transparent and explainable methods will help for this purpose.
– Games night! Great opportunity to socialize and meet part of the community by drawing, playing puzzles and board games.
– Many institutions are hiring. The Job fair had plenty of participating companies and institutions, but it was a little bit far away from the main events and I didn’t see many people attending. In any case, there were also plenty of companies with stands while the main conference was happening as well, which made it easy to talk to them and see what were they working on.
– Avoid reinventing the wheel! There was a cool panel on Expert systems history. Sometimes it is good to just take a step back and see how they analyzed research problems in the past. Some of their solutions still apply today
– Check out the program for more details on the talks and presentations.
Attending AAAI has been a great learning experience. I really recommend it to anyone working on any field of AI, especially if you are student or you are looking for a job. I also find very exciting that some of the problems I am working on are also identified as important by the rest of the community. In particular, the need of creating proper abstractions to facilitate understanding and shareability of current methods was part of the main topic of my thesis, while the need for explanation of the result of a certain technique is applied is highly related to what we do for capturing the provenance of scientific workflow results. As described by some of the speakers, “Debugging is a kind of alchemy” at the moment. Let’s turn it into a science.
Last week I attended a two-day event on Open Research Data: Implications and Society. The event was located at Warsaw’s University Library, close to the old district, and it took place while all the students were actually studying on the library.
The event was sponsored by the Research Data Alliance and OpenAire among others, with presenters from institutions like CERN, companies that aim at facilitating publishing scientific data like Figshare (or benefit from them like Altmetric) and people from the editorial world like Elsevier and Thomson Reuters. Lidia Stępińska-Ustasiak was the main organizer of the event, and she did a fantastic job. My special thanks to her and her team.
In general, the audience was very friendly and willing to learn more about the problems exposed by the presenters. The program was packed with keynotes and presentations, which made it quite a non-stop conference.
What I presented
I attended the event to talk about Research Objects and our approach for their proper preservation by using checklists. Check the slides here. In general, our proposal was well received, even though much work is still necessary to make it happen as a whole. Applications like RODL or MyExperiment are the first step forward towards achieving reproducible publications.
What I liked
The environment, the talks (kept on 10 minutes for the short talks and on 25 for keynotes), people staying to hear others and not running away after their presentations, and all the discussions that happened during and after the events.
What I missed
Even though I enjoyed the event very much, I missed some innovative incentives for scientist to actually share their methods and their data. Credit and attribution were the main reasons given by everyone to share their data. However, these are long term benefits. For instance, after sharing the data and methods I have used in several papers as Research Objects, I have noticed that it really takes a lot of time to document everything properly. It pays off on the long term when you (or others) want to reuse your own data, but not immediately. Thus, I can imagine that other scientists may use this as an excuse to avoid publishing their data and workflow when they publish the associated paper. The paper is the documentation, right?
My question is: can we provide a benefit for sharing data/workflows that is immediate? For example: if you publish the workflow, the “Methods” page of your paper will be written automatically, or you will have an interactive drawing that looks supercool on your paper, etc. I haven’t found an answer to this question yet, but I hope to see some advance in this direction in the future.
But enough with my own thoughts, let’s stick to the content. I summarize both days below.
After the welcome message, Marek Niezgódk introduced the efforts made in Poland towards research open data. The polish Digital Library now offers access to all scientific publications for everyone, in order to foster polish scholar bibliography in the scientific world. Since polish is not an easy language, they are investing in the development of tools and projects like Wordnet and Europeana.
Mark Parsons (Research Data Alliance) followed by describing the problem of replication of scientific results. Before working in RDA, he used to work on the NSDIC, which observes and measures climate change. Apparently, some results were really hard to replicate because different experts understood concepts differently. For example, the term “ice edge” is defined differently in several communities. Open data is not enough: we need to build bridges among different communities of experts, and this is precisely the mission of RDA. With more than 30 working and interest groups integrating people from industry and academia, RDA aims to improve the “data fabric” by building foundational terminologies, enabling discovery among different registries and standardizing methodologies between different communities:
Jean-Claude Burgelman (European Commission) provided a great overview of the open research lifecycle:
The presenter described the current concerns with open access in the European Commission, and how they are proposing a bottom-up approach by enabling a pilot for open research data which has provided encouraging preliminary results.
Although open data is currently being opened in some areas (see picture below), it is good to see that the European Commission is also focusing on infrastructures, hosting, intellectual property rights and governance. For example, in the open pilot even patents are possible with the open data policy.
The talk ended up with an interesting thought: High impact journals are less than 1% of the scientific production.
The next presenter was Kevin Ashley, from the British Digital Curation Center. Kevin started his talk with the benefits of data sharing, both from a selfish view (credit) and the community view (for example, data from archaeology has been used by paleontology experts). Good research needs good data, and what some people consider noise could be a valuable input for other researchers in different areas.
I liked how Kevin provided some numbers regarding the maintenance of an infrastructure for open access of research papers. Assuming that only 1 out of 100 papers are reused, in 5 years we could save up to 3 million per year from buying papers online. Also, linking publication and data increases its value. Open data and closed software, on the other hand, is a barrier.
The talk ended with the typical reasons people give to not to share their data, as well at the main problems that actually stop data reuse:
The evening was followed by a set of quick presentations.
Giulia Ajmone (OECD) introduced open science policy trends by using the “stick and carrot” metaphor: carrots are financial incentives, proper acknowledgement and attribution, while the sticks are the mandatory rules necessary to make them happen. Individual policies are at the national levels on many countries.
Magdalena Szuflita (Gdańsk University of Technology) tried to identify additional benefits for data sharing by doing a survey on economics and chemistry (areas where the researchers didn’t share their data).
Ralf Toepfer (Leibniz centre of economics) provided more details on open research data in economics, where up 80 % of the researchers do not share their data (although the majority of the people think other people should share their data). I personally find this very shocking in an environment where trust and credibility is key, as some of these studies might be the cause of big political changes.
Marta Teperek (University of Cambridge) talked about the training activities and workshops for sharing data at the University of Cambridge.
Helena Cousijn (Elsevier) described ways for researchers to store, share and discover data. I liked the slide comparing the research initiatives versus the research needs (see below). I also learnt that Elsevier has a data repository where they assign DOIs and up to 2 data journals.
Marcin Kapczyński introduced the data citation index they are developing at Thomspon Reuters, which covers 240 high value multidisciplinary repositories. A cool feature is that it can distinguish between datasets and papers.
Monica Rogoza (national library of Poland) presented an approach to connect their digital library to other repositories, providing a set of tools to visualize and detect pictures in texts.
The day ended with some tools and methodologies for opening data in different domains. Daniel Hook, from FigShare, gave the invited talk by appealing to our altruism instead of our selfishness for sharing data. He surveyed the different ages of research: individual research led to the age of enlightenment, institutional research to an age of evaluation, national research to an age of collaboration and international research to an age of impact. Unfortunately, sometimes impact might be a step back from collaboration. Most of the data is still hidden in Dropbox or pendrives, and when institutions share it we find three common cases: 1) they are forced to do it, in which case the budget for accomplishing it is low; 2) they are really excited to do it, but it is not a requirement; and 3) May not understand the infrastructure, but they aim to provide tools to allow authors to collaborate internationally.
And finally, a manifesto:
The short talks can be summarized as follows:
Marcin Wichorowsky (University of Warsaw) talked about the GAME project database to integrate oceanographic data repositories and link them to social data.
Alexander Nowinsky (University of Warsaw) described COCOs, a cosmological simulation database which aims at storing large scale simulations of the universe (with just 2 datasets they are over 100TB!)
Marta Hoffman (University of Warsaw) introduced RepOD, the first repository for open data in Poland complementary to other platforms like the Open Science Platform. It adapts C-KAN and focuses explicitly on research data.
Henry Lütke (ETH Zurich) described their publication pipeline for scientific data, by using OpenBis for data management, electronic notebooks and OAI-PMH to track the metadata. Integrated with C-KAN as well.
The second day was packed with presentations as well. Martin Hamilton (Jisc) gave the first keynote by analyzing the role of the pioneer. Assuming that in 2030 there will be tourists in Mars, what are the main causes that could enable it? Who were the pioneers that pushed this effort forward? For example, Tesla Motors will not initiate any lawsuit against someone who, in good faith, wants to use their technology for the greater good. These are the kind of examples we need to see for research data as well. New patrons may arise (e.g., Google, Amazon, etc. give awards as research grants) and there will be a spirit of co-opetition (i.e., groups with opposite interests working together on the same problem), but working together we could address the issue of open access in research data and move towards other challenges like full reproducibility of the scientific experiments.
Tim Smith (CERN, Zenodo) followed by describing how we often find ourselves on the shoulders of secluded giants. We build up on the work done by other researchers, but the shareablity of data might be a burden in the process: “If you stand on the shoulders of hidden giants, you may not see too far”. Tim argued that researches participating in the human collective enterprise that pushes research forward often look for their own best interest, and that by fostering feedback one’s own interest may become a collective interest. Of course, this also involves a scientist-centric approach providing access to the tools, data, materials and infrastructure that delivered the results. Given that software is crucial for producing research, Zenodo was presented as an application for collaborative development to publish code as part of the active research process (integrated with Github). The keynote ended by explaining how data is shared in an institution like CERN, where there are PetaBytes of data stored. Since all the data can’t be opened due to its size, only a set of selected data for education and research purposes is made public (currently around 40 TB). The funny thing is how opening data has actually benefitted them: they did an open challenge asking people to improve their machine learning algorithm on the input data. Machine learning experts, who had no idea about the purpose of the data, won.
A set of short presentations were next:
Pawel Krajewski presented the transplant project, a software infrastructure for plant scientists based on checklist for publishing the data. It follows the ISA-TAB format.
Cinzia Daraio (Sapienza) described how to link heterogeneous data sources in an interoperable setting with their ontology-based (14 modules!) data management system. The ontology is used to represent indicators on different disciplines and be able to do comparisons (e.g., opportunistic behavior).
Kimil Wais (University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszów) showed how to monitor open data automatically by using an application, Odgar, based on R for visualizing and computing statistics.
Me: I presented our approach for preserving Research Objects by using checklists described above.
After the break, Mark Thorley (NERC-UK) gave the last invited talk. He presented Cotadata.org, an international group like RDA that instead of following a bottom-up approach, follows a top-down one. As described before, a huge problem relies on the knowledge translators, who are people that know how to talk to experts in different domains for their uses of data. In this regard, the role of the knowledge broker/intermediary is gaining relevance: people that know the data and know how to use it for other people’s needs. Rather than exposing the data, in Codata they are working towards exposing and exploiting (IP rights) the knowledge behind.
A series of short talks followed the invited talk:
Ben McLeish (Altmetric) described how in their company they look for any research output using text mining: Reddit, Youtube, repositories, blogs, etc. They have come up with a new relevance metric based on donut-shaped graphics which can even show how your institution is doing and how engaging your work is.
Krzysztof Siewicz (University of Warsaw) explained from the legal point of view how different data policies could interfere when opening data.
Magdalena Rutkowska-Sowa (University of Białystok) finished up by describing the models for commercialization of R&D findings. With Horizon 2020, new policy models and requirements will have to be introduced.
The second day finished with a panel discussion with Tim Smith, Giulia Ajmone, Martin Hamilton, Mark Parsons and Mark Thorley as participants, discussing further some of the issues presented during both days. Although I didn’t take many notes, some of the discussion were about how enterprises could figure out open data models, data privacy, how to build services on top of open data or the value of making data available.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the International World Wide Web (WWW) conference in Florence. This was my first time in WWW, and I was impressed by the amount of attendants (apparently, more than 1400). Everyone was willing to talk and discuss about their work, so I met new people, talked to some I already knew and left with a very positive experience. I hope to be back in the future.
In this post I summarize my views on the conference. Given its size, I could not attend all the different talks, workshops and tutorials, but if you could not come you might be able to get an idea on the types of the contents that were presented. The proceedings can be accessed online here.
The conference was held in Fortezza da Basso, one of Florence’s largest historical buildings. Although it was packed with talks, tutorials and presentations, more than one attendant managed to skip one or two sessions to do some sightseeing, and I can’t blame them. I didn’t skip any sessions, but I managed to visit the Ponte Vecchio and have a walk around the city after the second day was over :).
My contribution: Linked Data Platform and Research Objects
My role in the conference was to present a poster in the Save-SD workshop. We use the Linked Data Platform standards to access Research Objects according to the Linked Data principles, which make them easy to create, manage, retrieve and edit. You can check our slides here, and we have a live demo prototype here. The poster can be seen in the picture below. We got some nice potential users and feedback from the attendants!
The conference keynotes
The keynotes were one of the best part of the conference. Jeanette Hoffman opened the first day by describing the dilemmas of digitalization, comparing them to the myth of falling between Scylla and Charybdis. She introduced four main dilemmas, which may not have a best solution:
The privacy paradox, as we have a lot of “free” services at our disposal, but the currency in which we pay for them is our own private data
Bias on free services: For example, org, is an alliance of enterprises that claim to be offering local services for free in countries where people cannot afford it. But some protesters claim that they offer a manipulated internet where people can’t decide. Is it better to have something biased for free or an unbiased product for which you have to pay?
Data protection versus free access to information: illustrated with the right to be forgotten, celebrated in Germany as a success of the individual over Google, but heavily criticized in other countries like Spain where corrupt politicians use it to look better to the potential voters after the sentence has expired. The process of “being forgotten” is not transparent at all.
Big brother is always watching you: how do the security / law enforcement / secret services collect everything about us? (All for the sake of our own protection). National services collect the data on the foreigners to protect the locals. What about data protection? Shall we consider ourselves under constant surveillance?
The second keynote was given by Deborah Estrin, and it discussed what we could do with our small data. We are walking sensors constantly generating data with our mobile devices and “small data is to individuals what big data is to institutions”. However, most people don’t like analyzing their data. They download apps that passively record and use their data to show them useful stuff: healthy purchases based on your diet, decline at an old age, monitoring, etc. The issue of privacy is still there, but “is it creepy when you know what is going on, instead of everybody using this data without you knowing. What can’t you benefit from your own data as well?”.
Andrei Broder, from Google, was the last keynote presenter. He did a retrospective of the Web, analyzing whether their predictions for the last decade were true or not, and doing some additional ones for the future. He introduced the 3 drivers of progress: scaling up with quality, a faster response and higher functionality levels:
The keynote also included some impressive data, from then and now. In 1999 people had still to be explained what a web crawler was. Today 20 million pages are crawled every day, and the index is over 100 PetaBytes. Wow. Regarding future predictions, it looks like Google is evolving from a search box to a request box:
Saving scholarly discourse
I attended the full day SAVE-SD workshop, designed for enhancing scholarly data with semantics, analytics and visualization. The workshop was organized by Francesco Osborne, Silvio Peroni and Jun Zhao, and it received a lot of attention (even though the LDOW workshop was running in parallel). One of the features of the workshop was that you could submit your paper in html using the RASH grammar. The paper is then enriched and can be directly converted to other formats demanded by publishers like the ACM’s pdf template.
Paul Groth kicked off the workshop by introducing in his keynote how to increase the productivity in scholarship by using knowledge graphs. I liked how Paul quantified productivity with numbers: taking as productivity the amount of stuff we can do in one hour, the productivity has raised up to 30% in places like the US since 1999. Scholarly output has grown up to 60%, but that doesn’t translate necessarily into a productivity boost. The main reason why we are not productive is “the burden of knowledge”: we need longer times to study and process the amount of research output being produced in our areas of expertise. Even though tools for collaborating among researchers have been created, in order to boost our productivity we need synthesized knowledge, and Knowledge Graphs can help with that. Hopefully we’ll see more apps based on personalized knowledge graphs in the future 🙂
The rest of the workshop covered a variety of domains:
Bibliography: with the Semantic Lancet portal, allows exploring citations as a first class citizen, and Conference Live, a tool for accessing collecting and exploiting conference information and papers as Linked Data.
Enhanced publications, where Bahar Sateli won the best paper award with her approach to create knowledge bases from papers using NLP techniques (pdf) and Hugo Mougard described an approach to align conference video talks to their respective papers.
Fostering collaborations: Luigi Di Caro described the impact of the collaborators in one’s own research(d-index). I tested it and I am glad to see that I am less and less dependent on my co-authors!
Linked Data or DBpedia?
I was a bit disappointed to discover that although many different papers claimed to be using/publishing Linked Data, in reality they were just approaches to work with one dataset: DBpedia. Ideally Linked Data applications should exploit and integrate the links from different distributed sources and datasets, not just a huge centralized dataset like DBpedia. In fact, the only paper that I saw that exploited the concept of Linked Data was the one presented by Ilaria Tiddi on using Linked Data to label academic communities (pdf), in which they aimed to explain data patterns detecting communities of research topics by doing link transersal and applying clustering techniques according to the LSA distance.
Web mining and Social Networks: is WWW becoming the conference of the big companies?
After assisting to the Web mining and Social Network tracks, I wonder whether it is possible to actually have a paper accepted about these topics if Microsoft, IBM, Yahoo or Google is not supporting the work with their data. I think almost all the papers in these tracks had collaborators from one of these companies, and I fear that in the future WWW might become monopolized by them. It is true that having industry involved is good for research. They provide useful real world use cases and data to test them. However, most of the presented work reduced itself at the presentation of a problem solved with a machine learning technique and a lot of training (which has the risk of over fitting the model). The innovation on the solutions wasn’t much, and the data was not accessible, as in most cases it’s private. A way to overcome this issue could be to make the authors of submitted papers to share their data as a requirement, which would be consistent to the open data movements we have been seeing in events like Open Research Data Day or Beyond the PDF; and would allow other researchers to test their own methods as well.
Opinions aside, some interesting papers were presented. Wei Song described how to extract patterns from titles for entity recognition with a high precision to produce templates of web articles (pdf); I saw automatic tagging of pictures using a 6 level neural network plus the derivation of a three level taxonomy from the tags (although the semantics was a bit naive in my opinion) (pdf); Pei Li introduced how to link groups of entities together to identify business chains (Pei Li. Univ of Zurich + Google) (pdf) and Gong Cheng described the creation of summaries for effective human-centered entity linking (pdf).
My personal favorites were the methods to detect content abusers in Yahoo answers to help the moderators’ work (pdf), by analyzing the flagged contents of the users; and the approach for detecting early rumors in Twitter (pdf) by Zhe Zhao. According to Zhe, they were able to detect rumors up to 3 hours before than anyone else.
Graph and subgraph mining
Since I have been exploring how to use graph mining techniques to find patterns in scientific workflows, I thought that attending these sessions might help me to understand better my problem. Unfortunately none of the presenters described approaches for common sub-graph mining, but I learnt about current hot topics regarding social networks: finding the densest sub-graphs (pdf, pdf and pdf), which I think it is important for determining which nodes are the most important to influence/control the network; and discovering knowledge from the graph, useful to derive small communities (pdf) and web discovery (pdf). I deliberately avoid providing details here, as these papers tend to be technical quite quickly.
Finally, I couldn’t miss the Semantic Web track, since it was the one that could have the most potential overlap with the work my colleagues and I do in Madrid. We had 5 different papers, each one on a different topic:
benchmarking: Axel Ngonga presented GERBIL, a general entity annotator benchmark that can compare up to 10 entity annotations systems (pdf).
instance matching: Arnab Dutta explained their approach to match instances depending on the schema by using Markov clustering (pdf).
provenance: Marcin Wylot described their approach for materializing views for representing the provenance of the information. The paper uses TripleProv as a query execution engine, and claims to be the most efficient way to handle provenance enabled queries (pdf).
RDF2RDB: uncommon topic, as it is usually the other way around. Minh-Duc Pham proposed to obtain a relational schema from an RDF dump in order to exploit the efficiency of typical databases (pdf). However he recognized that if the model is not static this could present some issues.
triplestores: Philip Stutz introduced TripleRush (pdf) a triplestore that uses sampling and random walks to create a special index structure and be more efficient in clustering and ranking RDF data.
I liked a paper discussing the gender roles in movies against the actual census (pdf). Gives you an idea of how manipulative the media can be.
The microposts workshop was fun, although mainly focused on named entity recognition (e.g., Pinar Kagaroz’s approach). I think that “random walk” is the sentence I have heard the most in the conference.