Interview with Iolanda Leite

Introduction

This column is the seventh in our series pro- filing senior AI researchers. This month we are happy to interview Iolanda Leite, Assistant Professor at the School of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. This is a great opportunity to get to know Iolanda, the new AI Matters co-editor in chief. Welcome on board!

Biography

Iolanda Leite is an Assistant Professor at the School of Computer Science and Electri- cal Engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. She holds a PhD in Information Systems and Computer Engineer- ing from IST, University of Lisbon. Prior to join- ing KTH, she was a Research Assistant at the Intelligent Agents and Synthetic Characters Group at INESC-ID Lisbon, a Postdoctoral As- sociate at the Yale Social Robotics Lab and an Associate Research Scientist at Disney Re- search Pittsburgh. Iolanda’s research inter- ests are in the areas of Human-Robot Inter- action and Artificial Intelligence. She aims to develop autonomous socially intelligent robots that can assist people over long periods of time.

Getting to Know Iolanda Leite

When and how did you become interested in CS and AI?

I became interested in CS at the age of 4 when the first computer arrived at our home. It is more difficult to establish a time to define my interest in AI. I was born in the 80s and have always been fascinated by toys that had some level of “intelligence” or “life-likeness” like the Tamagotchi or the Furby robots. During my Master’s degree, I chose the Intelligent Sys- tems specialization. That time was probably when I seriously considered a research career in this area.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Seeing my students accomplish great things on their own.

What would you have chosen as your career if you hadn’t gone into CS?

I always loved to work with children so maybe something related to child education.

What do you wish you had known as a Ph.D. student or early researcher?

As an early researcher I often had a hard time dealing with the rejection of papers, applica- tions, etc. What I wish the “past me” could know is that if one keeps working hard, things will eventually work out well in the end. In other words, keeping faith in the system.

What is the most interesting project you are currently involved with?

All of them! If I have to highlight one, we are working with elementary schools that have classes of newly arrived children in a project where we are using social robots to promote inclusion between newly arrived and local chil- dren. This is part of an early career fellowship awarded by the Jacobs Foundation.

We currently observe many promising and exciting advances in using AI in education, going beyond automating Piazza answering, how should we make use of AI to teach AI?

I believe that AI can be used to complement teachers and provide personalized instruction to students of all ages and in a variety of top- ics. Robotic tutors can play an important role in education because the mere physical pres- ence of a robot has shown to have a positive impact on how much information students can recall, for example when compared to a virtual agent displayed in a computer screen deliver- ing the exact same content.

How can we make AI more diverse? Do you have a concrete idea on what we as (PhD) students, researchers, and educators in AI can do to increase diversity our field?

Something we can all do is to participate in outreach initiatives targeting groups underrep- resented in AI to show them that there is space for them in the community. If we start bottom-up, in the long-term I am positive that our community will be more diverse at all lev- els and the bias in opportunities, recruiting, etc. will go away.

What was your most difficult professional decision and why?

Leaving my home country (Portugal) after fin- ishing my PhD to continue my research career because I miss my family and friends, and also the good weather!

How do you balance being involved in so many different aspects of the AI community?

I love what I do and I currently don’t have any hobbies 🙂

AI is grown up – it’s time to make use of it for good. Which real-world problem would you like to see solved by AI in the future?

If AI could fully address any of the Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations, it would be (more than) great. Al- though there are excellent research and fund- ing initiatives in that direction, we are still not there yet.

What is your favorite AI-related movie or book and why?

One of my favorite ones recently was the Westworld TV Series because of the power relationships between the human and the robotic characters. I find it hard to believe that humans will treat robots the way they are treated in the series, but it makes me reflect on how our future interactions with technol- ogy that is becoming more personalized and “human-like” might look like.

Autonomous Vehicles: Policy and Technology

In 2018, we discussed language that aims at safety and degrees of autonomy rather than having, possibly unattainable, goals of completely autonomous things. A better approach, at least for the next 5-10 years, is to seek the correct balance between technology and humans in hybrid devices and systems. See for example, the Unmanned Integrated Systems Roadmap, 2017-2042 and Ethically Aligned Design. We also need to consider the limits and possibilities for research on the technologies and their impacts on time frames and the proper focus of policymaking.

In a recent interview, Dr. Harold Szu, a co-founder and former governor of the International Neural Network Society, discusses research ideas that better mimic human thinking and that could dramatically reduce the time to develop autonomous technology. He discusses a possible new level of brain-style computing that incorporates fuzzy membership functions into autonomous control systems. Autonomous technology incorporating human characteristics, along with safe policies and earlier arrival of brain-style technologies, could usher in the next big economic boom. For more details, view the Harold Szu interview.

Discussion Issues for 2019

FaceBook, Face Recognition, Autonomous Things, and the Future of Work

Four focus areas of discussions at the end of 2018 are the initial topics for the SIGAI Policy Blog as we start 2019.  The following, with links to resources, are important ongoing subjects for our Policy blogsite in the new year:

FaceBook continues to draw attention to the general issue of data privacy and the role of personal data in business models. Here are some good resources to check:
NY Times on FaceBook Privacy
FaceBook Partners
Spotify
Netflix

Facial recognition software is known to be flawed, having side effects of bias, unwanted surveillance, and other problems. The Safe Face Pledge, developed by the Algorithmic Justice League and Georgetown University Law Center of Privacy & Technology, is an example of emerging efforts to make organizations aware of problems with facial recognition products, for example in autonomous weapons systems and law enforcement agencies. The Safe Face Pledge asks that companies commit to safety in business practices and promote public policy for broad regulation and government oversight on facial recognition applications.

“Autonomous” Things: Degrees of Separation: The R&D for “autonomous” vehicles and other devices that dominate our daily lives pose challenges for technologies as well as for ethics and policy considerations. In 2018, we discussed language that aims at safety and degrees of autonomy rather than having, possibly unattainable, goals of completely autonomous things. A better approach may be to seek the correct balance between technology and humans in hybrid devices and systems. See for example, the Unmanned Integrated Systems Roadmap, 2017-2042 and Ethically Aligned Design.

The Future of Work and Education is a topic that not only tries to predict the workforce of the future, but also how society needs to prepare for it. Many experts believe that our current school systems are not up to the challenge and that industry and government programs are needed for the challenges emerging in just a few years. See, for example, writing by the Ford Foundation and the World Economic Forum.

We welcome your feedback and discussions as we enter the 2019 world of AI and policy!

ACM SIGAI Industry Award for Excellence in Artificial Intelligence

The ACM SIGAI Industry Award for Excellence in Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be given annually to individuals or teams who created AI applications in recent years in ways that demonstrate the power of AI techniques via a combination of the following features: novelty of application area, novelty and technical excellence of the approach, importance of AI techniques for the approach, and actual and predicted societal impact of the application. The award plaque is accompanied by a prize of $5,000 and will be awarded at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence through an agreement with the IJCAI Board of Trustees.

After decades of progress in the theory of AI, research and development, AI applications are now increasingly moving into the commercial sector. A great deal of pioneering application-level work is being done—from startups to large corporations—and this is influencing commerce and the broad public in a wide variety of ways. This award complements the numerous academic, best paper and related awards, in that it focuses on innovators of fielded AI applications, honoring those who are playing key roles in AI commercialization. The award honors these innovators and highlights their achievements (and thus also the benefit of AI techniques) to computing professionals and the public at large. The award committee will consider applications that are open source or proprietary and that may or may not involve hardware.

Evaluation criteria: The criteria include the following, but there is no fixed weighting of them:

  • Novelty of application area
  • Novelty and technical excellence of the approach
  • Importance of AI techniques for the approach
  • Actual and predicted societal benefits of the fielded application

Eligibility criteria:  Any individual or team, worldwide, is eligible for the award.

Nomination procedure: One nomination and three endorsements must be submitted. The nomination  must identify the individual or team members, describe their fielded AI  system, and explain how it addresses the award criteria. The nomination must be written by a member of ACM SIGAI. Two of the endorsements must be  from members of ACM or ACM SIGAI. Anyone can join ACM SIGAI at any time for just US$11 (students) and US$25 (other) annual membership fee, even if they are not an ACM member.

Please submit the nomination and endorsements as a single PDF file in an
email to SIGAIIndustryAward@acm.org. We will  acknowledge receipt of the nomination.

Timeline:

  • Nominations due: March 1, 2019
  • Award announcement: April 25, 2019
  • Award presentation: August 10-16, 2019 at IJCAI in Macao, China