Three postgraduate research students from the University of Southampton have been presented Excelling Student awards at The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.
Computer scientists Dr Abdulrahman Ayad Alharthi, Madini O Alassafi and Dr Alaa Abdullah AlMarshedi received the honours from HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud this winter, recognising the importance of their PhD research in the Department of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS).
The students were among just 30 people selected from across the UK for the prize, which is celebrated annually at The Royal Embassy in Charles Street, London. The awards recognise research and study distinction as well as scientific innovation and excellence, with recipients receiving a royal invitation to a lunch event which includes an honorary shield, certificate and financial reward.
Abdulrahman and Madini have centred their PhDs on cloud computing in migration and adoption projects, while Alaa Abdullah focused on gamification for the self-management of chronic-illnesses. The three students have been working with supervisor Dr Gary Wills from the Cyber Physical Systems research group and Abdulrahman and Alaa Abdullah have both recently completed their studies.
“It’s an honour to have been selected for such a prestigious prize,” Abdulrahman says. “I am proud to have demonstrated the high quality of ECS students at Southampton both to The Royal Embassy and other represented universities.”
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Artificial intelligence expert Dr Sarvapali (Gopal) Ramchurn has been awarded a grant from the AXA Research Fund, becoming only the second UK-based academic to ever be supported by the initiative in the field of Responsible Artificial Intelligence.
The AXA Research Fund, the philanthropic initiative of the AXA Group, is dedicated to boosting scientific discoveries that contribute to societal progress and will provide him with €250,000 to further investigate how AI can be responsible and accountable.
The award recognises the Associate Professor’s innovative contributions to his field, which includes over a decade’s work at the University of Southampton’s renowned Department of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS).
“We are at a critical point in time where key questions are being asked about how AI will change people’s lives for better or worse,” Sarvapali says. “It’s an honour to have been granted this award, and it reflects how the research in our Agents, Interaction and Complexity group is truly world-leading. It is recognition of not just my work but also the current and past colleagues, researchers and students that I’ve been fortunate to work with.”
Sarvapali’s research has largely centred on the development of intelligent software and robotic agents, with a focus on how such agents are designed to work alongside humans and other agents. He is also a board member of ECS’ new Centre for Machine Intelligence, which aims to develop a coherent approach to research and technology transfer in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous systems. His next steps will focus on the design of interactions with AI that ensures that humans have reasonable expectations about the behaviour of intelligent agents and supports rather than hinders their daily activities.
“My goal is to develop some of the underpinning technology that will ensure AI remains safe and responsible,” Sarvapali explains. “Some of the targets will be to look at how we can design AI systems to cope with varying degrees of user understanding and how we can design interactions with AI to make sure that control is given to users when it most matters, while the complexity of decision making is dealt with by the AI when the user does not need to be involved. We will also be establishing new methodologies derived from a user-centred approach to the design of AI. A key part of the work will also involve tracking the provenance of AI and human decision making to ensure that systems are accountable.”
Researchers from the University of Southampton have previously worked on the design of responsible AI in a number of projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. These include ORCHID, a programme grant that investigated the notion of Human-Agent Collectives, and the A-IOT project which looks at developing the Autonomous Internet of Things.
Dr Ramchurn talks about how his grant from the AXA Research Fund will support further investigations into how artificial intelligence can be responsible and accountable.
Software developer Abigail Brady has been recognised by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her role in a visual effects tool that has become ‘the backbone of compositing and image processing’ for the movie industry.
Abigail, a former Computer Science student at the University of Southampton, was Principal Software Engineer for Foundry’s Nuke system, a high-end compositing tool that has been used in recent Hollywood blockbusters Blade Runner 2049, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Jungle Book.
She was honoured at The Academy’s Scientific and Technical (Sci-Tech) Awards in Beverley Hills on Saturday 10th February, and received the prize from Star Trek and X-Men star Sir Patrick Stewart. Foundry developers were presented Academy plaques as the body recognised their ‘comprehensive, versatile and stable system that has established itself as the backbone of compositing and image processing pipelines across the motion picture industry’.
“It was a huge surprise to be selected by The Academy and I’m honoured that our work has been recognised for its contribution to the industry,” Abigail says. “In my time at Southampton I was a regular late into the evenings at the Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) labs, working on projects and the student-provided CSLib resource. The solid background in computer science fundamentals that I learned at university were key to me joining Foundry and I hope that many more software engineers can start successful careers from ECS’s facilities and community.”
Nuke is part of a suite of products in Foundry’s portfolio that has been used in every single film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects over the last six years. Jon Wadelton, Jerry Huxtable, Bill Spitzak and Jonathan Egstad were also recognised for their contributions to the compositing software through Sci-Tech Awards this weekend.
Unlike other Academy Awards, Sci-Tech Award recipients do not need to have developed and introduced innovations over the previous year. Rather, the achievements demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.
Ray Feeney, chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee, says, “We are happy to honour a very international group of technologists for their innovative and outstanding accomplishments. These individuals have significantly contributed to the ongoing evolution of motion pictures, and their efforts continue to empower the creativity of our industry.”
Abigail now lives in Camden, London, and is set to join a new startup in the spring.