Another successful exchange with the SICSA PECE Award

by Dr Milan Markovic, University of Aberdeen
10 January 2018

The PECE Travel Bursary

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be awarded the PECE Travel Bursary by SICSA, which can be used to fund visits to academic institutions in the USA, EU, India, and China. This grant is aimed at early career researchers like myself, who will gladly take the opportunity to hone their grant writing skills and broaden their professional networks.

And the interesting part?

This is not the kind of funding that would fund your travel to a conference where you have limited time for networking and always have to compete with other people eagerly trying to promote their ideas. No, this one is different. This is the opportunity to spend weeks at foreign institutions and really experience the culture and different approaches to research.

The Plan

My visits were designed to align closely with my work on the TrustLens project (http://trustlens.org) at the University of Aberdeen. TrustLens is an interdisciplinary project that adopts a socio-technical approach to explore what it means to realise Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that are transparent, accountable, and which empower end-users.

Our ambition is to create a means by which a user can review the characteristics of an IoT device in terms of its impact on their personal data, answering questions such as: What type of data is it capturing? For what purpose? Who sees it? What are the (potential) benefits and risks? They also should be able to exert a degree of control over their data, and be guided to assess its reliability and accuracy.

The overall aim for the visits was to leverage the expertise of overseas researchers and to establish a mutually beneficial forum for discussions around issues related to transparency and privacy in IoT that may lead to future collaboration.

ISI (USC), Los Angeles, USA

First stop was the famous city of angels. I am not sure if there is much to add to all the information about LA that can already be found online. However, I can confirm that LA is a unique city with its special atmosphere and sunny weather.

People at the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) that I had the pleasure to work with are great. Highly motivated and ready to dedicate long hours of work split across multiple projects (as you would expect from a US institution). They also have access to excellent resources for research which can range from high profile seminar speakers to a real quantum computer (D-Wave) occupying half of a room somewhere in the building.

Although the name and reputation of the institute could seem a little bit intimidating to some, there is no need to worry. The atmosphere is quite relaxed yet still very productive. After being allowed to attend a few of their internal project meetings I was also happy to see that the research project culture is very similar. We had some great discussions about our work on transparency in IoT and how this might also overlap with their interests. As it turns out, finding the overlaps was easier than I thought. During the visit, we identified a number of extension requirements for a model that both of our groups use to describe plans captured in a provenance record. The extension focuses on enhancing the current version of the model with additional concepts such as constraints, agents and communication channels used to exchange data. As one would expect, whiteboards were filled with ideas, and plans for future publications were made.

Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China

I have never visited China before and I must say, I was impressed. After arriving in Shanghai you have an immediate opportunity to experience a very futuristic way of travel – magnetic train. Maglev is an impressive piece of technology and when you are travelling at 430 km/h you can’t help but to wonder why the train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh has to take 2.5 hours!

Suzhou is a major city some 70 miles from Shanghai. The Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) is based in its newly developed industrial area (SIP), which continues to impress with its modern buildings and good infrastructure. XJTLU is a young university founded in 2006. It has experienced a rapid expansion in recent years and the student population is rising rapidly. Its close ties with UK institutions are immediately noticeable during the first discussions with the faculty staff. Most of them spent years working in UK institutions and therefore there is hardly anything foreign about the internal system at this university which is thousands of miles away from the UK.

This visit was also very successful in terms of generating new ideas for future work. I guess, the change of environment really helps when it comes to being creative…

During this visit, discussions were more diverse and covered a range of different topics. I had a great time and learned a lot about the research environment in which Chinese institutions operate. We had some really good discussions on the potential use of machine learning to identify personal data in IoT deployments. The work will focus on designing models for capturing information about people, animals, and objects that can be observed by sensors. Inspired by the recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we intend to capture information that can be used to train a machine learning classifier capable of deciding whether the observations produced by an IoT system are personal or not.

I was very pleased with the plans that were put in place during the visit and although ambitious, this should be a very interesting piece of work. I have also encountered an unexpected demand for my knowledge on crowdsourcing systems gained during my PhD, which might also lead to future collaboration.

Final thoughts

Overall, both visits were a great experience that enabled me to widen my perspectives on the international research community. The interaction with researchers outside of my home institution and opportunities to engage with different types of audiences was a great experience. Change of environments also triggered new thinking processes from which fresh and novel ideas have emerged.

I would recommend this kind of experience to any early career researcher.

A Christmas Message from the SICSA Director

by Professor Kevin Hammond, SICSA Director
17 December 2018

We are coming to the end of another successful (and, of course, busy) year for SICSA, and for Scottish Computer Science and Informatics in general.  It has been a time to seize our opportunities, but also to reflect on our achievements, and to look forward to how we can shape our futures.  We are saddened, of course, that our friend and colleague, Jon Oberlander, will not be there to see all the success that he has brought about, but we know that he would be proud of the SICSA Community and how it has brought us together across Scotland.   The new Bayes Centre that Jon worked so hard to bring about will show how Computer Science and Informatics researchers can interact with statisticians, data scientists, roboticists, companies, and many others to create a new data-driven knowledge hub, with the National Robotarium showing the strength and importance of Scottish research in AI and robotics not just in a national setting, but also its leading international status.

We will have many new challenges to face in the New Year, including political uncertainty as we head towards BrExit but we will be able to build on the strong foundations that you have built.

The Cities Deals that have now been funded all across Scotland will offer fantastic opportunities to many of us to create impact through their strong focuses on all kinds of digital technologies, and the re-funded Innovation Centres will strengthen that impact and help create a global focus on Scotland as a vibrant place to do fundamental research and create new and exciting business opportunities.  The major conferences that have been organised in HCI, Cybersecurity, Data Science and other areas in 2019 will showcase Scottish research talent and excellence to the world.  We also hope to see many more Doctoral students forming the pipeline of future research leaders and innovators, funded both through the Innovation Centres, but also through the many Centres for Doctoral Training that have been proposed.   We wish you all success with these, and with your other research and academic endeavours.

With all Best Wishes for Christmas and looking forward to a successful New Year.

The SICSA Directorate and Executive Staff

SICSA DemoFest 2017

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SICSA Graduate Academy Director
16 October 2017

Blog Pic 2Hundreds of people attended the SICSA DemoFest at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh, last week. The annual DemoFest event showcases over 50 innovative Computing Science research projects currently under development at Scotland’s universities

As I wandered round the large exhibition hall, I saw sonic levitating devices, virtual reality drum kits, emotional fonts, optical 5G data transmitters, and much more.  The range of research was impressive and inspiring.  I particularly appreciated the enthusiasm of the researchers as they demonstrated their technology and explained it in everyday language to the visitors

The highlight of the evening was a presentation about ‘The World in 2037’ by Gillian Docherty from The Data Lab. Her talk involved lots of entertaining and speculative future-gazing, but the take home message was clear – Scotland needs to maintain its global position at the forefront of digital innovation. A short speech by Shirley-Anne Somerville (Scottish Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science) affirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to support ongoing innovation in the tech sector.

Blog Pic 1So, I had a great night at SICSA DemoFest, soaking up tomorrow’s technology which is being designed today by world-leading researchers based in Scotland.