SICSA supports Code Your Future (CYF)

by Gianluca Palombo
5 August 2019

CodeYourFuture are a charity who train refugees, asylum seekers and people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds to become professional software developers. We are already running classes in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Rome – with plans to extend to other cities in the near future. On the weekend of the 27th June, CodeYourFuture students, graduates, applicants, mentors and public guests gathered to celebrate and find out more about our work and, more generally, efforts to use tech as a force for positive social change in society: https://conference.codeyourfuture.io/

Friday 28 June
Over 100 students, volunteers, applicants, partners and guests assembled throughout our first day of the CodeYourFuture Conference 2019 in Glasgow. The venue was the wonderful Sir Charles Wilson building, where we guaranteed a memorable day of work courtesy of the University of Glasgow and the UofG Computing Science department.Thanks to our insightful panels and guest speaker presentations, CYF members and public guests were able to gain fantastic and unique insights into the crossover between tech, community development and social justice.

Highlights included inspiring lessons and testimonies delivered by speakers such as Mel McKendrick, CEO at Optomize Ltd and Assistant Professor in Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, and Pheona Matuvo, co-founder and director at community interest company Radiant and Brighter. Our own CYF graduates shared their incredible stories in their own panel, inspiring current and future students – whilst through gratefully-received tea and coffee breaks, networks were built as new friends were made in addition to a lot of overdue catching up between CYF cohorts from across the UK.

Friday was wound down with a relaxing evening at the home of one of our amazing Glasgow volunteers, Carme! We should give a special thanks to SICSA for covering expenses for the food and refreshments we are able to provide at this occasion and others throughout the Conference weekend for the benefit of our CYF members and guests.

Saturday 29 June
On Saturday, we carried on, as CYF students, graduates, mentors and organisers got to work on technical skills development and strategy planning! On Saturday, we found ourselves in a similarly inspiring conference environment as we were hosted by BBC Scotland in their amazingly impressive Pacific Quay headquarters.

Students on the day were able to learn and share different skills alongside their counterparts and predecessors as well as mentors from CYF cohorts in different cities. Highlights included insightful and valuable workshops by Michael Antczak, experienced software developer and tech meet-up organiser, and Alec McEchran, former Senior Software Engineer at YouTube and Google and now Principal Engineer at KPV LAB Edinburgh.

For mentors and organisers, the day consisted of creative group work and discussions, helping to agree on fundamental universal goals of CYF cohorts and thinking how we can help provide even greater access to life-changing social and professional development for disadvantaged groups in the UK and further afield.

Saturday ended with us gathering at West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow for a final winding down and celebration following a high-octane yet fulfilling two days.

Overall, we were delighted with how the Conference went, and hope that our public guests, in particular, were able to gain extra insight into the valuable and unique work we do at CodeYourFuture. For the CYF community, we come away with renewed energy, inspiration and more coherent aims and strategies. We hope these things will aid us in continuing to channel tech, education and community empowerment in an effort to improve our societies.

We thank SICSA for supporting the conference along with The University of Glasgow, BBC Scotland, Financial Times and our microsponsors who donated online.

SICSA funds student to attend the European Summer School in Information Retrieval (ESSIR)

by Vasileios Stamatis
29th July 2019

The European Summer School in Information Retrieval (ESSIR) is a summer school for Information Retrieval and has been taking place since 1990 and the last few years it has taken by every two years.  The ESSIR 2019 took place in Milan, Italy, in the University of Milan-Bicocca. Myself and many other students from all over the world attended this summer school. For attending this summer school I was funded by SICSA. I wouldn’t be able to attend if SICSA hadn’t funded me for this summer school.
The summer school organised by the Information Retrieval Laboratory (IR Lab) at the University of Milan Bicocca and the Information Management Systems (IMS) research group at the University of Padua. The main focus was Information Retrieval (IR) courses and related research topics.

The first day started with some interesting courses about Information Retrieval as interaction in general, what it is and some main concepts such us offline vs online vs user-study evaluation etc. Then we learned about approaches in research. It was great to learn how to succeed in the PhD journey, how to choose a research area and how to approach research in general. The last 2 courses were about evaluation, we learned how important evaluation for IR and Research is in general and we also learned tasks and existing work in the evaluation field.
The second day started with user oriented IR and its foundations. We learned all these different IR models and the most significant contributions to the field. Also, we learned about experiments and how to approach an experiment and what factors are important during an experiment. Finally, machine learning and its approaches to IR were discussed, learning to Rank and Neural nets were the hot topics; and future research directions on the field.

The following day in the morning, the courses were about scalability in IR in which we learned about indexes and the importance of scalability in efficiency in web search engines. Then we learned about social media and how they are used to gather data and convert data to real knowledge. In the afternoon the Future Directions in Information Access (FDIA) presentations took place. It was great to hear presentations from colleagues and learn about their work, and have discussions afterwards.
Thursday started with medical IR and then recommender systems and after that we had a discussion about the summer school in general….what we liked and did not like and what should be included in the next summer schools. Then we discussed about IR in general, core skills, background, and internships in order to succeed. In the afternoon we had the FDIA poster session and I had the opportunity to present a poster. It was very helpful discussing, explaining and exchanging ideas about our work with other students and researchers as well. It is extremely helpful to make new connections by discussing our work. I met many people and I also learned about future events that I wouldn’t know otherwise.

The last day there were two courses, one of which was about task based IR systems. We learned about modelling search behaviours, inferring intents, how to evaluate such systems etc. The last course was on Biases on search and recommender systems in which we discussed different forms of biases. #ESSIR2019 in the University of Milan–Bicocca was an exciting experience. I really enjoyed my time in the summer school. I met many students and we shared ideas and challenges about our work. Now, we have been equipped with new skills and experiences in order to continue our research journey. This wouldn’t have been possible without SICSA. Thank you SICSA for this!

SICSA Education – Call for Workshop Proposals in 2019

SICSA Education would like to invite the Scottish Computing community to apply for funds to host SICSA Education workshops or other education focussed events. Some of the more recent workshops that have been funded have included:

• How should we assess group work?
• Skills in entrepreneurial education
• Computational thinking in primary schools

We now invite members of the community to bid to host an event, either to expand on any of these topics; or to propose events on any other Computing Education related topic.

In order to apply please complete the attached pro forma (no more than 2 pages) and return it to admin@sicsa.ac.uk by Friday 31st May 2019. A further call will be made in the Autumn, but we will also accept applications throughout the year.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact admin@sicsa.ac.uk.

Detailed information about SICSA Education can be found at http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/education/education-event-sponsorship/ and http://www.sicsa.ac.uk/education/.

SICSA supports the new Teach Computing Science Handbook for Primary Teachers

by Professor Judy Robertson, University of Edinburgh
24 April 2019

SICSA Education has recently sponsored the production of a handbook to help primary teachers to teach the new computing strand of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. For the first time, children aged 3 years upwards will learn about key computing concepts as part of the Technologies curriculum. This is a great step forwards, because it will lay the foundations for understanding the fundamentals of process and information which young people can build on if they elect to study computing in the senior phase of high school. To help primary teachers and early years practitioners get to grips with the new curriculum, and give them lesson ideas, a group of volunteers got together to write a handbook – Kate Farrell (Computing at Schools Scotland, Judy Robertson (University of Edinburgh), Quintin Cutts (University of Glasgow) and Richard Connor (University of Stirling).

The guide has already proved popular with schools – for example, a parent wrote to tell us “I’ve been working with my daughter’s primary school and using the guide to help introduce CS throughout the school. The guide has been instrumental in rolling out a curriculum for P4 upwards”. It has also been adapted for use with West Dunbarton Council. We are currently working on a similar guide for the early stages of high school.

We have posted a paper copy of the guide to all the primary schools in Scotland. Why not check with your local school to see if they received it, or if you can give them a hand to teach some programming lessons? You can download a free copy of the guide at www.teachcs.scot.

 

DemoFest 2019: Register now to exhibit your research

SICSA DemoFest is the largest event of its kind in Scotland. Now in its twelfth year, it showcases the very best of Informatics and Computing Science research from all of Scotland’s Universities

The event will take place on Monday 4th November 2019 from 4.00pm in the stunning venue, Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

You can now register now to apply to exhibit your research.  Exhibiting your research is free and entails completing a short (one page) questionnaire which you can access here:  https://edinburgh.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sicsa-demofest-2019-presenting-your-research
Deadline for applications is 23rd June 2019, with outcomes communicated no later than 26th June.

Why Exhibit?
We expect over 200 delegates from business and the public sector, who will be keen to discover some of the cutting-edge research taking place currently in Computer Science and Informatics in Scotland.

The event provides a space for exhibitors to showcase their current research and discuss future academic and business collaborations, commercialisation opportunities, internships and placements, employment opportunities and much more.

Who can Exhibit?
We now welcome applications from researchers at all 14 SICSA Institutions. Exhibitors are encouraged from all stages of research, from 1st year PhD to Professorial level.

We particularly encourage applicants who are keen to build collaborative linkages with industry; to commercialise their research; and to build contacts with other researchers.

Your Space
All exhibitors will be provided with their own space in the exhibition hall featuring an individual pod for your research poster and space for any technology that you wish to demonstrate.

Please do get in touch (admin@sicsa.ac.uk) if you have any questions.

Join us for the SICSA PhD Conference 2019!

by Dr Susmit Sarkar, SGA Director
09 April 2019

As the Graduate Academy Director, I take great pleasure in inviting the community to the SICSA PhD Conference 2019, to be held at the beautiful University of Stirling on 18th & 19th June.  The SICSA PhD Conference is our flagship event for our PhD students, being the highlight of the calendar. Every year it becomes ever more popular, and more polished, and this year is shaping up to be no different. We have a great slate of workshops, keynotes, and events to keep you busy. Of course, there is also plenty of time to mingle, network, and catch up with what is happening Scotland-wide in research.

The PhD Conference is targeted specifically to students in a PhD program at any of the SICSA institutions and is free to attend. It is very much your event, and I am happy to say it is primarily organised and run by students, in the shape of a very committed organising committee. It is both a showcase of the fantastic research going on around Scotland, and an opportunity to create and build new bridges, personal and professional. And you can exchange ideas on how to beat the PhD blues as well.

I wanted to also highlight two competitions associated with the conference; there will be a Poster Session with prizes for best posters. This will be a great opportunity to show off your research and practice presenting it. And second, supervisors need not feel left out, we are having a Supervisor of the Year competition, with results to be announced during the conference. The Supervisor of the Year competition will open shortly and all the details will be publicised via the SICSA Conference Web-site as well as the SICSA web-site.

Registration for the SICSA PhD Conference is now open so please register early (spots are free, but tend to fill up quickly).

Lots more information can be found on the conference web-site: https://www.sicsaconf.org/

I look forward to seeing you there, please do come along and say hello.

SICSA PEER award helps to further our own work in Europe

by Dr Stefano De Paoli
4 February 2019

It is quite impossible to talk about European Research without mentioning the current political context as this has clearly created a shadow of uncertainty over UK based organisations’ role in future consortia. I must admit that my trip to the ICT2018 in Vienna (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/events/ict-2018-imagine-digital-connect-europe) did not start under the best auspices. The week before my trip, I learned that a group of colleagues with whom I have been working with for several years and with whom I am currently involved in an H2020 project, were planning to write a new project. During a chat over Skype they told me that they were not likely to include our organisation in the new consortium because they perceived some risks for their project with our participation….. this more or less gives an idea about the kind of challenges we are up against at this moment in time.

Thanks to the excellent support of the SICSA PEER scheme, I travelled to Vienna to the ICT2018 event from 4-6 December 2018.  For those who may be less familiar with the process, every year in fall there is a main ICT event for European Research, which is organised in the country hosting the presidency of the Union. Often these events are called the Proposers’ Day as they are organised for people who propose projects and there are opportunities for networking and creation of partnerships. This year the event was an “ICT” event, meaning that there was also a showcase of current ICT funded projects. I have been attending these events for a few years now (the first time in 2012) and have always found them very fruitful in terms of networking and scouting for project opportunities and collaborations, especially for early careers and young researchers, who have limited international networking opportunties these events can be an entry door into the ICT European research. In particular, there is the opportunity to book in advance of the event a number of bilateral meetings (called Face2Face, or Brokerage event https://ict2018.b2match.io/ )which is essentially a sort of speed dating mechanisms with perspective partners. Meetings are booked via an online system in advance of the event and then ahead of the meeting once the schedule of the appointments and the times is received. Prior to commencing my travel I had secured 20 meetings. As I do not coordinate projects, I always try to book a number of appointments with organisations that I know may be coordinators, in the expectations that they could see our research offering as a potential contribution for their future projects. It must also be said that several of these meetings are often just speculative and do not lead to results, but it is also often possible to leave the event with opportunities to participate in multiple project submissions. I also use the F2F to enlarge my UK based network and always tend to book some appointments with UK based organisation in order to explore also national avenues for research (this year for example I met a consultant for the NHS and researchers from Manchester and Cardiff).

This event is an opportunity to meet people with whom one may be already be planning to write joint projects. This, in particular is something that helps refreshing existing trust relations, leading to increased commitments for projects. While I cannot reveal who I met and what are the details of the discussions that I had, I can say that I already have a few Skype meetings planned for the beginning of 2019 to explore potential collaborations, with organisations from Austria and Spain. Moreover, I received confirmation that planned project writing is likely to go ahead for March.

From many of the discussions that I had, I am confident that European organisations continue to want to collaborate with organisations in the UK and in Scotland especially and I felt very encouraged that very few people mentioned Brexit to me. I hope that this kind of enthusiasm toward our work remains intact and that collaborations can continue to prosper in the future. However, I think the best intelligence that I can share is to tell how much the PEER support from SICSA is important for furthering our own work in Europe. Knowing that we can rely financial on support for attending events like the ICT2018, makes an important difference. It certainly made an important difference for me.

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

Students attend Multi Drone Summer School thanks to SICSA funding

by Siobhan Duncan, Heriot Watt University
6 December 2018

In August of this year the Multi Drone project hosted a summer school in Thessaloniki, Greece. Three PhD students from the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, Hugo Sardinha, Helmi Fraser and myself, attended the summer school funded by the SICSA Summer/Winter School Bursary along with 90 participants from Scotland, Greece, Hungary, Germany, Belgium, France and Turkey.

The school was joint organised by the ICARUS.auth R&D team and the Artificial Intelligence and Information Analysis (AIIA) Lab, the School of Computer Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The main focus of the summer school was deep learning and its application to multi-drone cinematography, which is the key area of research involved in the multidrone project.

Luckily there was only a single track so we were able to attend every lecture and workshop at the summer school. The lectures were all located in Aristotle University’s beautiful, and well air conditioned, Kedea building and a demo of a drone audiovisual shooting was held just outside in the greek summer sun by Deutsche Welle.

On the first day we learnt about mapping and localisation, machine learning, computer vision, and an introduction to multiple drone imaging. These lectures were delivered by key members of the multidrone project, Prof. A. Tefas, Prof. N. Nikolaidis and Prof. I. Pitas of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Dr B. Guerreiro of IST Portugal, and Prof. J. R. Martínez-de Dios of University of Seville.

That evening the workshop had organised a welcome party for the attendees in the Treehouse in the city centre, which is a large outdoor venue with music. This gave us the opportunity to meet the other attendees on a more informal basis, many of who were also planning to use deep learning or computer vision within the scope of their PhD research.

Day two’s focus centred on target detection/tracking, drone mission planning and control, drone safety, drone cinematography, human-robot/drone-interaction. In addition to this there were two keynote speeches Civil Drone Operations (Current & Future): Regulatory Matters – Challenges & Opportunities by Peter van Blyjenburgh who is the President of UVS International and Privacy protection, ethics, safety and regulatory issues by Prof. N. Heise from Deutsche Welle.

We were then treated to a traditional meal at the Kivotos Ton Gefseon bar and taverna which is a 5 minute walk from the seafront in Thessaloniki. The restaurant was laid out with long wooden tables and food was brought out in large sharing platters throughout the night. In addition to sampling greek cuisine our hosts had organised for traditional greek music to be played along side out meal. However once the meal was over our new greek friends taught us their traditional dance which we continued until the venue closed.

The final day involved a hand-on deep learning workshop where we were shown how to use OpenCv and TensorFlow, applied to face and object detection. Our tutor was a final year PhD student who has been working closely with these technologies and who’s expertise guided us through our first deep learning experiments.

We really enjoyed our time there, not just because of the amazing city, great food and lovely hosts, but because we had the opportunity to learn a crash course in deep learning, cinematography for drones and multi drone systems which directly feeds back into each of our PhD projects in different ways. In addition we have made some great contacts within the multidrone project, which includes AI/Robotics departments in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the SICSA Summer/Winter School Bursary and we are very grateful for the experience!