Informatics Newsletter April 2023
Issue 67 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from Head of School
The spring is as beautiful as ever in Edinburgh this year, with gorse on Salisbury Crags and the cherry blossom on the Meadows coming into full bloom, adding some welcome colour to the landscape after the winter. I hope that everyone has had the opportunity to enjoy the brighter days and longer evenings that we have been experiencing through April.
Ironically, as spring arrives and most of the world thinks about beginnings, in the University we are more preoccupied with endings. The teaching has been completed for the year now, exams are approaching and plans are being set for the summer. This is the converse of the autumn, when most people think of decay and the end of things, whereas in the University a new year is beginning. In addition to the usual anxieties about the exams this year, I know that the planned marking boycott will be causing concern for both staff and students. I also completely understand why some members of staff feel driven to take this drastic course of action. In the School we will do the best we can to mitigate the impact of the boycott on students, particularly those who will be graduating this summer.
An ending that is very much on my mind at the moment is the end of my term as Head of School. Last week saw the selection process for the new Head of School and I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the process through engaging with the candidates, or through organising their visits. I am pleased to say that the selection process was successful and the next Head of School will be announced soon. For me, the biggest impact of last week was to make it very real that I will be stepping down at the end of July. Whilst it will be relief in some senses — I have five years of sleep to catch up on! — there will be many aspects of the job that I will miss.
With best wishes,
- Ross Grassie started as Senior Researcher in LFCS on 01 April 2023.
- Russell Buchanan started as Research Associate in IPAB on 01 April 2023.
- Mark Chevallier started as Research Associate in AIAI on 01 April 2023.
- James Mills started as Research Assistant in LFCS on 01 April 2023.
- Nina Markl started as Research Associate in IPAB on 03 April 2023.
- Rickey Liang started as Research Assistant in ANC on 03 April 2023.
- Chuanhao Sun started as Research Assistant in ICSA on 05 April 2023.
- Jon Larrea started as Research Assistant in ICSA on 06 April 2023.
- Euan Morse started as Project Coordinator in ILCC on 10 April 2023.
- Tsz Kin Lam started as Research Associate in ILCC on 15 April 2023.
- Zhihang Yuan started as Junior Research Assistant in ICSA on 15 April 2023.
- Henry Gouk started as Lecturer in Machine Learning on 01 April 2023.
- Michael Salisbury started as Staffing Support Officer on 03 April 2023.
- Lily Shaw started as Alumni and Outreach Admin on 17 April 2023.
- Emma Corcoran started as Student Adviser on 17 April 2023.
We are recruiting for various academic (lecturer/reader) and research (RAs) positions within the School of Informatics, across our research fields.
The NQCC’s Software Lab at the University of Edinburgh launched
The National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) and the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh signed a memorandum of understanding on developing a quantum software and applications centre that aims to overcome key challenges to accelerate the development of quantum computing and investigate new ways in which quantum computers can provide benefits, beyond the reach of traditional computers.
Gordon Plotkin elected the International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Gordon Plotkin, a Professor in the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh is among 270 new members elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2023. The Academy is both an honorary society that recognizes and celebrates the excellence of its members and an independent research centre convening leaders from across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges.
Chris Heunen held Quantum Spies event as part of Science of Dr Who: Science drop-in
On Saturday 18 March 2023, the National Museum of Scotland Held a Science Saturday, themed around the science behind Dr Who to accompany their Dr Who exhibition. A team of volunteers from the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics ran an event about quantum informatics, called Quantum Spies: Robert Booth, Marine Demarty, Chris Heunen, Jon Larrea, Ujjwal Pawar, and Chuanhao Sun. Participants learned in a hands-on way about quantum superposition through playing with polarising lenses in three spy-themed games.
The event was aimed at children age 8-12, but many adults and younger children had fun participating too. Together with teams from the Robotarium, Heriot-Watt University, and the School of Mathematics, the event was set up in the Grand Gallery, the Museum's main concourse. According to the Museum count, around 3000 people interacted with the event throughout the day, but it felt like it went by much quicker than that!
Pioneering research talent of Informatics academics recognised by Chancellor's Fellowships
A group of outstanding early career researchers have been awarded one of the University of Edinburgh’s most prestigious fellowships. The Chancellor’s Fellows is a five-year tenure track that invests in researchers delivering cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and innovation.
Amongst those new Chancellors Fellows are Craig Innes and Jeff Dalton who will be joining the School of Informatics this summer.
My research aims at improving the trustworthiness and safety of cyber-physical systems such as autonomous vehicles and AI-assisted medical devices. My work investigates how current statistical machine learning methods can be combined with formal verification & reasoning techniques, and how simulated environments can be leveraged to assess risk.
My research will focus on the future of conversational information assistants, like Siri, Alexa, and ChatGPT that work with us – and with each other – to accomplish complex real-world tasks for individuals, teams, and society. Toward these goals, the research will develop new deep learning models for interactive information retrieval and neural language models to support increasingly complex tasks.
The University has awarded Chancellor’s Fellowships since 2014. They are designed to help the most promising academics advance from the early stages of their career to more senior roles, and to empower their ground-breaking research.
They are for academics with a vision for future leadership in research and innovation, which may straddle leading a major area of research, forging new industry partnerships, or research-led teaching innovations.
The new fellows will be supported to achieve their research and leadership ambitions through a tailored programme that helps them realise their research, innovation and leadership ambitions.
Health and Safety update
We all understand the need to train new staff and students, as without an element of training they won’t be able to perform their role. Health and safety training is a vital part of successful research and learning; safe people leads to safe work which means no gaps in work caused by accidents or incidents. All informatics staff and PGR students should undertake H&S training relevant to their job role, which is set out in the training matrix which can be found using the link below.
Current personnel need to complete the relevant courses by the end of 2023 so please check the dates offered and sign up, or start working through the online modules. If you don’t think you’ll be able to do that, please get in touch so we can discuss and find a way forward.
Research Data Management update
Open Access Check
Our quarterly Open Access check is currently underway, with an email from Katarina to all research-active staff on 13 April. If you haven’t already done so, please complete the Publications Check form via the link below.
Questions about Open Access, Pure, or REF are welcome any time. Please contact Victoria and Katarina using the button below.
Meet our professional services - new blog post
The Systems Unit
As we are going through some restructuring at the moment, and with our buildings occupied once again as part of hybrid working, we thought this would be an ideal opportunity to reintroduce you to the Professional Services teams within the School of Informatics.
Our next post is brought to you by the Systems Unit.
Stay tuned for an introduction to a different professional services team with each newsletter.
Hakan Bilen’s work with a naval architecture firm Tymor Marine brings deep learning to ancient art of weighing ships
A consortium of researchers in Scotland has developed new artificial intelligence (AI) technology that will modernise the way shipping vessels are weighed and checked for stability, a process still based on principles formulated by Greek scientist Archimedes more than 2,000 years ago.
Shay Cohen's paper about language of online reviews published in Springer Nature- Language Resources and Evaluation
Recent research from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics entitled, ‘Rant or rave: variation over time in the language of online reviews’ has been published in Springer Nature- Language Resources and Evaluation.
The research reveals how language expression changes over time. The team started with the question of whether people have changed the strength of their tone in online discussions ie whether people's language expression has become more extreme over time. Scientists tested this theory using online reviews as this offered a control for the actual level of sentiment (number of stars) versus the actual language used to express that sentiment. Through a lexicon-based analysis, the team discovered, across the board, that language has become briefer and more extreme in online review communities. The researchers speculate what the reasons for that change over time could be. The study has implications for other questions and areas. For example, the team can ask whether language has become more extreme in its use across political social media as opposed to actions or separately from the actions.
It is common for people to feel that what we write and say in public has become more extreme and polarized. The feeling is correct. From our analysis of online reviews of products and services, we show that this is indeed the case. In addition, it is not simply that people's perception of products and services that has changed - rather, the language itself has become more extreme. We also suggest that online review platforms can do something about this, keeping their reviews relevant despite appearing more polarized
Björn Ross on the Potential Pitfalls With Automatic Sentiment Analysis
Recent research from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics entitled, ‘Potential pitfalls with Automatic Sentiment Analysis: The example of queerphobic bias,’ has been published in Social Science Computer Review.
The paper shows how commercial sentiment analysis tools are biased against queer people. Companies such as Google, Amazon and IBM offer sentiment analysis tools that promise to automatically detect people's emotions and attitudes in text, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Such sentiment analysis tools are widely used, for example to understand the opinions that people express about products or politicians on social media. The team compared two generations of such tools. The old generation is dictionary-based and are programmed to look for specific words that are thought to indicate sentiment. If such a tool is programmed to think that the word "queer" indicates a negative emotion, it would fail to detect situations where someone used the word "queer" to describe their gender identity. Current approaches to sentiment analysis use machine learning and AI to analyse sentiment, so the scientists thought that these tools would be better able to capture such nuances.
The results of this study show that this is not necessarily the case. Three popular commercial, machine learning-based sentiment analysis tools all showed bias against queer identities. That is, they rated sentences about queer people as either more positive or more negative than a sentence that did not mention the queer identity. The only difference between the sentences was whether or not a queer identity term was included. The dictionary-based tools also showed similar biases. The difference is that with dictionary-based tools the team could directly pinpoint where the bias comes from, because we can read the dictionary, or even edit it before we use it. The researchers recommend that users of sentiment analysis software carry out comprehensive bias audits and sanity checks before using such tools. We also make recommendations for developers on how to mitigate the problem.
Natural language processing tools are very appealing because they can offer useful insight in a matter of minutes, with the promise of near-human text comprehension. However, the tools we tested all suffer from a pervasive issue with language technologies: they mirror human biases, which risks undermining findings, particularly when studying marginalised communities
Our research shows that we should not use sentiment analysis tools without properly evaluating them. We need to actively ask ourselves whether and how minorities could be disadvantaged if we use a biased tool. For example, whose opinions are measured correctly and whose aren't?
European Hyperloop Week 2023
When: 17 - 23 Jul 2023
Where: Kings Building West Mains Road Edinburgh EH9 3JG
The European Hyperloop Week is an annual international event dedicated to the ‘transport of the future’, the Hyperloop. The event is co-organised by HYPED - The University of Edinburgh’s Hyperloop Society.
This event brings together the international Hyperloop Community for collaboration, sharing of information and networking. Each day will give student teams from around the world the opportunity to show their ground breaking Hyperloop prototype designs to the public and to the industry representatives.
Staff, students and members of the public will be able to attend the conferences that will broaden their understanding of Hyperloop, and also see the competitive aspect of bright young minds working on innovative projects to help make the technology a reality. There will be talks and panel discussions by student teams, Hyperloop companies, and other industry representatives.
On Saturday, 22 July, attendees are invited to watch the student teams demonstrate their hyperloop prototypes on the test track at King’s Buildings.
The Public Day will be on Sunday, 23rd July in the City Centre. This day is unticketed and open for all. Student teams and event industry partners will have stands to showcase their work and talk to the public about hyperloop!
All staff and students are invited to join an EHW Staff and Student Information Event - Tuesday 9 May (12:30pm -1:30pm) in the Oak Lecture Theatre, Nucleus Building.
Articulating Data: vocalisation, machine listening, and the (in)security of language in a digital age
When: 11 - 12 May 2023
Where: InSpace Edinburgh
A 2-day single track symposium taking place in Edinburgh on 11th-12th May 2023*, Articulating Data is concerned with interrogating the systems which evidence, process, and profit from our textual and vocal communications in an age of ubiquitous machine learning and AI.
As well as the technologies and devices that capture and monetise vocal data as it is written, uttered and heard, Articulating Data also aims to explore and visualise the resultant reconfigurations of the self, body, home, and received ideas of social and legal relations that are a necessary result of communication in a digital age.
From the privacy and security issues of smart devices such as Alexa or Ring doorbells, to the forensic profiling of voice data, machine translation, accent analysis and the monetisation of linguistic data by social media and search platforms, how articulation is enacted, utilised and controlled is a critical political and ethical concern in terms of accessibility, agency and the (in)security of information.
With keynotes from academia and the critical art world, the symposium will bring together ideas from across disciplines, and provide a platform for early career scholars and artists working in this field. Travel and accommodation will be provided for successful applicants to an open call. Commissions will also be available to a limited number of artists for the exhibition of new or existing work that critiques or engages with these issues.
When: 12-14 May 2023
Students! Unleash your inner architect and create something truly amazing at HackUPC in Barcelona.
Enhance your creativity, coding skills and immerse yourself in the hacker community. HackUPC is a space for students of all experience levels from all around the world to come and improve and learn new skills, meet awesome people, and overall have a great experience!
60 years of computer science and AI events
In 2023, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh celebrates 60 years of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The School of Informatics celebrates these two vital areas of research that are at the core of its existence by leading on a programme of events and activities throughout 2023.
Outreach and Public Engagement
Tell us about your recent outreach and public engagement activity
If you have participated in an outreach and public engagement activity in the last six months, please make sure it has been recorded by the comms team in the directory below.
If you need to add an entry, would like to get involved in a public engagement activity or promote an opportunity that you are aware of, please use the webform below.
Interested in outreach in public engagement? Join Informatics Outreach Allies!
Calling all students and staff members interested in outreach and public engagement!
The School is getting queries and calls from local schools, organisations, and festivals looking for scientists to get involved in various outreach and public engagement activites. If you are interested in helping out and spreading the word about your research, perhaps you’d like to become an Outreach Ally? We will have a Teams channel where the calls for help will be advertised and allies will be able to team up and work together.
If you’re interested join the Outreach Allies Team!
Best of Inf-general
This month's best of inf-general unavoidably goes to the authors of two emails in the thrilling poster-gate thread...
Iain Rae for the entertaining Spike Milligan quote on the power structure in the British army - quoted below, anyone dared to swap the ranks for the University roles?
General: Leaps tall buildings with a single bound. More powerful than a steam engine, faster than a speeding bullet. Gives policy to GOD.
Colonel: Leaps short buildings with a single bound. More powerful than a shunting engine. Is just as fast as a speeding bullet. Walks on water (if the sea is calm). Talks with GOD.
Lt.-Colonel: Leaps short buildings with a running start in favourable winds. Is almost as powerful as a speeding bullet. Walks on water in indoor swimming pools. Talks with GOD if special request is approved.
Major: Barely clears a Nissen hut. Loses tug-of-war with a steam engine. Can fire a speeding bullet and swims well. Is occasionally addressed by GOD.
Captain: Makes high marks when trying to leap tall buildings. Is run over by trains. Can sometimes handle a gun without inflicting self-injury. Dog paddles, talks to animals.
Lieutenant: Runs into tall buildings. Recognizes trains two out of three times. Is not issued with ammunition. Can stay afloat if properly instructed in the use of a lifejacket. Talks to walls.
2nd Lieutenant: Falls over doorsteps while trying to enter buildings. Says, “Look at Choo Choo.” Is NEVER issued with a gun or ammunition. Plays in mud puddles. Mumbles to himself.
Sgt.-Major: Lifts tall buildings and walks under them. Kicks steam-engines off the track. Catches speeding bullets in his teeth and eats them. Freezes water with a single glance … HE IS GOD!
Julian Bradfield for the masterclass in moderating this fabulous platform, and for his wise words on the nuances of British rudeness.
Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.
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