Posts Tagged ‘IWSDS’

IWSDS 2014 reflections

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Click for animation how it went through 20 versions.

I attended the International workshop series on spoken dialog systems aka IWSDS as part of my studies. It was my first scientific event where one had to submit papers: a great experience. More details below.

Poster. The paper we had submitted to the workshop was accepted as poster presentation. Having never done a poster before, especially of A0 size, I was a little bit afraid that I would encounter many technical and design issues. But no time for procrastination: little more than a week before the conference, I just started doing it. Luckily my University provided poster templates, so I didn’t need to worry about general layout. Between Adobe InDesign and PowerPoint templates, I chose the latter because I felt that I didn’t want to learn new software but just want to get things done. It took a few hours to come up with the initial draft. During the following days I went through 19 versions with my advisers until we declared it as ready. Working on weekends and late nights is nothing new to me, but I was surprised my advisers did the same. Whether this tells about dedication, short deadlines or the general issue of work spreading over to free time, I do not know.

Travel. I sent the poster to print, and got it the day before I flew in to San Francisco. My first leg was late, so I had to run in New York to catch my connection. I was advised to include the poster in check-in luggage, so of course it did not make it. That wasn’t an issue though, since I had decided to fly in one day early to recover from jet lag. The next day I went back to the airport to pick the poster and take my shuttle to the venue, leaving from SFO.

Location. The workshop was held in an inn in near Napa. I was told jokingly that the isolated place was chosen so that we can’t go out but only stay together to discuss about things. There was probably some truth in that. As a counterbalance for the packed conference program, the place and good food made it not overwhelming.

Did you notice the four hot air balloons?

Did you notice the four hot air balloons?

Presentations. The level of presentations varied somewhat. On one end of the scale there was a presentation which focused on math which I could not grasp. On the other end both Dan Bohus and Louis-Philippe Morency gave captivating keynotes which sparked my interest and were easy to follow even for a complete newbie to the topic as I was.

What struck me the most were Dan’s words about situated interaction. He gave an example where they had a robot in the office, and they were creating algorithms to guess whether the person walking past the robot is going to engage with the robot. They were able to use machine learning to guess many seconds in advance whether the user will engage. But when they moved the robot a bit so that users approached from a different direction, the previous model did not work anymore, and they had to retrain it with new data. The point of this and other given examples was to highlight that, in the context of human interaction, we must devise machine-learning algorithms capable of adapting to new contexts. I immediately draw a connection to the presentation by Filip Ginter (p. 28) at Kites Symposium last year, where data mining was used for distributional semantics, i.e. machine learning was used to learn that words kaunis, ihastuttava and hurmaava are in some way related. There is something very appealing in making machines learn language and interaction without explicitly giving them the rules. In the case of human interaction it is much more difficult because there is less data available and so many variables to take into account.

Presence. I can’t help but wonder why, apart from Microsoft and some car companies, no big companies were present. I’m sure this kind of research is also done in other companies. I asked a few people this question:

The other companies, is what they are doing (in the context of workshop topics) not novel, or are they just not telling about their research and not contributing back; and if so, do we care?

To summarize the answers and my conclusion: Apple Siri, for example, is not so novel, it is just a product done very well using a simple technology; on the other hand big companies have a vast amount of data not available for research. Essentially Google and other big companies have a monopoly on certain areas like machine translation and speech recognition. We do care about this.

Lab tour. After the workshop there was a lab tour in the Silicon Valley. We visited Honda Research Institute, Computer History Museum and Microsoft Research. Microsoft scores again for getting my attention by presenting a new version of Kinect. It was also nice to see a functioning adding machine at the Computer History Museum. And I can’t avoid mentioning having a nice spicy pasta lunch in the warm sunshine with a good company (in increasing order of significance) in Mountain View knowing that Google offices were very close.

First day at work

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Officially I started January 1st, but apart from getting an account today was the first real thing at the university. Still feels great – the “oh my what did I sign up to” feeling has still time to come. ;)

After having the WMF daily standup, I have a usual breakfast and head to city center, where our research group of four had a meeting. To my surprise, the eduroam network worked immediately. I had configured it at home earlier based on a guide on the site of some university of Switzerland, if I remember correctly: my university didn’t provide good help for how to set it up with Fedora and KDE.

Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki

The building on the left is part of Institute of Behavioural Sciences. It is just next to the building (not visible) where I started my university studies in 2005. (Photo CC BY-NC-ND by Irmeli Aro.)

On my side, preparations for the IWSDS conference are now the highest priority. I have until Monday to prepare my first ever poster presentation. I found PowerPoint and InDesign templates from the university’s website (ugh proprietary tools). Then there are few days to get it printed before I fly on Thursday. After the travel I will make a website for the project to allow it to get some visibility and find out about the next steps as well as how to proceed with studies.

After this topic, I got to hear about other part of the research, collection of data in Sami languages. I connected them with Wikimedia Suomi who has expressed interest to work with Sami people.

After the meeting, we went hunting for so-called WBS codes which are needed in various places to target the expenses, for example for poster printing and travel plans. (In case someone knows where the abbreviation WBS comes from, there are at least two people in the world who are interested to know.) The people I met there were all very friendly and helpful.

On my way home I met an old friend from Päivölä&university (Mui Jouni!) in the metro. There was also a surprise ticket inspection – 25% inspection rate for my trips this year based on 4 observations. I guess I need more observations before this is statistically significant ;)

One task left for me when I got home was to do the mandatory travel plan. This needs to be done through university’s travel management software, which is not directly accessible. After trying without success to access it first through their web based VPN proxy, second with openvpn via NetworkManager via “some random KDE GUI for that” on my laptop and, third, even with a proprietary VPN application on my Android phone I gave up for today – it’s likely that the VPN connection itself is not the problem and the issue is somewhere else.

It’s still not known from where I will get a room (I’m employed in a different department from where I’m doing my PhD). Though I will likely work from home often as I am used to.

You can write a paper about that

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

“You can write a paper” is kind of a running joke in the language engineering team when the discussion sways so far from the original topic that it is no longer helping to get the work done. But sometimes sidelines turn out to be interesting and fruitful. When I was presented an opportunity to do a PhD related to wikis, languages and translation I could not pass it. And because of the joke, I can claim full innocence – they told me to! ;)

The results are in and…. I got accepted! Screams with joy and then quickly shies away hoping nobody noticed.

What does this mean?

Doctoral hat

The doctoral hat is the ultimate goal, right?

If you are a reader of this blog, the topics might get even more incomprehensible. Or the posts might be even more insightful and based on research instead of gut feelings. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean that I won’t have time to write more blog posts.

Practically, I will be starting at the beginning of January with the goal of writing a PhD dissertation and of graduating in about four years. The proposed topic for my dissertation is Supporting creation and interaction of open content with language technology, as part of the project “Finno-Ugric Digital Natives: Linguistic support for Finno-Ugric digital communities in generating online content”. As with my MA, I’ll do this at the University of Helsinki.

Initially I will be working three days a week on that and keep helping the language engineering team as well. We’ll see how it goes.

The first thing I will do is to participate in IWSDS (Workshop on Spoken Dialog Systems) held in January at Napa, California, USA. I will be presenting a paper about multilingual WikiTalk.

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