Information science research is transforming the future landscape of our world at a rapid pace. Thanks to technology being developed by the University in collaboration with Chinese scientists, Birmingham is leading the way, from tracking consumer behaviour and pioneering smartphone capability to mapping underground energy systems and healthcare technology. The University of Birmingham has partnered the University of Science and Technology China (USTC), the country’s leading institution for science and technology, for more than a decade and has seen growing scholarly exchange and knowledge transfer.
Building on the success of a dedicated research laboratory for Nature Inspired Computation and Its Applications, set up in 2003, the institutions established a formal research institute, The USTC-Birmingham Joint Research Institute in Intelligent Computation and Its Applications, in 2010. Professor Xin Yao, Professor of Computer Science and Director of the joint USTC-Birmingham Research Institute, and Professor Ian McLoughlin, Professor in Electronic Engineering and Information Science at USTC and Birmingham alumnus, have embraced travel in their research endeavours and understand first-hand the significance of international collaboration.
Professor Xin Yao, who received his PhD from USTC, leads the USTC-Birmingham Joint Research Institute in Intelligent Computation and Its Applications.
‘The Research Institute focuses on two main areas: adaptive optimisation and advanced data analysis and mining.’
By working closely with engineers and technicians, the Institute develops applied operations research using nature-inspired approaches. Such cross-disciplinary approaches provide solutions to everyday concerns such as vehicle routing challenges. The Institute’s other focus, data analysis and mining, is an important challenge of the digital age. The research is of significant commercial value with internet companies competing to understand consumer behaviours. Xin’s team is able to analyse data collected from users to map trends and are engaged with Baidu (China’s Google) to take this information one step further and consider predictions connected to browser pathways.
Professor Ian McLoughlin’s 22-year career, including work across three continents for multinationals, big and small industries, charities, consultancies and academia, began at the University’s School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering, where he received his undergraduate degree. He returned to the University for his PhD. He joined USTC as Professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering and Information Science in 2012.
‘Working in China was a long-term ambition for me and I was delighted to make the move two years ago. USTC seems to have recently begun a significant drive to increase the number of international professors working in the University, and the number of international students studying there. This coincided with the setting up of a National Engineering Laboratory relating to speech – which is my main research area.’
Ian’s research in speech processing looks at the conversion of whispers to speech aided by computer technology.
‘This research has extremely important applications: for some classes of patients who have lost their voice, perhaps due to disease, or as a result of a surgical procedure, the technology can be life-changing.’
Ian’s projects have commercial value. While whisper conversion was initially envisaged as a technique applicable to voice loss, it is becoming more viable as a technology for mainstream users who wish to talk to (and whisper to) their intelligent devices. Ian is working with international mobile phone manufacturers.
‘International collaboration is a win-win situation for the institutions and researchers. It can play to the strengths of both teams, avoiding local weaknesses and leveraging on special talents present in both teams.’
The collaboration enables Xin to map research focuses and demands onto expertise among colleagues in both Birmingham and USTC to ensure a critical mass that can pioneer developments. He said:
‘There is a good match between expertise at Birmingham and USTC and the Institute brings together a range of skills and approaches as well as local and international knowledge. Ian added: ‘International collaboration is a win-win situation for the institutions and researchers. It can play to the strengths of both teams, avoiding local weaknesses and leveraging on special talents present in both teams.’
The full article is available in Buzz issue 150 June/July 2014