An Interview with Prof. Yao Xin: To Become an Internationally Recognized Research Department in Ten Years
A member of the first 1977 Class of School of Gifted Young, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Prof. Yao Xin is now a world-leading computer scientist with significant research achievements in many fields, such as evolutionary computation and machine learning. He is currently a Chair of Computer Science and the Director of CERCIA (the Centre of Excellence for Research in Computational Intelligence and Applications) at the University of Birmingham, UK. He has been an IEEE fellow since 2003, and has served as the Editor-in-Chief (2003-08) of IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation and the President (2014-15) of IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. He is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of USTC, and was a Cheung Kong Scholar (Changjiang Chair Professorship) and an Overseas Evaluation Expert of Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was a Distinguished Lecturer of IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (2003-13, 2015-17). He has been invited to give more than 90 invited keynote/plenary speeches at international conferences worldwide.
Filled with confidence and enthusiasm, Prof. Yao will join the vibrant SUSTech as the Founding Head of Computer Science and Engineering Department. “I hope that within a decade, our department will become an internationally recognized research department.”
Learning and evolution are two fundamental forms of adaptation.
Professor Yao briefly introduced to us his research field and his work experience.
Since his PhD study, Prof. Yao has worked on evolutionary computation and machine learning for 30 years. In recent years, these fields have become increasingly important and have found their ways into many practical domains. For instance, during the design of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, evolutionary algorithms were used, which is not widely known.
In the summer of 1990, just a few months after receiving his doctorate from USTC, Prof. Yao became a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian National University (ANU). After a year at ANU, he joined CSIRO Division of Building, Construction and Engineering (DBCE) in Melbourne and worked for another year there as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Level B). In 1992, he returned to Canberra and became a lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, University College, the University of New South Wales. He later became a senior lecturer and an associate professor. In April 1999, he took up a Chair of School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, UK.
Ambition: Lead the World in Scientific Research
“SUSTech is a vibrant and ambitious young university. It provides outstanding support to world-class research.” Prof. Yao remarked when talking about why he was attracted to SUSTech. “In addition, there are many high-tech companies around the university, which offers excellent opportunities to transfer scientific research results into practical applications. SUSTech has very good infrastructure to support both long-term research and applied work.”
Prof. Yao said the world-class universities needs to have world-class research. For the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at SUSTech to be a world leader, it will take many years of hard work by staff members and students. However, that’s the long-term goal that we want to achieve. We are keen on embarking on that journey and working towards that goal. In the initial stage, our strategy is to focus on core computer science areas and selected research areas that are important for future growth. In addition, riding on the current wave of artificial intelligence and its applications, the Department will collaborate with other departments closely to put intelligence into all kinds of systems, from intelligent Cyber-Physical-Social Systems to smart-X technologies. In the future, intelligent technologies would be ubiquitous. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering should be at the forefront of this development.
People are the foundation for building outstanding departments
“The most important factor for building an outstanding department is to have talented people. Only with talents can we become a world-class department. Therefore, our first priority is to recruit the best people to join our department, including both internationally renowned researchers and young promising rising stars. I welcome all those who are ambitious and want to further develop their research careers to join us.”
According to Prof. Yao, “The research environment at SUSTech is among the best in China. Even in comparison with some of the world’s leading research universities, we are well resourced to support research and have a very research-friendly environment. We want to attract the best talents and excellent research teams. We welcome people to bring their entire research teams to SUSTech.” We provide generous support to outstanding researchers to meet their needs and develop their careers.
Student Education: Internationalization and Independent Thinking
Education is the foundation and key to all universities and SUSTech is no exception. “We attach great importance to two major aspects: the internationalization of education programs and training of independent thinking and problem-solving. We plan to collaborate closely with selected research-intensive universities overseas and industries to offer our students a superb education.”
Prof. Yao outlined his priorities in developing the research strength of the Department. “Firstly, data science is very important to us as the whole world is now soaked in the sea of data. We need to be able to extract, represent, process, analyze and act upon all kinds of data. Secondly, the security and privacy are important in a highly networked world, in an integrated Cyber-Physical-Social system. We need to ensure security and privacy at multiple levels within such a system. Thirdly, artificial intelligence (AI) is finally coming of age. The world is experiencing a new IT revolution led by AI, which involves a wide variety of systems from computing devices to homes, cities and the entire world. AI will be ubiquitous.”
Inter-disciplinary Research and Entrepreneurship
Computer science is a scientific subject field as well as an enabling technology. Prof. Yao was very excited by the opportunities of inter-disciplinary research at the intersection between computer science and subject X: “We really want to collaborate with our colleagues from other departments in terms of smart-X technologies, whether they are smart homes, smart cities, smart transportation systems, smart grid, or smart factories. We want to intelligentize existing systems and make them smarter.”
The Department of Computer Science and Engineering actively encourages its students and faculty members to engage with the local hi-tech industry, and to innovate and start up new businesses. “Shenzhen is one of the leading cities in high-tech industry in China. It is an ideal place for innovations to flourish. Our Department will embed entrepreneurship into our education programmes and fully support our students and faculty members to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship, which are symbiotic to fundamental research in computer science.”