Artificial Intelligence Breeds Innovation Opportunities, Curriculum Reform Attracts Talented Students

Text│Judite Lam, Saohou Wong
Photo│Manuel Reis, Jack Ho
English Translation │Sunshine Yang

The unparalleled advantages of artificial intelligence in data analysis, processing, and computation liberate human beings from massive complex and labour-intensive tasks. Therefore artificial intelligence will enable fundamental changes to society. Professors from the Department of Computer and Information Science of the University of Macau have dedicated an array of research to artificial intelligence technology. To what extent might their research endeavours fuel Macao’s quest to create a smart city? Moreover, what resources does this department have at its disposal to attract talented students?

A Cloud Platform for Smart Monitoring of Fire

Many professors on the research team of the Department of Computer and Information Science are devoted to the exploration of artificial intelligence (AI). For instance, Prof Tang Yuanyan, as a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), has been dedicated to AI research for years. His contribution in this domain has received many accolations. His major research interests include mode recognition, a crucial subfield in AI research. He introduced entropy theory into mode recognition and established a theoretical framework for textual feature analysis and comprehension. Additionally, he is the first to publish an academic monograph on wavelet theory and mode interdisciplinarity in both Chinese and English; he is a wellknown-organiser of international conferences and the founder of an international SCI journal focused on wavelet theory and application.

Prof Tang and his team are currently building a cloud platform for smart monitoring of fire. He explained to us the details of this platform: ‘The cloud platform for smart fire control is by essence a centralized monitoring network platform which utilises AI technology to collect and monitor images of architecture to identify potential risks or dangerous construction material or roadblocks. Upon identification of such risks, personnel could be dispatched to investigate onsite and heed the maintenance, so that the fire monitoring and alarm system can be enhanced to prevent fires.’ Although this technology is still in its infancy, Prof Tang is confident that the smart control system could perfect the fire monitoring system, electrical circuits, water supply, and other plans related to architectural design and construction safety, to safeguard people’s lives and properties.

Video-tracking Law-breaking Vehicles

To develop Macao into a smart city calls for coordination from various sectors, among which smart transportation and safer roads are high on the agenda. Prof Pun Chi Man, head of the Department of Computer and Information Science, has been exploring image recognition, classification, target tracking and recognition for over a decade. He has published dozens of high-quality papers. Currently, he is working on video tracking which can find wide application in real time vehicle monitoring. According to Prof Pun, ‘This system could record the number of cars parked by the roadside and duration of parking. As long as the time limit for violation is pre-set, the system is capable of recording vehicle images, recognizing car plates and notifying the competent judicial departments. No special hardware, other than a video camera, is required for this system. A patent has been applied for this real-time monitoring technology.’

Besides, Prof Pun is cooperating with an advertising company to explore the possibility of setting up cameras on vending machines, where the bio-features of consumers, such as gender, age, and number could be detected. Such information could help the advertising company to assess the impact of advertisements, serving as a reference to develop more precision-targeted advertising strategies and budget plans.

Collecting Images by Drones

Prof Vong Chi Man, associate head of the Department of Computer and Information Science, is committed to incorporating AI technology into drone application. By controlling drones to collect images within the University of Macau campus, AI technology may be leveraged to analyse and reconstruct the data to build a 3D image, with semantic labels automatically generated for the objects or areas in the 3D sample, such as sky, road, cars, trees, etc. Tis technology is known as Semantic 3D Reconstruction.

According to Prof Vong, ‘The Semantic 3D Reconstruction technology is vital to unmanned piloting technology. The traffic condition and structure could be presented in real time, preceded by the unmanned vehicles’ identification of objects or spatial scope, thereby better forecasting whether a human being or an object lies ahead. Correspondingly, driving safety could be enhanced.’ He further elaborated, ‘Unmanned vehicles can run on the pre-set route. Take the University of Macau for example, if we apply the unmanned piloting technology to the campus shuttle bus, the bus can run on a pre-set route and there is no need to worry about hiring drivers anymore. The campus shuttle can also work on a 24/7 basis’.

Image Recognition and Target Tracking Algorithm

Prof Zhou Yicong, associate professor of the Department of Computer and Information Science, is an expert in multi-media information security, image processing, and comprehension. He underlines the immense potential of AI, stating that the future trend of the world lies in AI research. At present, Prof Zhou is working on the algorithm for image recognition and target tracking. Image recognition technology is applied to identification of individuals at Macao Customs. It is also instrumental in locating criminals and determining their whereabouts The Macao SAR government is resolute to build Macao into a smart city featuring the concept of ‘digital guiding technology, smart technology serving people’. In a similar vein, Prof Zhou believes that this government plan will guide research and development for Macao. ‘This government agenda has made it imperative to train a wealth of talents in cloud computing and AI, which, indubitably, would provide Macao with tremendous opportunities to further tap the AI development’.

Prof Zhou is firmly convinced of the enormous potential of AI at the University of Macau. ‘PhD students in our lab have recently published two high-quality papers about image recognition, marking the debut of UM researchers to publish wholly independent research findings on computer vision and AI in top international conferences. Besides, our department has ample postgraduate and PhD applicants in recent years, which reflects student’s interests and aspiration to explore AI.

Alongside the cultivation of postgraduate and PhD students, Prof Zhou has been the organizer for the annual Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence Summer Camp since 2012. This programme provides opportunities for middle school students to gain access to AI technology and learn about its application via programming and parameter designs and applications of computer vision, thereby enhancing their interest in AI development. Many participants of the camp were inspired to study at UM. For the upcoming summer camp, Prof Zhou plans to combine the latest and most popular virtual reality (VR) and deep learning (DL)technology into the teaching plan, so that middle school students can experience VR and DL themselves and understand the underlying scientific principles .

Curriculum Reform Attracts Talent in Computer Science

At present, the Department of Computer and Information Science has successfully delivered 1,088 graduates to the job market, most of whom have taken up positions as software engineers in local corporations, officials in government departments, or teachers in high schools or higher education institutions. Some alumni even established tech start-ups. Prof
Pun, head of the Department of Computer and Information Science, has coached various outstanding and talented students. Among them is a student named Leong Ka Chon who applied computer image processing technology in order to analyse and scan tongue movements which enable the disabled to control a wheelchair or type on a keyboard. Also, upon graduation he founded his own tech start-up.

Prof Pun said that the smart city plan calls for more technology gurus and computer talents. ‘AI and data science are among the most popular disciplines, we have taken the initiative to launch curriculum reforms to align with this trend. For example, we now offer courses on AI both at BA and MA levels. In this stage, data science is one of the key courses in BA programme. A student has the autonomy to choose data science or AI based on their own interests. The curriculum for the MA program is also subject to the corresponding reform’.

ISSUE 18 | 2018

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