ADA research group welcomes a new PhD student

Photo credit: Hélène Verhaeghe

Anna Louise Latour started her PhD research in January 2017 at the Institute of Information and Communication Technologies, Electronics and Applied Mathematics (ICTEAM) of Université catholique de Louvain (UC Louvain) in Belgium, under supervision of dr. Siegfried Nijssen (UC Louvain) and prof. dr. Joost Kok (Universiteit Twente). She came to Leiden in February 2018 and joined the ADA research group in November 2018.

Her research is funded by an NWO TOP grant awarded to dr. Nijssen for his PROFIDDS (PRObabilistic Features for Intelligent Declarative Data Science) project. Within this project, she focuses on developing solving methods for problems in which users have to make optimal decisions under constraints and uncertainties.

An example of such a problem is a Power Grid Reliability Problem. Suppose that we want to help a user who runs a maintenance project on an electric grid to make it more robust against natural disasters (like earthquakes or hurricanes). During a disaster, each powerline in the grid has a certain probability of breakage (uncertainty). If too many of them break, important buildings like hospitals may become disconnected from the grid and lose power. By reinforcing powerlines, the user can make them stronger and less likely to break during an earthquake. However, reinforcing lines is an expensive task, and the user only has a limited budget (a constraint). On which powerlines should the user spend their budget, such that they maximise (optimal decision making) the expected number of important buildings that are still connected to a powerplant?

Her aim is to develop solving methods for these kinds of problems such that they are a) generic, and therefore applicable to a wide range of problems, and b) accessible, even to people who are not programmers.

In order to achieve this goal, she combines modelling and solving techniques from both Constraint Programming and Probabilistic Logic Programming.

Together with Marie Anastacio, Anna Louise also supervises Master student Daniël Fokkinga in his Master’s research.

Sharing our passion with the next generation of students

Within our ADA group, we are passionate about the cutting-edge research we do, but we are also always keen on sharing our passion with others – most recently, with a group of talented high-school students, some of whom we hope will become part of the next generation of advanced computer science researchers.

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Students from several VWOs (secondary school for future university students) of Leiden and neighbouring cities came to the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) to get a hands-on experience of computer science and to see if they would like to join our university as bachelor students in 2019.

15 top students participated in this introductory course. First, they got an introduction to networks and shortest path algorithms from Dr. Michael Emmerich (Associate Professor at LIACS). Then, the ADA group took the torch: Dr. Holger Hoos (Professor of Machine Learning), Marie Anastacio and Can Wang (PhD candidates) set out to give them a taste of computational complexity and some of the techniques used to deal with complex problems.

To do so, we built on the shortest path idea and worked with out pre-university students on the travelling salesman problem (TSP). The TSP involves finding a shortest, quickest or cheapest round trip visiting a number of locations – e.g., cities or villages. It is one of the most widely studied problems in computer science and has a broad range of important applications in logistics, manufacturing and even biology. We helped the students to discover effective techniques for finding shortest round trips visiting various locations in the Netherlands and introduced them to slightly simplified versions of the best known algorithms.

More precisely, endeavoured to find the shortest tour visiting every provincial capital of the continental Netherlands (by bicycle, of course). As we bet on the length of the resulting “grand tour of the Netherlands”, almost all of our ADA group members overestimated the size of the country, and we were all surprised by the result. Somewhat embarrassingly for our Dutch group members, the winner of our little game was Chuan, our Chinese postdoc. To give Dutch national pride a second chance, we asked each of our high-school students to place a bet on the length of the optimal tour. The best of these bets came from Jonas, who precisely tied with Chuan – estimating the shortest bicycle your through the 12 provincial capitals at 900km. We decided to declare him the winner of our game, breaking the tie in favour of the younger and less experienced student.

The actual shortest tour is 1013.45 km long and would take around 52h to cycle, according to Google Maps:

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Working with the pre-university students was a very interesting and highly enjoyable experience for all of us, and we look forward to doing it again next year. As for our college students, we hope to meet them again soon. And who know, perhaps one day, we’ll cycle the tour …

1M € DACCOMPLI Project Launched

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We are very excited to be a key contributor to the DACCOMPLI (Dynamic Data Analytics through automatically Constructed Machine Learning Pipelines) Project, which was officially kicked off on 9 February 2018, with a meeting of all consortium members at LIACS, Leiden University. The project aims at developing a platform for dynamic data analytics based on techniques for automatically constructing machine learning pipelines for a broad range of real-world challenges, including dynamic management of energy stored in fleets of electric cars and prediction of Parkinson’s disease; it received one million euros in funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and private partners.

Consortium
The people involved in the project include Prof. Dr. Thomas Bäck (PI and adjunct member of ADA), Prof. Dr. Holger hoos (co-PI and head of ADA) and Can Wang (PhD student and member of ADA) from LIACS, Leiden University, as well as colleagues from Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, Honda Research Institute Europe GmbH and the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC).

Project
The project will develop algorithm configuration approaches for composing, configuring, and parameterising data analytics pipelines from scratch – thereby automatically generating the best solutions for a broad range of data analytics tasks. To demonstrate the approach, two complementary practical application tasks have been selected: The early detection and treatment optimization for Parkinson’s disease, and the cost-effective and environmentally optimised management of energy for private households with electric vehicles. The first case deals with video recordings and slow dynamics over time (analyzing the progression of the disease over a series of diagnostic observations), while the second addresses numerical data with fast dynamics and the need for optimal decision making in real time. Our group is focussed on the second application, in cooperation with Honda Research Institute Europe GmbH, as well as on foundational work together with TU Eindhoven on the automatic construction of data analytics pipelines (an application of AutoML), while work at TU Delft and is focussed on the Parkinson application.

Links: ADA Research Group ∙ LIACS ∙ Leiden University

Inauguration of our new computing cluster GRACE

The inauguration of our new computing cluster, GRACE, took place at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS), Leiden University, on 13 February 2018. Martijn Ridderbos (Vice-President of Leiden University), Geert de Snoo (Dean of the Faculty of Science) and Bart Hoogervorst (Head of Department Operations ICT Shared Service Centre) ceremonially booted up GRACE, the latest supercomputer at Leiden University.

GRACE consists of 32 computing nodes with 1024 CPU cores and 12 GPUs. It has a peak computing capacity of about 135 teraFLOPS and very fast interconnects (about 56 Gb/sec per link). The cluster is named after Grace Hopper, who was one of the first programmers and made significant contributions to the development of high-level programming languages.

GRACE was purchased by LIACS at the initiative of Prof. Holger H. Hoos (Head of the ADA Research Group). Equipped with it, the ADA Research Group will undertake cutting-edge research in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques that complement, rather than replace, human intelligence. In particular, we will use GRACE for developing cutting-edge methods for the automated design and analysis of algorithms for computationally challenging problems from AI, leveraging human creativity, advanced machine learning and optimisation methods. An important part of our work is the development and deployment of AutoML and, more generally, AutoAI techniques, that are aimed at making the development, deployment and customisation of AI techniques accessible to non-experts.

Aside from the immense enjoyment of using GRACE for our research, we also had a lot of fun building the cluster, under the capable leadership of our ICT Manager, Vianney Govers.

Additional details can be found at ada.liacs.nl/hh/Talks/grace-inauguration-18.pdf.

Links: ADA Research Group ∙ LIACS ∙ Leiden University