March 26, 2010
Creating computer programs to de-fuzz the human languageWhile computers may operate with mathematical precision, the same cannot always be said for the humans that use them. Keivan Kian Mehr, a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Calgary, is working on a kind of universal translator that could interpret vague or subjective commands in order to help computers understand their owners better.
"Fuzziness dominates the way humans think and communicate," says Kian Mehr, who was recently awarded a prestigious scholarship by the federal government to further his research overseas.
Kian Mehr has developed an interface that allows users to query databases using fuzzy terms. For example, if potential investors were to search for a market analysis on certain stocks, for example, they may use words like 'high-revenue', or 'low-risk', but these terms mean nothing to a search engine.
"My program could be added on top of any database, to help it interpret what the person is looking for," he says.
Kian Mehr, who is working in the Department of Computer Science under professor Reda Alhajj, plans to test his system in the world of robotics, where eliminating confusion in commands is crucial.
"The development of intelligent robots has received considerable attention in the research community," he notes. "Such machines could replace human helpers and companion animals for people with special needs for example, like the elderly living alone. But even a simple command like "I want a cup of cold water" could be too complicated or specific for a companion robot to act upon."
He'll have the chance to pursue the project thanks to a new federal funding initiative announced this week. Three agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have combined to award 250 masters or doctoral students up to $6,000 to conduct a research project in another country.
"By accessing international research and training, recipients will significantly increase the potential for collaboration between universities and affiliated research institutions in Canada and their counterparts outside Canada," said Suzanne Fortier, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Kian Mehr will use his award to travel to Iran next month to work with former U of C graduate student and robotics expert Moshen Afsharchi. Afsharchi, PhD’07, praises Kian Mehr's diligence and creativity and says the benefits of such scholarship programs are far-reaching.
"The research community in Iran is growing," Afsharchi says. "These kinds of awards help us to follow the main line of research and increase our contribution to the knowledge network of the world."