Newswise — A University of Arkansas at Little Rock professor and doctoral student have received a $20,000 Google AI research grant for their research in artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Dr. Xiaowei Xu, professor of information science, and Tolgahan Cakaloglu, a doctoral candidate in computer science, received the grant for their project, “Contextual Advanced Text Representation via Improved Deep Language Model by Utilizing Side Information.”

This advanced artificial intelligence technique can be successfully applied to many areas, including natural language processing, information retrieval, and search engines. Xu and Cakaloglu are currently researching how to improve a computer’s understanding of natural language to improve people’s experiences with search engines.

“This technology gives people the opportunity to talk with computers, so the computer can actually answer their questions,” Xu said. “Right now, you type in keywords to try to find the answers to your questions. With this model, you can type in questions using plain language. You communicate in a very natural way with the computer instead of trying to complicate things by trying to come up with the right keywords.”

The grant allows Xu and Cakaloglu the opportunity to travel to Google’s headquarters in California to work with the tech giant’s experts in artificial intelligence research and to conduct experiments using Google Cloud’s TPU/GPU high performance computing clusters, which can run mathematical models with millions of parameters.

“Without the Google Grant, for us, it’s mission impossible,” Xu said. “We cannot prove our mathematical computations. These computers will allow us to get real results and show that our program outperforms other programs. I enjoy the collaboration with Google because we get to work on a solution to a real world problem. Industry gives us better and more practical problems to solve.”

The researchers see this technology having useful applications across many areas, including customer service, computer-based employee training, and education.

“There may come a day when people don’t need to hire a human tutor,” Xu said. “Perhaps if people have questions about mathematics, physics, chemistry, and other subjects, a computer can hear their questions and give a precise answer and people can tutor themselves. This will be especially valuable for K-12 and higher education.”

This research will serve as the basis for Cakaloglu’s dissertation. Cakaloglu plans to graduate in 2019 and hopes to continue working with Google in future research collaborations.

“Working with the Google researchers is also very important,” he said. “As a researcher, although we follow the trends in AI to solve problems, those people are at the center of AI research, so they know what kind of solution the system needs.”

In addition to his research, Cakaloglu founded the Arkansas AI Club, which already has nearly 100 members.

“We want to raise the public awareness about artificial intelligence in Arkansas and promote collaborations with people interested in the area of artificial intelligence,” Cakaloglu said. “We believe there are multiple industry problems that can be solved using AI in Arkansas.”

The researchers see a need for more artificial intelligence researchers in the state since they see AI as the next big revolution in technology.

“Artificial intelligence will change the way people do business,” Xu said. “It will be accepted that AI will be the next big revolution, the same way that the Internet changed the world. AI is the next technology that can change the way we live.

“I think it’s important to increase the learning of AI across the state so that young talent, high school students, and young professionals can get better educational opportunities and collaborations, so they will have a better future and better jobs. It will hopefully also attract some high tech companies and industry to the area. There is a big shortage of talent. The industry will not be successful here if they cannot find enough people with sufficient expertise in artificial intelligence.”