Rensselaer Professors Hendler, Gray, and Ji Receive 2014 IBM Faculty Awards

Posted December 19, 2014

Three professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have been selected to receive prestigious 2014 Faculty Awards from IBM.

IBM named Rensselaer professors James Hendler, Wayne Gray, and Heng Ji as recipients of the award. IBM said the competitive program recognizes the quality of a faculty member’s research program with IBM and the importance of that research to industry.

“Rensselaer faculty members are global leaders in the areas of web science, Big Data, artificial intelligence, massively parallel processing, and the emerging field of cognitive computing. Much of this work is done in partnership with IBM. We congratulate professors Hendler, Gray, and Ji for winning 2014 IBM Faculty Awards, and look forward to many more successes resulting from their ongoing collaborations with IBM,” said Jonathan Dordick, vice president for research at Rensselaer.

James Hendler is the Tetherless World Senior Constellation Professor and director of The Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA). An expert in web science, Big Data, and artificial intelligence, Hendler leads the Watson at Rensselaer project. In early 2013, Rensselaer was the first university in the world to receive a modified version of an IBM Watson cognitive technology system. With his students, Hendler is exploring how cognitive computing systems can go beyond the question-answering and search capabilities of the Jeopardy!-winning program.

“The approach used in Watson opens up some really exciting directions in the science of computing, and we’re exploring many new opportunities that this offers in AI, intelligent agents and cognitive science,” Hendler said.

Wayne Gray is a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer. An expert in integrated cognitive systems and cognitive modeling, Gray’s work with IBM focuses on the human element and how human cognition, perception, and action comes together to produce adaptive, real-time interactive behavior in dynamic task environments.

“Outside the walls of academia, most people’s daily lives and jobs are dominated by real-time interactions with a changing task environment,” Gray said. “This description applies to truck drivers, air traffic control operators, laparoscopic surgeons, call center operators, as well as video game players. Among those judged as ‘expert’ in these tasks, some are ‘more expert’ than others. Our goal is to discover general principles of extreme expertise which can be used to raise performance from expert to ‘extreme’ expert levels.”

Heng Ji is the Edward P. Hamilton Development Chair and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science. Her research interests include natural language processing, data mining, network science, and network security. Ji’s work with IBM and Watson at Rensselaer includes teaching natural language processing with courses and research collaborations on information extraction and knowledge discovery from unstructured data.

“We’re interested in how we can discover information from heterogeneous sources,” Ji has said of her work. “We want information to come from multiple languages, multiple genres, multiple data modalities, and multiple documents.”

Originally developed at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. , Watson has deep connections to the Rensselaer community. Several key members of IBM’s Watson project team are graduates of Rensselaer, the oldest technological university in the United States. Leading up to Watson’s 2011 televised victory over the all-time human champions of the quiz show Jeopardy!, Rensselaer was one of eight universities that worked with IBM on the development of system’s open architecture.

This research conducted with Watson at Rensselaer is part of The Rensselaer IDEA, which serves as a hub for Rensselaer faculty, staff, and students engaged in data-driven discovery and innovation. The institute is anchored in the strength of Rensselaer in seven primary areas: high performance computing, the life sciences, web science, data science, network science, cognitive computing, and immersive technologies.

Working across disciplines and sectors, The Rensselaer IDEA empowers students and researchers with new tools and technologies to access, aggregate, and analyze data from multiple sources and in multiple formats. Related projects and programs span the entire spectrum of high-impact global challenges and opportunities, including basic research, environment and energy, water resources, health care and biomedicine, business and finance, public policy, and national security.

The Rensselaer IDEA connects three of the university’s critical research platforms: the Center for Computational Innovations supercomputing facility, also a partnership with IBM, which houses the AMOS petascale supercomputing system and Watson at Rensselaer; the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center; and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.