Computing Student wins Sciences Postgraduate Research Prize

Computer Science PhD student, Farhana Liza, has been selected as the Sciences Postgraduate Research Prize Winner for 2018. Farhana has won £500, which can be used for costs related to her research. The prize was presented formally at the Postgraduate Festival on the afternoon of Monday 18th June, followed by a dinner in Canterbury for the prize-winners.

Farhana’s research is in the field of Artificial Intelligence, specifically in the intersection between deep learning (with Artificial Neural Networks) and the natural language processing, and is supervised by Marek Grzes and Professor Alex Freitas.

Language models estimate the probability of an upcoming word for a given context, i.e., for a given, partially specified sentence. The benefit of such models can be seen on smart phones that show the most likely words that the user is typing in the predictive mode.

In her PhD project, Farhana is investigating the novel approaches that improve language modelling by incorporating larger context and by using hierarchical structures in natural language efficiently with sampling mechanisms. She is also attempting to contribute to the understanding of those methods.

Farhana said ‘I am extremely happy and motivated by winning this prize. It is deeply satisfying to win a prize, especially at third year of PhD study when students (including me) are usually super stressed with the research project and with the future plans.’

Our congratulations go to Farhana.

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Technology Evangelist Dr Sue Black OBE to receive honorary doctorate at Canterbury graduation

Dr Sue Black OBE will receive her honorary doctor of science degree, in recognition of her ‘inspirational championing of women in computing and science and campaign to preserve and save Bletchley Park’ at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral on 16 July, when students from the School of Computing in Canterbury will be graduating.

A Technology Evangelist and Digital Skills Expert, Sue was awarded an OBE for “services to technology” in the 2016 Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. She is now a UK government advisor, thought leader, Honorary Professor of Computer Science at UCL, social entrepreneur, writer and public speaker. Her current social enterprise #techmums is changing lives. #techmums teaches mums tech skills and builds their confidence encouraging them into education, entreprenership and employment. Sue now has 4 children and has recently become a grandmother.

Dr Sue Black left home and school at 16, married at 20 and had 3 children by the age of 23. A single parent at 25 she went to university, gained a degree in computing then a PhD in software engineering. She set up the UK’s first online network for women in tech BCSWomen and led the campaign to save Bletchley Park.

Sue’s first book Saving Bletchley Park details the social media campaign she led to save Bletchley Park from 2008-2011, it has been an Amazon UK bestseller.

As an encouragement to our graduating students Sue said: ‘Don’t wait for opportunity to come to you, get out there and find it! Thanks 🙏 and see you next month 😍👍🏽

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Kent academic gives keynote speech at City Event

Lecturer Anna Jordanous was invited to give a keynote speech to computer scientists at investment bank Credit Suisse.  The Credit Suisse IT Expo was themed around ‘AI & Robotics’ which ties in with Anna’s area of expertise, which is computational creativity.

Anna was selected alongside speakers from the machine learning and artificial intelligence fields. One of the speakers was a former student Toby Leheup who works for Credit Suisse in the Semantic Technology, Analytics & Machine Intelligence team. Toby graduated from Kent in 2016 with a First in BSc Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence) with a Year in Industry. He went to work for Credit Suisse after graduating, and he had also done a summer placement year with the organisation.

Anna said; ‘I am obviously delighted to be able to showcase my research with professionals in industry, but it is even more rewarding to be able to share the platform with a graduate who is making his mark in computer science.’




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Sonic attacks in China and Cuba: how sound can be a weapon

Professor Ian McLoughlin from the School of Computing Data Science Research Group has written an article for The Conversation on the possible cause of ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba and China. The article has also been published in The Independent and on the Newsweek USA website.

Reports of “sonic attacks” in China, and previously in Cuba, have left many wandering whether sonic weapons could be targeting US diplomats. Victims have reportedly experienced mild brain injuries with symptoms including “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure”. Little is known for definite but the symptoms do suggest that some sort of sonic interference could have taken place. It is unlikely to be the result of a deliberate “sonic attack”. Instead, these injuries are probably the side effects of intrusive surveillance.

Sonic weapons fall into two categories: those that involve audible frequencies, and those that are either ultrasonic or infrasonic and so are inaudible.

The audio spectrum, showing infrasound, sound and ultrasound. The audible part of the spectrum shows the threshold of human hearing, and plots of equal loudness (measured in phons).

Infrasonic weapons like the long range acoustic device (LRAD) rely on loud, low frequency sounds (infrasound). These bulky units have been used for crowd control and repelling pirates. When on high power, the effects are like a “punch in the guts”, ranging from nausea to involuntary evacuation of the bowels. Not quite the injuries reported by the diplomats.

Audible weapons include playing Bruce Springsteen and music from Barney the Dinosaur at very loud volumes to enemy troops or those undergoing interrogation. But Barry Manilow also drives teenagers from shopping malls.

Ultrasonic (high frequency) bursts have been used as a teenager repellant, and ultrasound is known to cause headaches and nausea. It also cannot be felt or heard, which fits the facts reported by the diplomats. So has ultrasound been used against them?

How to weaponise ultrasound

The effect of sound on humans is complex. It can vary depending on the frequency, modulation (pattern), loudness, time of exposure, environment, and the age and hearing characteristics of the individual. Some people are more sensitive than others, and although skin reflects 99.9% of ultrasonic sound waves, our ears are much more susceptible to the energy carried by those waves.

There are two ways ultrasound can harm humans. The first is that it can heat up cells in the body, causing damage. The second is that ultrasound can cause “cavitation”. All sound waves are longitudinal – involving a cyclic pushing and pulling motion of molecules as the wave travels, called compression and rarefaction. This happens in air as well as when it travels through an object, such as the body. Cavitation is when the pressure difference between a strong push and a strong pull in a very loud sound causes bubbles to form.

LRADs have been used by the US Navy to repel pirates.
US Navy

The effects of ultrasound increase with amplitude (loudness), but heating is mainly a problem with contact ultrasound (when an ultrasonic emitter touches you), rather than waves transmitted through the air. Cavitation, by contrast, might occur in the fluid of the inner ear, in body tissue or cells. It can be transitory (the bubble forms and disappears with each frequency cycle) or sustained. In either case, it is not considered a good thing for bubbles to form in body tissue (just ask scuba divers).

The extent of these biological effects depend on how the ultrasound reaches the person being “attacked”. Any sound gets less powerful the further you are from a loudspeaker, but ultrasound loses power far more quickly with distance than audible sounds do. A single ultrasonic emitter (loudspeaker) would struggle to generate enough power to affect someone halfway across a typical room.

Ultrasound is also highly directional. Precise alignment in millimetres would be needed to steer an ultrasonic “beam” to hit someone from across a room. Every time they move, each emitter would have to carefully steer its beams accordingly.

Given that it is hard for powerful ultrasound to reach us – and that most of it then bounces right off our skin – it seems to be a strange choice of weapon.

Side effect

Despite some disadvantages, ultrasound is used in various tools including motion sensors. It has also been used to detect people’s mouth movements in noisy locations, or where subjects are whispering (or miming speech). Both are useful in active surveillance, particularly when subjects are trying to avoid being overheard.

Could surveillance of diplomats be the cause of these brain injuries?
US State Gov

Although not deliberate, this could lead to cavitation damage. An ultrasonic loudspeaker designed to operate on a subject who is two metres away would be thousands of times more powerful at two centimetres. Just walking past, or sitting near, the active emitter for a short time could cause damage.

Multiple ultrasound emitters used for surveillance would be worse. If a subject moved their head into just the right location, waves from different emitters could combine at the eardrum, causing much higher energies. Sitting in the wrong position for too long could then cause hearing damage without the subjects noticing.

The ConversationWe may never know for certain what is the cause of these incidents. Given the reported symptoms, an audio related cause is likely – and if so, it is probably ultrasonic. But the nature of ultrasound suggests that these cases are probably the result of surveillance rather than a deliberate “sonic attack”.

Ian McLoughlin, Professor of Computing, Head of School (Medway), University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Amanda Ollier joins School of Computing as School Administration Manager

The School of Computing has a new head of professional services. Amanda Ollier, the School Administration Manager (SAM), brings with her extensive management experience in different sectors. She will be responsible for the professional services team in the School of Computing, which supports the academic staff in their teaching and research and helps the students to make the most of their time at Kent. She will also support the Head of School in planning and delivering the school strategy.

Amanda started her career at Eurostar and in 15 years went from train crew to terminal manager, at both Waterloo and St Pancras. She has also spent time in personal development, as a motivational speaker and running training courses.

More recently, Amanda has higher education experience in the Open University in several roles including research support and administration and project management.

Amanda, who has two sons aged 14 and 20 said; ‘I am so pleased to be working at the University of Kent. In my time at the Open University I was responsible for administration in two schools, with 26,000 students. However I didn’t get to meet any of them as they were all distance learners. When I was visiting university open days with my eldest son I got a sense of what it was like to be a student at a campus university with all of the opportunities and experiences that involved. I am looking forward to helping the students in the School of Computing make the most of their time studying here and seeing them in person.

‘I was also attracted to the idea of working at Kent, because it is the UK’s European University. I have a French degree and a love of all things French. I consider myself to be European and am looking forward to exploring the international aspects of my role’.

The previous School Administration Manager, Angela Doe will be retiring from the University of Kent in August.

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New lecturer joins School of Computing

Dr Tomas Petricek has joined the University of Kent as a lecturer in the School of Computing. Tomas is a member of the Programming Languages and Systems Research group and is based at the Canterbury campus.

Tomas studied for his undergraduate and Master’s degree at Charles University in Prague before completing his PhD in 2016 at the University of Cambridge on ‘coeffects’, which is a programming language theory for context-aware programming languages. This was a joint work with University of Kent lecturer Dominic Orchard.

Tomas was part of Microsoft Research Cambridge where he worked on libraries and tools for working with data using the functional-first programming language F#. He wrote a paper entitled ‘Types from Data: Making Structured Data First-Class Citizens in F#’ which was selected as ACM SIGPLAN Research Highlight and won a Distinguished Paper award at PLDI 2016. Tomas is a long- standing member of the F# community and the author of a book on F# entitled ‘Real-World Functioning Programming’ (Manning Publications, Nov 2009).

Tomas was a Visiting Researcher at the Alan Turing Institute from 2016 – 2018, where he worked on programming tools for open data driven visualizations. The aim of the project is to make the use of data in online media more transparent and reproducible and he was involved in building a number of examples looking at the UK government spending, financial market data and the Olympic Games.

Most of Tomas’ recent work has been focused on making programming with data easier.

Aside from programming languages and data science, he is also interested in exploring the nature of programming and programming language research from the perspective of history and philosophy of science.

Tomas said ‘A lot of programming language research focuses on “programs” and “languages”, but I think what we should study is “programming”, that is, how we create and modify programs. Many of my new colleagues at the University of Kent have experience – both practical and theoretical – in closely related areas and so I’m looking forward to starting new collaborations and exploring new ideas in my new academic home.’

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Best Paper Award for Professor Frank Wang

Congratulations to Professor Frank Wang whose paper “Memory deduplication: an effective approach to improve the memory system” has just received the Best Paper Award of all papers published in the Journal of Information Science and Engineering in 2017.

The Journal of Information Science and Engineering is published by the Institute of Information Science, Academia Sinica. The Journal provides an open forum to publish high-quality research papers in the areas of information science and engineering to promote the exchange of research ideas, experiences, and results.

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Peer recognition for placement student

Hubert Dziedziczak, a Computer Science (Networks) with a Year in Industry student, won the Employee of the Quarter award while on placement at the Wates Group. The award formally recognises individuals who perform tasks far beyond their job descriptions in helping the company achieve its objectives. Nominations are made by colleagues, with the colleague with the most votes announced at the quarterly team briefings.

Hubert said ‘It was great to be recognized by my colleagues, and to see that all my hard work was recognised amongst my peers, and people understood that I’m trying my best to push my year in industry to its boundaries in order to learn as much as I can.’

Hubert is the fifth computing student from Kent to do a year in industry with The Wates Group and another student will be joining the group in the summer. The School of Computing sends over 100 students on placements every year. The School has strong links with industry in Kent, nationally and internationally and has two dedicated placement officers who help students secure roles. The Industrial placement programme is available to all undergraduates and taught Master’s students in the School.

Hubert follows the success of Jordan Norris, another Year in Industry student who won an employee award for going ‘above and beyond’ during his placement year.

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Expert comment: Artificial intelligence a vital tool in fight against cancer

Professor Ian McLoughlin from the School of Computing Data Science Research Group says Theresa May is right to identify AI as having a key role in the battle against cancer.

‘AI has the potential to improve almost every aspect of the cancer discovery process: to make detection earlier, more decisive, treatments more effective, with fewer side-effect and lower rates of remission.

‘Big data – the key underpinning technology for AI – means using thousands or millions of data points to enable artificial learning systems to explore and deduce relationships between cause and effect. By studying large amounts of data from the population as a whole, or from target groups, or even large amounts of data from a single person over time, these systems can build an understanding of individuals and groups.

‘In human terms, the AI systems learn how to:

Understand more about people like you – your health-related behaviours and their risks.
Know you better as an individual – what is normal for you, and how have you changed.
Model and track the progression of diseases and conditions in the population.
Treat diseases earlier with higher success rates, fewer side-effects and better outcomes.
And yes; to do all of the above at lower cost.

‘An AI system can get to know you from your data, and most importantly will get to know how you are changing. Disease markers sometimes take months or years to become visible to the naked eye, but AI-based monitoring can identify fine-grained and correlated changed in an individuals’ daily life patterns. These patterns again reveal the effectiveness of treatments, updated if necessary to the millisecond (rather than after every GP visit).

‘However, these tools are no substitute for the skill, experience and dedication of a good GP – at least not within the near future – but could become crucial in advising your local family doctor. After all, AI can know you better, observe you more closely, track you more frequently, direct your treatment more effectively, and monitor your outcome more objectively than any human.

‘Yet when we are faced with the long wait, when we receive that dreaded news, and when living after cancer, we need the human face of our family doctors more than ever.’

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Meet Monty – the exam de-stress dog

If you are missing your pets, or would like to spend some time in the company of a friendly dog, then come and meet Monty.

On Friday 25 May, staff and students from the School of Computing have the opportunity to relax with a canine companion. Monty the cockapoo will be available for cuddles from 10.00-12.00 on the veranda of The Shed in Cornwallis.

Orla Garratt, Marketing and Communications Manager for the school said; ‘This is the second time that Monty has visited the School after he enjoyed the attention on his first visit during wellbeing week in March. Lots of students who have pets at their family home enjoyed spending time with him as they were missing their own animals.’

Other tools are available to help students through the stresses of the exam period such as the wellbeing app and the Big White Wall confidential support website.

Students can also contact the University’s wellbeing team and Kent Union for further advice.


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