As I See It, September 2007

By Nelson Morgan, Director

Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind

--Albert Einstein

As we say on our home page, our twin goals are furthering computer science research through international collaboration, and furthering international collaboration through computer science research. In practice these aren't two separate goals, but just two ways of looking at our ongoing international research efforts. One of our closest collaborations in the past decade has been with our "sister" laboratory in Martigny, Switzerland, IDIAP, where I'm writing this column. This year IDIAP has moved; while still in Martigny, they have consolidated a staff that was spread across several buildings to a single new location. The new building is also connected to a hotel, which makes it pretty convenient for visitors (like me); and the view from my temporary office (and from other offices here) is quite spectacular - see the photo below.

IDIAP has many points in common with ICSI. It is associated with a major university (EPFL, the the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne), as ICSI is with UC Berkeley; it has staff and visitors from around the world, as does ICSI; its research strengths include work in speech processing, incorporating capabilities in machine learning, as for ICSI; and, like ICSI, it is part of strong multi-site collaborations (often leading them), both with US and European labs. Finally, for both labs, the funding primarily comes from competitive grants.

IDIAP grew from a very small start, and in large part its current structure and program is due to its dynamic Director. ICSI also grew over time, but has been rather stable in size for the last 5-6 years. I would claim a far smaller role in making ICSI what it is today, as I was blessed with a very strong group of senior researchers when I became Director, and was handed an Institute with a strong reputation by ICSI's initial Director, Jerry Feldman.

Our connection to IDIAP is primarily based on research collaborations. In some cases, IDIAP provides the primary sponsor connection, in some cases ICSI does, and in others we both work together with a 3rd site, such as Edinburgh University. In addition, though, IDIAP (and in particular Hervé Bourlard) acts as our partner in the Swiss visitor program, an activity that has been ongoing in one form or another for 19 years. Visitor programs provide what is more or less ICSI's "core" funding, and in many other ways form the life's blood of the Institute; the day-to-day character of ICSI is very strongly determined by the collection of visitors from around the world. While our primary (and formal) international visitor programs are with European countries (Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Finland), we always have visitors from many other parts of the world.

It is clear to me that the future of ICSI is dependent on the continuation and expansion of these programs. I will be leaving Switzerland today, moving on to Germany, where our colleagues Wolfgang Wahlster (a Trustee on ICSI's Board) and Oliver Guenther (head of the German organization that handles our visitor program)are working to continue and extend that program. Later this year I will be traveling to Korea and Japan to discuss possible visiting scholar agreements. My associate Marcia Bush and I are currently exploring several other possible international programs. In each case, the initiation and sustaining of a visitor program requires the enthusiastic interest of parties in the collaborating country. I want to offer my thanks now for everyone who is working to create a better bond between researchers in different countries through these initiatives.

My travels to promote our international mission are often no fun, frankly - flying in and out of countries quickly, and trying to keep up with work at home so that I am not overwhelmed when I return. I have to say that this trip was an exception. Sitting here and typing while pausing to look out the office window, seeing the green hills of Switzerland, I don't feel that I require much sympathy (nor do I think I will get it...)

To close on something completely different: in this issue of the Gazette, we are focusing on the FrameNet research team. They have been working at ICSI throughout my tenure as Director, and have clearly established themselves as the producers of one of the leading machine-readable linguistic resources. We thought it was time to bring our readership up to date on this effort.