Fundamental research that’s anything but basic

    Martha White develops artificial intelligence algorithms to search for structure in big data deluge.

    By Jennifer Pascoe on November 29, 2017

    How do you help humans make better decisions? You turn a bunch of raw data into complex models that generate accurate predictions. But how exactly do you accomplish that technical piece?

    Enter Martha White, new assistant professor in the UAlberta Department of Computing Science, whose research is dedicated to fundamental algorithm development using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Working for nearly a decade in the discipline, White has witnessed firsthand the slow build of critical mass, which has finally tipped into an explosion in the public consciousness. She argues this awareness is going to accelerate artificial intelligence research and understanding, critical to our increasingly data-driven society.

    “It’s about supporting humans in making better decisions,” said White of artificial intelligence and machine learning. “AI isn’t scary. It’s just helpful. I’m excited about the answering the interesting questions we’ve had all along in AI. How do we get our agents to explore well, and how do we build good representations of the world? People are excited, which means we now have more access to students and to data and computational resources.”

    White works in a subset of artificial intelligence and machine learning known as reinforcement learning, exploring the idea that machines can learn in the same way as humans, based on reinforcing positive behaviors. White will be helping head the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence lab at the University of Alberta. Here, she’ll be mentoring UAlberta students next generation AI researchers to create solutions to better meet society’s most pressing needs, many of which stem from the deluge of big data being accumulated as our love for technology does anything but slow down.

    White will now be combining the two--data and computational resources--helping head the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence lab at the University of Alberta. Here, she’ll be mentoring UAlberta students next generation AI researchers to create solutions to better meet society’s most pressing needs, many of which stem from the deluge of big data being accumulated as our love for technology does anything but slow down.

    For White, love for reinforcement learning is definitely a family affair. Her husband, AI researcher Adam White, works for DeepMind Alberta, meaning the topic of dinner conversation more often than not revolves around complex algorithms and problem solving. Like Martha, Adam completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Alberta. In fact, the two met in an undergrad lab. Now back on campus in Edmonton, White is making her own mark on the Department of Computing Science, world-renowned for excellence in artificial intelligence and machine learning.