An Interview with E15 news economic journal, Czech Republic. The interview in Czech. Bellow is the English translation, the original interview can be found here.
The use of artificial intelligence needs to set boundaries, says Kurdish IT expert
He studied in Iraq and Malaysia and worked as a researcher in Switzerland. He has been living and working in Prague since this year. Testing and artificial intelligence expert engagement at CTU, sponsored by Red Hat.
It is the interconnection of academia and industry that Ahmed highlights as a European plus. According to this software engineer, the collaboration of scientists and business with the advent of robots and artificial intelligence will be inevitable.
Before coming to Prague, you worked as a researcher at the Swiss University of Applied Sciences. What led you to apply for a position at CTU?
I was looking for an established research institution, the main focus of the Department of Computers is artificial intelligence and its combination with software engineering. That’s what intrigued me. Three rounds of the competition followed, and fortunately, I was chosen.
So Prague offers you more career opportunities than Switzerland?
It is not so much whether it offers more. At CTU, however, the field is developing in a new direction, which gives me many opportunities.
What are you currently working on?
We have more projects, but first, we try to create a large research group focused on software engineering and artificial intelligence. We are starting to work with a similar group from Sweden and Malaysia.
Do you already have an idea of applying your knowledge?
For this reason, we cooperate with Red Hat, which in partnership with CTU contributes to my salary. Unfortunately, I cannot be more specific because we are at the beginning of development, but in general, we are talking about developing test methods for industry. This is not new in itself, but the use of artificial intelligence to participate in the testing and development of new methods is new. Red Hat has a special laboratory at CTU and I was invited to use my knowledge and algorithms for their own project in the field of the Internet of Things. Together, we are trying to develop new testing strategies.
You studied in Iraq, you have a doctorate from Malaysia. A job in Switzerland followed. How difficult is such a change of country for you?
As long as I was single, there was no problem. But with family life, the situation began to change. Moving to the Czech Republic is the first case when my family moves with me. In any case, we have already settled here within three months.
You were in trouble getting a Czech visa, the procedure was delayed.
This is not a specific feature of the Czech Republic and my situation. This is how the rules of European countries generally work in this crazy world full of problems. I accept that at least everything is clear and legible, even though the handling took two months. However, the situation would, in my view, benefit from a better selection of visa applicants, such as distinguishing between scientists and other applicants.
Such selection is in progress in the Czech Republic and everything goes quickly, but only if you are single and come without a family. As a scientist, you are transparent, have a history of publishing, no trouble finding information about such a person. Problems also arise for local employers when they unnecessarily wait up to a quarter of a year for their workers to obtain a visa. But I repeat that the Czech Republic is no negative exception. I have encountered even more protracted procedures in Switzerland. There they lasted three and a half months.
How is the visa policy different in Malaysia, where you also worked?
There was no delay in my work visa. One comes as a tourist, normally works, and in the meantime, the university will obtain the appropriate permits. Also, it is not immediately, it takes about two months, but you can at least start working immediately.
How did the functioning of the academic sphere differ in these countries?
All of them are already in the research. In Switzerland and the Czech Republic, however, the system requires scientists to cooperate much closer with industry than in Malaysia; they cannot rely solely on state grants. In general, I think the European approach is better because it forces them to cooperate with others and apply knowledge. It’s not just basic research.
Have you ever thought of going from academia to a private company?
The academic environment suits me, I have much more freedom in it. I also like working with industry, but working full-time wouldn’t be appealing to me there. After all, the industry requires some routine, I enjoy research and discovery. Yes, I also work within one particular field and focus, but the new test methods are so diverse and dynamic that the routine is not much threatened.
You are experienced in the Internet of Things Testing. Have you used this technology in your daily life?
I’m not exactly an example user of the Internet of Things, but the fact is that no one will escape it anyway. I and my colleagues can only try to improve it by exemplary testing. We don’t care about transforming it, but once someone develops another aspect of it, we want to be able to test the quality of this app. Privacy and security are now a big question of the Internet of Things. When a company manufactures a device, we want to make it work seamlessly within the established system. That’s what we’re trying to do.
How are you doing?
I am here for a short time, but we publish in prestigious magazines about our methods, put together a proper team and even try to implement some solutions. There are no generally applicable rules and certain procedures for achieving a quality Internet of Things. We would, therefore, like to propose such rules, including restrictions and restrictions. Businesses can get too much data about everyone through their household devices. Privacy is our main concern.
We read a lot of predictions about the impacts of the robotic revolution and the replacement of human labor in most fields. What is your view?
Robotics is not entirely my field, in any case, the possibilities of using artificial intelligence are not clear and simple. When you want to deploy such highly advanced technology, nobody has many ideas of its potential and limits. Clear rules should, therefore, be defined for its use. The big question is to build these restrictions directly into robots. I just don’t know who will guard and determine it – the government?
Is it even possible to test machines and algorithms in all conceivable situations?
This is a good question, therefore, testing is not a static, but a very dynamic area that changes with technology. Every instrument and every algorithm needs to be tested and we still have no universal approach. On the contrary, we must be prepared for the emergence of completely new situations. Maybe ten years ago there were no procedures for testing mobile applications. After all, they are completely different from those of standard computer systems.
Can the algorithms learn?
The so-called adaptive algorithms we are working on, yes. They also learn to depend on the application they are testing. Not all test situations are useful enough. Therefore, we incorporate feedback into the algorithms depending on the testing strategy to avoid these deaf moments.
You aren't afraid of any new machine consciousness.
We see it in movies, but I’m not afraid. In addition, we are scientists, a number of limitations and rules prevent us from conducting unpredictable experiments.
You earned your bachelor's degree at a university in the Kurdish part of Iraq in 2004, relatively shortly after the start of the US invasion. How difficult was it for you to study in such a situation?
This part of the country avoided the immediate consequences of the war, so it was not such a problem. I was lucky about that. Moreover, I believe that the Iraqi education system remains relatively good and provides a solid foundation.
You are certainly still in touch with your Iraqi family.
Of course, my parents live there and they’re fine.
Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship: a great opportunity for foreign researchers
18 May 2016
Bestoun S. Ahmed is one of the foreign researchers who won the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship 2015/2016; he is now spending one year at IDSIA working with Luca Maria Gambardella on his postdoc. focusing on search-based Software engineering.
Hi Bestoun, you won a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship: how did you apply for it?
My name is Bestoun S. Ahmed, I’m a Kurdish from the North part of Iraq. After graduation in the university with good marks, I applied for the postgraduate fellowship opportunity in University Putra Malaysia – Malaysia. The achievement of this opportunity gives me a chance to finish my master’s study.
After finishing my master’s study, I decide to do not make a delay and continue with my Ph.D. degree. I got a Ph.D. fellowship position in the University Sains Malaysia – Malaysia in the field of software engineering. With my supervisor, we discovered new ideas and new methods for testing by adopting the optimization, artificial intelligent and soft computing techniques to minimize the number of test cases for any software. This open’s new direction of research for me in a field called Search-based-software-engineering (SBSE). Then I took a lecturer position at the Salahaddin University – Erbil teaching in the college of engineering and also continued my research as the head of software engineering research group in the fields of Software Engineering, Software Testing, Optimization theories, combinatorial optimization, and artificial intelligence.
After spending three years as a lecturer and researcher, I found an advertisement about the Swiss Excellent scholarship on a group of postgraduate studies on Facebook. Actually it was the right time for me to think about the application for this program. First, because I was thinking to take some rest from lecturing and put more attention to my research and finish my postdoc position also. Second, it was the possibility to work with different resources and with expert researchers in the field of combinatorial optimization and artificial intelligence. In addition, I was always thinking to get some life experience from Europe and interact with more people to get more cultural experience. So I had a lot of reasons for applying!
The first regulation in the application was to find someone who can host me in his lab and become my supervisor. I thought it would be not so complicated to find it: I wrote a proposal on my research and start to search for possible supervisors in swiss universities without positive answers, as my approach, I discovered after coming to Switzerland, was very different in relation to the European approach. Cultural differences, also in small differences, could be sometimes a big hurdle. I decide then to conduct a deeper search for supervisors. In this stage, I searched for those organizations which have more international students and also for those supervisors who are more deeper working in the problem that I want to work in the research. I started to look and read the website carefully and also to look at the research groups and people inside those organizations. IDSIA fits perfectly with these criteria: the works of Prof. Dr. Luca Maria Gambardella are related to my research topic and IDSIA hosts many guest researchers. So I send Prof. Gambardella an email and he replied to me hopefully. After a short discussion about the situation and the research, he agreed to host me in IDSIA. I have put his name on the application and then I sent the whole documents to the Swiss embassy in Amman Jordan since there is no Swiss embassy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. I have waited for more than ten months to get my offer letter.
What are your main activities at IDSIA ?
The focus of my postdoc. research nowadays is Search-based Software Engineering (SBSE) in which how to use artificial intelligence and optimization methods in the field of software engineering. Currently, I’m focusing on the software product line (SPL) and how to derive test cases for it. To do so, the combinatorial interaction testing could be applicable and I’m trying to apply this testing technique for SPL. Of course, this is not without difficulties. Part of the difficulty is how to deal with the
different constraints in SPL and how to automate them. In addition, how to automate this process to deal with different feature models. In addition to my supervisor, I’m collaborating with many research groups from Sweden, Australia, and Malaysia. So far, I have published two papers, one in an international conference in London and one in an international journal. In addition, I have three more papers under review and still, I’m working on a project with my supervisor in this direction.
How long will you stay at IDSIA and how do you judge your experience?
I will stay here for almost one year. However, due to the delay in the visa and work permit process, I arrived here almost two months late. My experience at IDSIA was good as my experience in Switzerland, I enjoyed the food and nature a lot. People here are kind and they respect international researchers. However, I have to admit that it was not so easy to deal with the Swiss bureaucracy, embassies, and immigration offices. I have gone through a very long and painful process of checking and application for a visa for me and my family, which at the end didn’t move to Ticino. I am really thankful to the IDSIA administration staff who helped and supported me a lot from the beginning until now in many situations. Nevertheless, this program is a very enriching experience for my life and it affects my personality and the way of thinking also in addition to the research experience I got from IDSIA.
Talk in DevConf.cz 2018 10th annual community conference for developers, by Red Hat. January 2018. Slides can be Download Here
- Department Internal Seminar, Software Engineering Department, Salahaddin University – Erbil, Winter 2013 SEM 1 – Software Engineering and Its Future Research Directions