Queen’s Engineering PhD named to top national AI fellowship

Posted on August 03, 2021


Xiaoyu Yang, a PhD candidate in the Queen’s Engineering department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been named to the prestigious Borealis AI Fellowship. She is one of a handful of Canadian students to receive the honour.

Supported by Canada’s top researchers and academic institutions, the Fellowships “help unlock great human potential” through the advancement of artificial intelligence and machine learning. It’s the perfect fit for Yang, who is exploring natural language reasoning and neural networks and part of Queen’s Ingenuity Labs – a research hub for AI, robotics, and human-machine interaction.

“Natural language processing enables computer systems to understand and manipulate natural language in a desired and reasonable way,” she says. “Empowering machines to perform reasoning effectively has broad applications; moreover, it is an essential step towards human-like AI.”

Humans can reason using just their common sense. “For example, take the sentence ‘The trophy doesn’t fit the brown suitcase because it is too small,’” Yang explains. “It is obvious that the pronoun ‘it’ refers to the suitcase, while the resolution of the pronoun can be changed if we replace the word ‘small’ with ‘big’. But how can we empower computer systems to perform reasoning in a similar way?”

Her work engages with recent progress in deep neural networks, and advancement in natural language understanding and reasoning. Borealis AI funding will allow her to continue to focus in this vital area of research, and, as she says, “is a valuable recognition of my previous research work – and encourages me to continue my research, while pursuing even bigger targets.”

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As part of a community of only 10 fellows, Yang is excited not only for her research, but the opportunity to connect with like minds. “I admire the excellent research work being conducted in the AI research community and hope to make my own contributions to the community in the future,” she says. “This will create opportunities for me to meet other outstanding AI Fellows, and I hope we can communicate and collaborate in the future.”

Her PhD studies are being conducted under the supervision of Xiaodan Zhu, a faculty member at Queen’s Engineering, member of Ingenuity Labs, and one of the university’s inaugural Mitchell Professors. “At the beginning of my research, Dr. Zhu and I discussed diverse potential directions, and we all agree that natural language reasoning is an exciting and important topic in NLP that deserves further study,” Yang says. “Dr. Zhu provided guidance when I was new to this area, and he always encourages me to explore cutting-edge topics that I’m interested in.”