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Dissertation on AI’s neural networks earns U of R student prestigious CAIAC award

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 7, 2020 9:00 a.m.

Oliveira underscores that his accomplishment was only possible thanks to the amazing support he received from the U of Regina’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and faculty members within the Department of Computer Science.
Oliveira underscores that his accomplishment was only possible thanks to the amazing support he received from the U of Regina’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and faculty members within the Department of Computer Science. Photo: self

For the first time since the inception of the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association’s Best Doctoral Dissertation Award more than a decade ago, a University of Regina doctoral thesis has received this prestigious award in computer science.

Former U of R PhD candidate Jhonatan Oliveira in the Department of Computer Science has emerged the winner of the 2020 award for his research and doctoral dissertation titled On the Development of Deep Convolutional Sum-Product Networks.

“The prestigious award is given annually to the best doctoral dissertation in the field of artificial intelligence from a Canadian institution,” explains U of R’s Cory Butz, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Science and Oliveira’s thesis supervisor. “Since 2010, the award has exclusively gone to students from the universities of Toronto, BC, Alberta, and Waterloo. This marks an impressive achievement for Jhonatan and the University of Regina.”

Remarkable progress has been made in artificial intelligence (AI) with the introduction of deep learning, a part of machine learning concerned with algorithms inspired by the structure and function of the brain called artificial neural networks. While neural networks are effective in areas such as speech recognition and facial recognition, researchers do not fully understand how they work. Oliveira’s groundbreaking research sheds light on some of the functions of neural networks. Oliveira’s research results indicate the potential for significant benefits when applied to many real-world tasks.

CAIAC’s award adjudication committee of senior researchers in AI recognized Oliveira’s contributions to the field. Similarly, the external examiner Dr. Cassio P. de Campos, Head of the Uncertainty in AI Group at Eindhoven University of Technology, writes, "…the work has been disseminated in top venues and the possible impact is unquestionable."

While surprised and honoured to win the CAIAC Best Doctoral Dissertation Award, Oliveira notes, “This accomplishment was only possible thanks to support from the University of Regina’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, and faculty members in the Department of Computer Science.”

But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Oliveira would have received the award this month at the 2020 Canadian Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Ottawa.

The CAIAC Best Doctoral Dissertation Award comes with a commemorative plaque, a cash prize, free registration to the Canadian AI conference, and the opportunity to present highlights from the winning dissertation during a 30-minute talk at the conference.

Oliveira’s work is also being considered for the U of R’s  Governor General's Academic Gold Medal for 2020. In his written recommendation in support of the nomination, Orland Hoeber, U of R Professor and Associate Head (Graduate) in the Department of Computer Science, writes that “Oliveira was a stellar doctoral student possessing excellent research drive, intellectual abilities, and leadership qualities. This is just the beginning of what is sure to be a successful research career.”