Can you explain the general context of your research in Singapore within a CNRS International Research Laboratory?
The IPAL laboratory is an international research laboratory in computer science. It is a joint laboratory between the CNRS, Institut Mines Télécom (IMT) and Université de Grenoble-Alpes (UGA) in France, and National University of Singapore (NUS) and A*STAR in Singapore that promotes high quality collaborative research on five themes: Explainable and Trustable Artificial Intelligence (AI), AI and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Natural Language Processing, Data Science and Applications, and Efficient AI.
As a researcher in this laboratory, I am interested in cognitive technologies, i.e. technologies that are designed to facilitate the interaction between humans and the system but also to assist or augment humans. I am particularly interested in assistive technologies for people with visual impairments.
It is a research field at the interface between cognitive sciences, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, cognitive ergonomics, and design.
What types of applications do your research activities lead to?
In the IPAL laboratory, there can be multiple applications in the field of health, smart cities, transport, etc. As far as I am concerned, the applications are more specifically focused on assistive and educational technologies.
What do you think of the research in Singapore?
Research in Singapore is of an excellent level, with well-trained people, very good research support and very good universities and research centers. In addition, funding for basic and applied research is significant, which opens up great opportunities.
Are you currently collaborating with French or Singaporean institutes?
Of course! We collaborate with many French universities such as Toulouse, Grenoble, Cergy. But also with other Singaporean universities: Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) for instance. Obviously, we also have collaborations with other foreign universities such as Auckland, Geneva, San Andrews.
How does the Covid-19 pandemic affect your work?
The COVID is a real problem for IPAL. Two assignments of French researchers at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 have been suspended, pending better conditions. New French trainees and PhD students cannot start their projects in Singapore. As for me, my research is an experimental research based on interaction with different communities (people with visual impairments, but also the professionals who take care of them). We have of course reorganized ourselves to do online work but experimental research activities are currently dormant.
IPAL has been created in 2007 with a focus on biomedical imaging and ageing. Can you explain the evolution of the topics towards AI?
I must confess that this development responds to a joint request from our supervisory authorities (CNRS, IMT, UGA, A*STAR and NUS) who wish to strengthen Franco-Singaporean cooperation in this research field. However, it is a very natural evolution. AI, as you know, is a research field that has greatly improved in recent years, particularly because of its applications in health and smart city. IPAL members were already, for many of them, AI specialists in the field of images and other types of data. The opening of the laboratory to a wider field of research such as AI is therefore a scientific fact.
What is your point of view about doing research on AI in Singapore?
There is a set of favorable factors for AI research in Singapore. The IPAL is a laboratory that has been existing for almost 15 years and is recognized as a dynamic and productive collaborative place for computer sciences research. The IRL IPAL has made it possible to bring together the best French researchers on AI (especially in the new 3IA centers) with our Singaporean partners (NUS and A*STAR) that are high-quality partners in this field of research. Finally, the CNRS has just created its subsidiary CNRS@CREATE, which has proposed to strengthen Franco-Singaporean collaborations in AI. IPAL has quickly and efficiently supported the CNRS@CREATE approach and we are working with other French and Singaporean colleagues on the proposal of a large-scale research program. As you can see, there are currently many convergences on AI research in Singapore.
Tell us more about the next chapters for IPAL in terms of cooperation between France and Singapore?
The next step is the renewal of the IPAL agreement in 2021. We have received the encouragement of the CNRS, NUS and A*STAR for this renewal. We have the ambition to strengthen our links with NUS and A*STAR partners by enlarging the scope and hence the number of colleagues involved in the laboratory. We also wish to establish strong links with the 3IA centers in France and with new partners such as Toulouse 3 University, CYU, but also two excellent engineering schools (INP Toulouse and ENAC).
In addition to this renewal, 2021 will be an important year for IPAL if the CNRS@CREATE program is granted because almost all our members will be involved in this program developed based on Franco-Singaporean collaborations.
What are the biggest challenges about IPAL?
As the IRL director, the biggest challenge is to get institutions that do not have the same administrative procedures to work together. But I have to admit that Singaporeans are well organized and very proactive. For the lab, the biggest challenge at the moment is to renew the agreement in the best conditions with very good prospects for 5 years of work.