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Interview with the scientific supervisor of the institute

The scientific supervisor of SibIASA Professor E.S. Semenkin has given an interview to Reshetnev University.

The original interview on the Reshetnev University website.

Do what you have to do, and do it well! The scientific and educational project of scientists of the Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science and Technology has achieved international recognition

The project of the Siberian Institute of Applied Systems Analysis named after A. N. Antamoshkin ‘Youth, science, artificial intelligence: Ulm – Krasnoyarsk, 30 years together’ was among the winners of the competition ‘Russia and Germany: scientific and educational bridges’. The competition was held as part of the Russian-German year of scientific and educational partnerships 2018-2020 under the patronage of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany. Project leader, Doctor of Engineering Sciences E. S. Semenkin, is the scientific supervisor of the Siberian Institute of Applied Systems Analysis named after A. N. Antamoshkin as well as a professor of the Department of Systems Analysis and Operations Research of the Institute of Informatics and Telecommunications at the Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science and Technology. Here he reflects on the role of international cooperation in promoting Russian science and educating new generations of young scientists, and what prospects there are for the university upon winning a prestigious competition.

Support for young people engaged in science

– Evgenii Stanislavovich, you have already achieved a great deal in your professional career and scientific work. How important is winning this contest for you and why?

– Our project was submitted in the category ‘Support for young people engaged in science’. Working with such people is the main goal of teachers and scientists. I already had a badge for success in the development of NIRS (Scientific Research Work of Students) from our ministry. Now experts from two countries have simultaneously come to the conclusion that our work in this field deserves recognition. This means that we did our job at the international level very well. It’s nice to know that you do your job well and it is appreciated by professionals from two countries. The very object of the work – young scientists – also positively assess our efforts, and this is easy to see in their attitude towards us. What distinguishes this award is that it recognizes the success of long-term work in particular. It is one thing to celebrate a specific success at a specific moment, but it is quite another to recognize the high level of work performed day after day for 30 years.

There is a well-known joke that a bullet and a locomotive have about the same energy, but a locomotive develops it over a long time, not just a fraction of a second, and transports people, not the other way around. And which of them is more useful for people?

The significance is not so much in the award itself, but in the understanding that the work we performed just for the sake of enthusiasm turned out to be right and really well done. And this is seen by other people.

Creating humane artificial intelligence

– How interesting has it been for you to work in the framework of international cooperation? What has this experience given you as a research scientist?

– It has been very interesting, so much so that you could consider this to be the main feature of my work as a researcher and teacher all these years. And more than anything, it has given me luxury, the luxury of human communication with a large number of very different and very interesting people.

As for being a scientist, there was a sad joke in the early 90s that Russian scientists have two options – to remain a scientist or to remain Russian, but not at the same time. Those were the times back then. Some people left science, and some left the country, but we were lucky and managed to combine both options. The opportunity to collaborate with German colleagues and the interesting research area within this cooperation together with access to the latest scientific information and computer technology allowed us to remain Russian scientists and develop further. The older generation defended their doctoral (Dr. Sc.) theses and the younger generation defended their PhD theses. Thanks to this, the Department of Systems Analysis and Operations Research has been strengthened and expanded, as have the other departments of the institute. And not only have we managed to combine these elements, but also dozens of our students and postgraduates have done the same. Most of them stayed in the country doing research, and their scientific level is very high. For example, they have repeatedly won prizes at world competitions for the best algorithms to solve complex optimization problems, being ahead of very serious research teams from other countries. They were awarded for the best reports at leading international scientific conferences not only for the best student or youth report, but also in the “overall classification”.

Thanks to collaboration with the Institute of Applied Knowledge Processing of the University of Ulm (FAW-Ulm) in the early 90s, we managed to generalize our approach to optimizing complex systems by building several adaptive stochastic optimization algorithms. This allowed us to solve the very complex and very important problems of choosing effective variants when designing control systems for various assignments. Next, we came up with the idea of self-adaptive stochastic optimization algorithms which do not require in the optimization process the participation of an expert. And this allowed us to expand significantly the range of problems to be solved and decision-making specialists using our methods. Well, then everything started going very quickly and efficiently. By the turn of the century, we had begun working on the computer-aided design of machine learning technologies and on artificial intelligence in general, and by the year 2020, works had been written on the design of cyber-physical systems and the Internet of things. Now we are working along current global trends on the implementation of “humane” artificial intelligence (do not get me wrong). We are developing algorithms to automatically generate systems of “artificial” (in fact, computational) intelligence that would be understandable to humans and would not violate the rules of humanity (whatever that means) and much more from this area.

I cannot say that we achieved this solely thanks to the partnership with our German colleagues but we would not have reached this level without them.

– The vast majority of the winning projects were from the humanities, and only a couple, including yours, were from the technical sphere. Why is there such a trend?

– It is unlikely that artificial intelligence technologies can be called a “technical” field in the full sense of the word. Yes, among the winners there are only two projects from this currently very fashionable area: our project and the one of our colleagues from Novosibirsk State University (‘Globalization of the summer school for computer science and artificial intelligence’). But it goes without saying that the vast majority of the winning projects were from the humanities. A significant number of the winning projects (9) were related to the natural sciences, meaning they were neither technical nor from the humanities. But there were also four technical ones beside ours and the one from Novosibirsk. There were eight entirely humanities-based projects. And three more were multidisciplinary, including a wide range of areas. So, the humanities-based winning projects constituted a little less than one third and not the overwhelming majority. But you are right saying that there are a disproportionately large quantity of projects related to the humanities, more than this field’s share of science as a whole in Russia. And I can explain it. The humanities are very advanced in Germany, and there are a lot of students, scientists and researchers in this field. Proportionally, there are significantly more of them among scientists than there are in Russia. They are of interest to their Russian counterparts and vice versa. Any collaboration or cultural interaction between these scientists is far more harmonious than among professionals in natural sciences or technical disciplines. Cooperation between them is much more intensive and therefore successful from the point of view of the international expert commission.

The luxury of human communication

– Is the language barrier a problem for the exact sciences?

– It is not a problem at all. If people want to communicate, they will do it. And from the point of view of terminology and understanding of scientific subtleties, it is not a problem either. I think humanities scholars need to know foreign languages much better right at the initial stages of partnership when the accuracy involved in understanding scientific problems depends on the combination of words and intonation. And this is easier in the exact and technical sciences. There are no serious problems in professional communication if you organize your activities correctly, though, of course, it is better to know at least one foreign language (English, for example), and even better two (in our case it is German).

When talking about interpersonal communication beyond the scientific and educational fields, the bigger problem (although not as big as some people think) is the difference in mentality, and not linguistic misunderstandings. As they say, we do not understand some things not just because we cannot understand them, but because they do not belong to our concepts. For example, I had a conversation with a German clerk who promised to send an important package to my place of residence. It took me some time to understand why he could not tell me the time when the courier would deliver it. Surely I would not have to stay at home for two days waiting for him! And the clerk could not understand why I needed the exact time since he did not know himself. Only the knowledge of two languages helped me. It turned out that if the courier could not reach me at home, he would just put the package next to the entrance door, where I would find it when I got home. Was he serious?! He was. This is how it works in Germany. At least in relatively small university cities like Ulm, Passau or Aachen.

There was another example. Some German friends asked me anxiously whether the information in their news was correct that the Russian army was preparing for war. I answered that I really hoped so and was happy about it. They were surprised at my words. ‘How can you say that?!’ ‘I really do not understand. From my point of view, any army can be in two states. Either it is at war, or it is preparing for war. If our army is preparing for war, it means that it is not fighting, which is good. And if your army is not fighting, what is it doing if not preparing for war?’ ‘Ah, that is what you are talking about. You had us thinking… What strange logic you have.’ ‘Why is it strange?  I guess it is quite logical, is it not?’ And this is not a language barrier, but a mental one. Our mentality is that if you want peace, you should be preparing for war, even though you are not going to attack anyone. The German one is different: If you want peace, look for common interests and negotiate. And this is the main thing – you need to communicate more in order to better understand each other. It does not matter how well you know the language. Spoiler alert: but it is better to know foreign languages as well as possible. It really helps.

– What would you personally consider to be the main achievements of your project? Can you assess the significance of the project for our university?

– The main personal achievement is 30 years of communication with many interesting people, or in order words, the luxury of human communication. This would not have happened without this partnership. I am referring not only to German or other overseas colleagues and partners, but also to Russian participants in this 30-year long process. If not for this partnership, we would not have been able to work together and communicate with many Russians. The same students and postgraduates would have just studied, got their degrees and left. As it is, they are now both colleagues and friends. Please, read our newspaper Gorizont for the past year! Together with our colleagues, we even created a research institute, the Siberian Institute of Applied Systems Analysis named after our teacher Alexander Nikolaevich Antamoshkin.

I think our partnership is also important for the university, at least in terms of training staff. If we take teachers, students and postgraduates who have worked in this partnership, there are three people who have defended their doctoral theses (Dr.Sc.) before and immediately after the age of 40 (all three are still working at our university), and 25 people have defended their PhD theses at the age of 23-25 (most of which also work at our university now. Others have worked here before and now moved to other organizations, and several people work abroad). At the same time, even those who did not participate in international exchanges have also benefited greatly from our cooperation. Problem statements, fields of research, and the important and useful information obtained as a result of the partnership have all influenced them, their early success and promotion.

Without these successful young researchers and teachers, the university would look much weaker in our subject area, which is currently one of the most popular and promising. Of course, I was repeatedly told that anyone can be replaced, that if we had not been there, others would have been there in our place, not worse, and maybe even better. I will not argue. Evidently, these other people are working in another organization now. But this means that we have benefited two organizations at once, both our university and that other organization.

In any case, one of the ten leading scientific schools of our university (‘Evolutionary algorithms for the modelling and optimization of complex systems’) has grown largely due to this Russian-German partnership. In other words, expressed numerically, at least 10% of the scientific and educational success of our entire university can be attributed to our project with the University of Ulm.

Times cannot be chosen

– What of the future? Are you going to continue this work?

– I certainly am, and not just continue, but keep it developing, look for additional opportunities and forms of cooperation, and involve Russian, German and other overseas colleagues. Our IWMMA conference, which will be held in November 2020 for the ninth time and was initially a Russian-German conference between Krasnoyarsk and Ulm, now has regular contributors from Austria, Germany, Slovenia and Finland. Representatives of other countries, such as the Czech Republic and Japan, are also showing interest, not to mention our Russian colleagues from various Russian cities. This year we want to attract our graduates from China. Now they are working at various scientific organizations in China, and we are keen to listen to them.

As for future prospects, they are rather unclear, as they have been over the past 30 years. What were the prospects for the development of international relations in 1990? This was the time when Krasnoyarsk was half closed to foreigners. What were the prospects for employees of Applied Engineering University at the Krasnoyarsk Machine-Building Plant?

But Alexander Nikolaevich Antamoshkin, a professor of the Department of Higher Mathematics, created the Department of Systems Analysis and Operations Research, teaching all disciplines in English ‘in order to quickly include the university in the international scientific and educational community’. And thus the process had started.

– The situation in the world is rather complex at the moment. Is there any risk to your project?

– There is a lot of uncertainty right now. Many things are against us. Even the awards ceremony, which we were supposed to hold together in Berlin, was held separately. The Russians are in Moscow, our German friends are in Berlin, and instead of the documents being presented by the foreign ministers who had signed them, they were handed over by deputy ambassadors.

Everyone is talking about the situation, but what of it? The situation is never simple. But, to paraphrase a famous lyrical song, ‘Our thoughts are pure, our friends are with us, and this means we will see who comes out on top’. Do what you have to do, do it well, and let things go as they go. But, of course, you need to think carefully and in the right way. And you need to know foreign languages. Times cannot be chosen, we live in them and (choose yourself): die, survive, win…

This October one of our Ph.D. students and one master’s student are going on an internship with our partners. The Ph.D. student won a scholarship of the President of the Russian Federation, and the master’s student received support from the Erasmus+ programme. Next February, two master’s students will visit Ulm as exchange students with the Baden-Württemberg Scholarship provided by our partners, and one Ph.D. student will do a research placement with a scholarship of the President of the Russian Federation. So life goes on…

Photo: Doctor of Engineering Sciences Alexander Nikolaevich Antamoshkin (September 25, 1951 – April 25, 2017) was an outstanding scientist and organizer of scientific activity, as well as a professor and laureat of the President of the Russian Federation Prize in the field of education. He was also an Honoured Worker of the Higher School of the Russian Federation, Honorary Worker of Science and Technology of the Russian Federation, winner of three medals of the Russian Federation of Cosmonautics, and founder and leader of Siberia’s largest school of scientific thought on mathematical modelling and optimization of complex systems.

In 1991, Alexander Nikolaevich established and opened the Department of Systems Analysis and Operations Research, which for the first time in the practice of Krasnoyarsk universities began to train specialists in accordance with international standards, including language tuition, and to actively participate in international exchanges of students, PhD students and teachers. To date, dozens of graduates of the department have worked at universities in Russia, Germany, the United States, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland and other countries. Many of them have defended their theses in Russia and in foreign scientific centres. Today, the department has become the most powerful research team in Siberia in the field of systems analysis, control and information processing, and an inexhaustible source of talented young PhD students and doctors of science for universities, enterprises and other organizations of Krasnoyarsk.

Under the leadership of A.N. Antamoshkin, the department created and launched their own system for training elite specialists in the field of systems analysis, control and information processing, which implements individual educational technologies based on the early involvement of students in research activities. Thanks to this system, over 15 years more than 25 PhD theses have been defended by young people aged 23-25, dozens of undergraduates and postgraduates have won prizes from the President of the Russian Federation, the government of the Russian Federation, and the Mayor of Krasnoyarsk. They have also won regional personal scholarships, and have received prestigious awards at international and all-Russian scientific conferences, Olympiads and competitions.

It is difficult to overestimate the contribution of Alexander Antamoshkin to the formation and development of SibSAU (now SibSU) and the improvement of science in Krasnoyarsk. He trained numerous talented students, many of who have long since been doctors of science. His teaching and that of his students has led to a total of over 100 PhDs and more than 15 doctors of engineering, physical and mathematical and economic sciences currently working at the Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science and Technology, at industrial enterprises, in state institutions and universities in Krasnoyarsk and across Russia.

Alexander Antamoshkin had outstanding human qualities, kindness, honesty and justice, and genuine respect for colleagues and students, which complemented his creative abilities, and talent as a researcher and teacher. He left a deep imprint on people’s souls with his good deeds and outstanding achievements in science and education.

In 2017, students and followers of Alexander Antamoshkin created the Siberian Institute of Applied Systems Analysis named after him, in which they continue his work and develop his ideas. The Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science and Technology established the Alexander Nikolaevich Antamoshkin scholarship for outstanding students who achieve significant results in science and study in the field of systems analysis, control and information processing.

‘Youth, science, artificial intelligence: Ulm and Krasnoyarsk – 30 years together’ The essence of the project presented for the competition lies in the long-term partnership between Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science and Technology (Siberian State Aerospace University until 2017) and Ulm University, and is aimed at providing comprehensive support to young scientists thanks to a system of exchanges, internships and two-way scientific supervision that allows new points of growth and centres of excellence to be created in highly promising areas of artificial intelligence. The project solves the problems surrounding the integrated development of the ubiquitous affective AI field, as well as providing the highly effective training of young professionals, capable of finding optimal solutions to problems in the field of artificial intelligence now and in the future.

Related links:

A link to the broadcast of the awarding ceremony for scientists of the S. M.F. Reshetnev at the closing ceremony of the Russian-German Year of Scientific and Educational Partnerships 2018–2020.

The institute project won the competition “Russia and Germany: scientific and educational bridges”

The Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cultural Cooperation presented a diploma for winning the competition “Russia and Germany: scientific and educational bridges” to scientists of the Siberian State University named after M.F. Reshetnev

The awards ceremony for the winners of the open Russian-German competition “Russia and Germany: scientific and educational bridges” will be broadcast on the YouTube channel

Scientists of the Siberian State University named after M.F. Reshetnev are taking part in the closing ceremony of the Russian-German Year of Scientific and Educational Partnerships 2018–2020.