In Focus - Issue 29 (Spring 2018)

“It was unlike any other university I had seen,” he recalled. Many of the other faculty members at that time were, like him, starting out on their academic careers. But a tier of eminent senior professors had also been recruited to set a world-class research pace, and to encourage and guide international aspiration among those starting out. “Many of us have built our entire careers here. It was a very collaborative e ort. We were surrounded by top people from whom we could learn.” “It was unlike any other university I had seen. Many of us have built our entire careers here” Learn Prof Shi did, going on to become an internationally renowned explorer in his eld. One current major area of research for Prof Shi and his team is the advancement of the Active E cient Coding framework, which seeks to nd general principles governing the development of biological neural systems, and to develop corresponding algorithms enabling robots to adaptively structure their own behavior without supervision. “When a baby is gestated, new cells are generated and connect largely automatically. These connections continue to evolve a er birth,” Prof Shi said. “My research is focused on the principles that allow these connections to develop.” A particular applied focus for the Shi Lab is vision. Not only are the researchers seeking to assist autonomous machines to see but to respond to what they see, just as a human would. This perception-action cycle is a key part of enabling a machine to adapt to changes in its environment as it recognizes the importance of active interaction, a tting area for a triathlete such as Prof Shi. “Passivity doesn’t require intelligence,” he said. “Intelligence is intimately tied to physical activity. I don’t see a separation between mind and body. They are intimately connected.” A second area of interest is exploiting models of human behavior and emotion recognition in developing human-machine interfaces that can anticipate and adapt to user needs. As an educator, Prof Shi has also dedicated himself to the cutting edge. His co-designed System View of Communications course was one of the rst o ered under HKUST’s credit-bearing Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) initiative, opening out the University’s education to learners worldwide. Within the department, he sees more blended learning – combining face-to-face learning and online activities – playing a larger part in the future. HKUST and the School of Engineering are now ranked among the world’s best, even though less than three decades old (see P ). For Prof Shi, the freedom to explore as a researcher and teacher, the drive for excellence, and camaraderie of colleagues, drawn together in a collective endeavor to put HKUST on the map globally, have all played their part in such a meteoric rise. And made his individual career a ful lling one. “Engineering design is about how to nd the right place to put a particular component and how to connect it,” he said. “If you think of yourself as a component in this world, when you nd the right place to connect, the right people to connect with, and the right ways to contribute, that is the best measure of success.” 17 IN FOCUS Day and night : the stunning HKUST campus that fosters creativity.