Recruit Institute of Technology. Interview with Alon Halevy
” A revolution will happen when tools like Siri can truly serve as your personal assistant and you start relying on such an assistant throughout your day. To get there, these systems need more knowledge about your life and preferences, more knowledge about the world, better conversational interfaces and at least basic commonsense reasoning capabilities. We’re still quite far from achieving these goals.”–Alon Halevy
I have interviewed Alon Halevy, CEO at Recruit Institute of Technology.
Q1. What is the mission of the Recruit Institute of Technology?
Alon Halevy: Before I describe the mission, I should introduce our parent company Recruit Holdings to those who may not be familiar with it. Recruit (founded in 1960), is a leading “life-style” information services and human resources company in Japan with services in the areas of recruitment, advertising, employment placement, staffing, education, housing and real estate, bridal, travel, dining, beauty, automobiles and others. The company is currently expanding worldwide and operates similar businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia. In terms of size, Recruit has over 30,000 employees and its revenues are similar to those of Facebook at this point in time.
The mission of R.I.T is threefold. First, being the lab of Recruit Holdings, our goal is to develop technologies that improve the products and services of our subsidiary companies and create value for our customers from the vast collections of data we have. Second, our mission is to advance scientific knowledge by contributing to the research community through publications in top-notch venues. Third, we strive to use technology for social good. This latter goal may be achieved through contributing to open-source software, working on digital artifacts that would be of general use to society, or even working with experts in a particular domain to contribute to a cause.
Q2. Isn`t similar to the mission of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence?
Alon Halevy: The Allen Institute is a non-profit whose admirable goal is to make fundamental contributions to Artificial Intelligence. While R.I.T strives to make fundamental contributions to A.I and related areas such as data management, we plan to work closely with our subsidiary companies and to impact the world through their products.
Q3. Driverless cars, digital Personal Assistants (e.g. Siri), Big Data, the Internet of Things, Robots: Are we on the brink of the next stage of the computer revolution?
Alon Halevy: I think we are seeing many applications in which AI and data (big or small) are starting to make a real difference and affecting people’s lives. We will see much more of it in the next few years as we refine our techniques. A revolution will happen when tools like Siri can truly serve as your personal assistant and you start relying on such an assistant throughout your day. To get there, these systems need more knowledge about your life and preferences, more knowledge about the world, better conversational interfaces and at least basic commonsense reasoning capabilities. We’re still quite far from achieving these goals.
Q4. You were for more than 10 years senior staff research scientist at Google, leading the Structured Data Group in Google Research. Was it difficult to leave Google?
Alon Halevy: It was extremely difficult leaving Google! I struggled with the decision for quite a while, and waving goodbye to my amazing team on my last day was emotionally heart wrenching. Google is an amazing company and I learned so much from my colleagues there. Fortunately, I’m very excited about my new colleagues and the entrepreneurial spirit of Recruit.
One of my goals at R.I.T is to build a lab with the same culture as that of Google and Google Research. So in a sense, I’m hoping to take Google with me. Some of my experiences from a decade at Google that are relevant to building a successful research lab are described in a blog post I contributed to the SIGMOD blog in September, 2015.
Q5. What is your vision for the next three years for the Recruit Institute of Technology?
Alon Halevy: I want to build a vibrant lab with world-class researchers and engineers. I would like the lab to become a world leader in the broad area of making data usable, which includes data discovery, cleaning, integration, visualization and analysis.
In addition, I would like the lab to build collaborations with disciplines outside of Computer Science where computing techniques can make an even broader impact on society.
Q6. What are the most important research topics you intend to work on?
Alon Halevy: One of the roadblocks to applying AI and analysis techniques more widely within enterprises is data preparation.
Before you can analyze data or apply AI techniques to it, you need to be able to discover which datasets exist in the enterprise, understand the semantics of a dataset and its underlying assumptions, and to combine disparate datasets as needed. We plan to work on the full spectrum of these challenges with the goal of enabling many more people in the enterprise to explore their data.
Recruit being a lifestyle company, another fundamental question we plan to investigate is whether technology can help people make better life decisions. In particular, can technology help you take into consideration many factors in your life as you make decisions and steer you towards decisions that will make you happier over time. Clearly, we’ll need more than computer scientists to even ask the right questions here.
Q7. If we delegate decisions to machines, who will be responsible for the consequences? What are the ethical responsibilities of designers of intelligent systems?
Alon Halevy: You got an excellent answer from Oren Etzioni to this question in a recent interview. I agree with him fully and could not say it any better than he did.
Qx Anything you wish to add?
Alon Halevy: Yes. We’re hiring! If you’re a researcher or strong engineer who wants to make real impact on products and services in the fascinating area of lifestyle events and decision making, please consider R.I.T!
Alon Halevy is the Executive Director of the Recruit Institute of Technology. From 2005 to 2015 he headed the Structured Data Management Research group at Google. Prior to that, he was a professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he founded the Database Group. In 1999, Dr. Halevy co-founded Nimble Technology, one of the first companies in the Enterprise Information Integration space, and in 2004, Dr. Halevy founded Transformic, a company that created search engines for the deep web, and was acquired by Google.
Dr. Halevy is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2000, and was a Sloan Fellow (1999-2000). Halevy is the author of the book “The Infinite Emotions of Coffee”, published in 2011, and serves on the board of the Alliance of Coffee Excellence.
He is also a co-author of the book “Principles of Data Integration”, published in 2012.
Dr. Halevy received his Ph.D in Computer Science from Stanford University in 1993 and his Bachelors from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
– Civility in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by STEVE LOHR, technology reporter for The New York Times, ODBMS.org
–The threat from AI is real, but everyone has it wrong, by Robert Munro, CEO Idibon, ODBMS.org
– On Artificial Intelligence and Society. Interview with Oren Etzioni, ODBMS Industry Watch.
– On Big Data and Society. Interview with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, ODBMS Industry Watch.
Follow us on Twitter: @odbmsorg