Professor Alan Smeaton reflects on his work with the Irish Research Council

Posted: 17 January, 2018

‘Meet the Council’ is a series of blog posts that will profile each of the twelve board members of the Irish Research Council who give their time and expertise to support our work. The blogs will feature their own background in research and why they #LoveIrishResearch.

My professional background…

I am a Professor of Computing at Dublin City University where I am one of the Founding Directors of a Research Centre on Data Analytics – Insight.  I teach courses at undergraduate and taught master’s levels, and I supervise research projects and PhD students. I used to be the Director of the Insight centre at Dublin City University but stepped down at the end of 2017 after about a decade as I wanted to focus more on research that interests me directly.

I have a background in computer science and the research I do is broadly around multimedia analysis – mainly video and also image. I analyse visual content automatically and I’ve seen great progress from really poor quality in the early 2000s to nowadays where the work we’ve done or contributed to now allows you to find things in pictures and videos on your phone or on the internet in special collections.

The areas I contribute to are machine learning and data analytics, and the applications of image/video analysis. This latter area brings me great satisfaction — from digitising old Irish manuscripts so I could attempt to do word searching based on word shape, to automatic analysis of images from wearable cameras to help people’s memories, analysing neonatal MRI scan images and much more.

The nature of this kind of work is that it involves many collaborations in Ireland and abroad, including: The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US; an Australian Research Centre on digitally enhanced living for the elderly; a US National Institutes of Health project on memory and what makes things memorable or forgetful, and many other examples.

Having carved out some time for my own research, I now concentrate on human memory and how we forget and remember some things and not others.  For years I’ve been building systems that help people find information accurately and quickly, yet half the time people are searching for things they once knew but have forgotten. I’ve never really asked why they forgot in the first place, so I’m focusing on building systems that help people remember, not to plug the gap when they forget.

My work with the Irish Research Council…

I’ve been serving on the Board of the Irish Research Council for seven years and what I like most about the role is encountering instances of great people doing great work which brings great benefits and has great impact. There is huge satisfaction when we hold our Board meetings on University campuses – as we do a few times each year – and we get to meet the PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and academics who are, or have been, funded by the Council or its predecessors. There’s a real buzz in those meetings and we feel proud knowing that we’ve done some good… then I go back to preparing the next lecture for those first-year undergraduate students and it’s down to earth with a bump!

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