This year’s ELLIS PhD Award goes to two young exceptional machine learning researchers from universities in Denmark and Germany: Pepa Atanasova from the University of Copenhagen and Robert Geirhos from the University of Tübingen each receive 2,500 euros for their outstanding dissertations in the field of modern AI. The award is sponsored by the Kühborth Stiftung GmbH and recognizes outstanding PhD students and their research achievements.
Any European dissertation in the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning-related fields (including computer vision and robotics) can be nominated for the annual award. The dissertation is then reviewed by a committee of renowned scientists for technical depth, the significance of the research contribution and the potential impact on theory and practice. This year, the work of Pepa Atanasova and Robert Geirhos stood out in particular.
Pepa Atanasova (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
Dissertation: ‘Accountable and Explainable Methods for Complex Reasoning over Text’
Entrusting machines with the responsibility of performing complex reasoning tasks such as fact-checking makes it imperative that we understand how they arrive at their conclusions. The publications in Pepa Atanasova’s thesis collectively contribute to advancing the state of the art of accountable and transparent machine learning for complex reasoning over text. The methodological contributions of the thesis in the area of accountability enable the automated generation of challenge and adversarial datasets revealing important insights about models' flaws and capabilities.
In the area of explainability, the most noteworthy scientific outcomes include the proposed novel task of generating free-text explanations for fact checking predictions together with the first method for the task. Finally, the thesis contributes with explainability diagnostics, which are further optimized in the generated explanations, thus improving explanation quality.
“Receiving the ELLIS PhD Award is both humbling and inspiring, and I am deeply grateful for the support of the ELLIS community! This recognition fuels my motivation to delve deeper into the accountability and transparency of machine learning models, crucial for ensuring responsible progress in the future”, says the 31-year old researcher.
Robert Geirhos (University of Tübingen, Germany)
Dissertation: ‘To err is human? A functional comparison of human and machine decision-making’
Do machines see the world like humans? Robert Geirhos’ interdisciplinary dissertation pioneered quantitative analysis methods for comparing human and machine perception. His research has challenged widespread assumptions about how machines see the world and led to the following insights: Machine learning models recognize objects by their texture (rather than by shape like humans), they often exploit simple shortcuts instead of learning the intended solution, and they make very different errors compared to humans.
Despite these differences, the gap between human and machine vision is steadily narrowing - a development that can be tracked using the Open Source benchmarks developed in this thesis. By stress-testing the limits and biases of machine learning models, Robert Geirhos' dissertation underscores the critical importance of understanding how machines perceive the world around us.
“I’m deeply honored to receive the ELLIS PhD award and grateful to my advisors and collaborators - most importantly Felix Wichmann, Matthias Bethge and Wieland Brendel - for their support and mentorship”, says the 29-year old award winner who now works at Google DeepMind in Toronto.
“It is amazing to see how many strong PhDs are defended every year in Europe. It is a great pleasure and honor to be part of the selection process of the ELLIS PhD Award. I sincerely congratulate Pepa and Robert for receiving this prestigious award. I would also like to thank Pascal Frossard (EPFL) for heading this year’s award committee”, says Bernt Schiele, overseeing the selection process for the ELLIS PhD Award.
About the winners
Learn more about Pepa Atanasova and her research here.
Learn more about Robert Geirhos and his research here.
About the Kühborth Stiftung GmbH
Kühborth Stiftung GmbH is a foundation established by Dr. Dipl.-Ing. Wolfgang Kühborth and his wife Helga Kühborth to promote research and teaching in the fields of natural, technical and economic sciences. By sponsoring the ELLIS PhD Award, the Kühborth Stiftung aims to support advances in artificial intelligence, to promote academic excellence, and to propagate the European idea.
Learn more about the award and the nomination process here. The next nomination deadline is on April 15, 2024.
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