‘My Time at HSE Was a Turning Point’
HSE master’s programme alumni and an HSE doctoral student received an international Catalyst Grant from Digital Science in support of the development of their startup, MLprior, a service for researchers and scientists. HSE News Service spoke with Vladislav Ishimtsev, one of the startup creators, about the biggest ‘thorns’ in researchers’ sides, artificial intelligence, and the possibility of a machine uprising.
The MLprior Startup Team
Pavel Shvechikov, master’s programme alumnus, current doctoral student, invited lecturer, HSE University
Denis Volkhonsky, master’s programme alumnus, HSE University; doctoral student, Skoltech
Vladislav Ishimtsev, master’s programme alumnus, HSE University; doctoral student, Skoltech
Nikita Klyuchnikov, doctoral student, Skoltech
Vladislav has ‘conquered’ more than one university: in 2015, he received his bachelor’s degree from Bauman University (Moscow), and two years later he earned his master’s degree in computer science from HSE University. Now he is pursuing a PhD at Skoltech. According to Vladislav, the master’s programme in computer science at HSE played a big role in his life. ‘I started taking HSE courses on the Coursera platform while still studying at Bauman, which, of course, gave me invaluable programming skills and a good knowledge of mathematics. HSE courses impressed me, so I decided to do my master’s studies there. My time here was a turning point: I developed a lot of practical skills and made a lot of useful acquaintances.’
Vladislav and his classmate Denis Volkhonsky particularly liked the way in which the curriculum of HSE’s master’s programme was organized. The programme allows students to choose their own minors and engage in serious research. It was at HSE that Vladislav immersed himself in research, in particular in the field of artificial intelligence, under the supervision of Evgeny Burnaev, who taught at the Faculty of Computer Science at the time.
The development of artificial intelligence is part of the field of computer science that deals with special intelligent computer systems. These systems can perform functions that are traditionally thought of as only being achievable by the human brain: understanding languages, recognizing colours and pictures, solving problems, etc.
While studying AI properties, Vladislav and Denis became interested in investment and the securities market. So, in 2017, their first startup idea was born – a service that predicts stock prices based on current news.
‘The project did not work out,’ Vladislav admits. ‘We created a prototype: the system worked on synthetic data, but not on real data with existing quotes. The securities market, especially the Russian one, is very specific. It would have taken us at least a year to debug the system.’
Over time, the students realized that they should try something that hits closer to home. They decided to create a service that would appeal to a target audience like them—researchers. ‘We surveyed our colleagues, and almost everyone complained about the difficulties of writing articles,’ says Vladislav. ‘We recorded their answers and identified five basic needs of researchers. It so happened that we, akin to psychologists, identified the most common ‘thorn’ in every researcher’s side — writing articles.’
The idea of a service for researchers formed the basis of the Catalyst Grant international grant application. At the end of September they learned that their project has placed in the top three.
The Catalyst Grant is an international initiative to support startups helping researchers. The grant, which amounts to 25,000 pounds (or about $30,000), is awarded by Digital Science, a British company. This year the prize fund was divided between three winners: a company from Ukraine, a Greek-British project, and MLprior.
With the grant earnings, they students have been able to continue working on the startup and researching what the service should be able to do. An ideal service, Vladislav explains, will allow researchers not to waste time ‘packaging’ their research idea. With the service, all the researcher will have to do is formulate the idea, describe the experiments, and upload the results. The AI will take this information and form it into a complete scientific article.
By the end of the year, the authors of the project plan to have identified and tested several hypotheses, and in 2020, they plan to introduce a working product to the world. According to Vladislav, the testing stage of the idea is the most important, because it is very easy to make a product that no one will need. ‘If we find what the researchers need, then in a month it will be possible to use the service.’
In almost all areas, for the successful application of artificial intelligence, it is necessary to collect a large amount of data, explains Vladislav. Based on the information received, intelligent systems analyze how a person makes a decision and try to generalize his experience. For example, artificial intelligence can already check ads on online marketplaces and not publish those that contain prohibited information (selling organs, weapons, or pornography, for example). This reduces the moderation time of ads and reduces the use of human resources.
Over time, AI will be able to perform almost all the tasks thought of as only being achievable by humans. But it will not take away jobs. Rather, existing professions will be replaced by new ones. Artificial intelligence (like the introduction of the conveyor belt and the modernization of production at the beginning of the last century) is the next stage of evolution, and not the end of humanity, says Vladislav. You don’t need to be afraid of a ‘machine uprising’ like those portrayed so realistically by film directors. ‘Of course, there’s no such thing as a system without any bugs, and at some point a bug can become a feature [a special programme function – editor’s note], which could lead to our losing control. But the likelihood of this kind of scenario is negligible,’ says the founder of the researcher startup.
People just need to get used to AI. For example, are you willing to get into self-driving taxi, with no driver behind the wheel?
AI is now used to optimize production, control cars, and fight crime. But the biggest investment is in medicine. And this is the trend all over the world.
Russia does not lead in the use of AI – the reason for this, according to Vladislav, is a lack of funding and an outdated education system.
Vladislav advises anyone who dreams of changing the world with artificial intelligence to study linear algebra for a deep understanding of neural networks. In addition, you need the ability to communicate: interacting with colleagues and like-minded people helps you learn and achieve much more than embarking upon a research journey by yourself.
Of the original 300 students enrolled in doctoral programmes set to graduate this year, only 126 reached the final stage of the process—the dissertation defence. While congratulating the recent class of graduates, HSE Vice Rector Vyacheslav Bashev noted that such a large attrition rate testifies to the seriousness of those who have made it to graduation. ‘Though many of you work, you continue to invest in yourselves intellectually,’ he said.
Alina Pertseva, who earned her PhD in Philosophy from the Doctoral School of Philosophy at HSE in 2017, defended her dissertation at two universities at once — HSE and the University of Paris VIII. In an interview with the HSE news service, Pertseva discussed how she managed to do this and how the Russian and French approaches to research differ.
On September 11, Ivan Smirnov, graduate of the HSE Institute of Education doctoral programme, defended his Candidate of Sciences (Education) on ‘Differentiation of students by academic performance in a social network’. His thesis consists of four articles which had been published in academic journals, as well as a description of the study methods, design and main outcomes.
A new English-taught PhD track in Educational Measurement and Testing has been launched by the HSE Institute of Education. It is the only programme of its kind in Russia and most European countries. International students can apply for Russian government scholarships until March 31, 2018. General application round is from August 1 until September 14.
After Two Master’s Degrees in India and Norway, Indian Student Chooses HSE for Doctoral Studies in Political Science
Ashish Kumar Singh hails from a place called Raebareli, a city of about 3,000,000 people located in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He recently joined the doctoral programme in Political Science at HSE, a decision he says was motivated by discussions he had with a professor from HSE who was visiting the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in New Delhi
Applications are now being accepted for HSE doctoral programmes. The 2018 procedure is similar to that used by many international universities: exams can be sat online and in English, and HSE can now confer its own academic degrees. Sergey Roshchin, HSE Vice Rector, told the HSE News Service about how the procedure has changed.
Ekaterina Vasilevskaya is a second year student on the full-time advanced doctoral programme, and also a visiting lecturer at HSE. Since 2016, she has participated in the 'Health Literacy and Its Impact on Weight-Related Behaviors in College Students’ research project at Florida International University, USA. In her interview for the Doctoral School of Psychology, Ekaterina spoke about being admitted to the HSE doctoral programme, and her studies.
New regulations simplifying admissions to HSE’s doctoral programmes have been approved. The procedure includes two application waves that consider personal achievements, and offers more opportunities for those who speak foreign languages. Vice Rector Sergey Roshchin told us more about the changes.
Doctoral schools provide an opportunity for international doctoral students to undertake part of their study or research at HSE. The university offers two types of traineeships – research and study. The study stay involves taking courses from the HSE doctoral schools. The research stay offers the opportunity to work with a particular academic advisor or at an international research laboratory or centre; gain access to international full-text and abstract databases, journals and books; and attend graduate seminars.