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‘My Time at HSE Was a Turning Point’

‘My Time at HSE Was a Turning Point’

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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.’

© Photo courtesy of Vladislav Ishimtsev

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.

© Photo courtesy of Vladislav Ishimtsev

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.

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