IBM Fellow aims for a practical goal in risk management

Whether it's developing intelligent systems to help businesses make better decisions or working out how to turn a bunch of humanoid robots into a champion soccer team, Xun Wang likes his research to have a practical focus.

That's made him an ideal candidate – the only one in Australia this year – for a prestigious IBM PhD Fellowship.

The UTS doctoral student, from the Centre for Quantum Computation and Intelligent Systems in the Faculty of Engineering and IT, has been chosen from about 400 applicants worldwide for a program that puts the emphasis on problem solving.

Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technologist for IBM Australia and New Zealand, Glenn Wightwick, said the "intensely competitive" fellowship program honoured exceptional PhD students working on problems of interest to IBM and fundamental to innovation in many academic disciplines and areas of study.

"We have received applications from outstanding candidates at universities all over the world in areas including computer science and engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering, the physical sciences, mathematical sciences, business sciences and management," Mr Wightwick said.

In the third year of his PhD, Xun is working on a joint UTS-University of Sydney ARC Discovery project on treasury risk management, supervised by Professor Mary-Anne Williams.

"My research centres on using artificial intelligence to capture management information and model risk more effectively – certainly a priority interest for IBM," Xun said. "The goal is an intelligent advisory application that can model a company or organisation and its environment.

"Dealing with various risks in a consistent manner is very difficult and laborious in complex and dynamic environments such as the foreign exchange market.

"I'm drawing on AI research in uncertainty management to develop intelligent software tools and agents to improve risk management in decision making in uncertain and dynamic environments.

"Computer applications for managing finances are now commonplace, the next step is intelligent information systems to manage resources and business decision making.

"I spent quite a few years in industry doing programming and wanted to do something practical with a real-world application," Xun said.

Professor Williams said Xun had a strong track record of success in developing software solutions for complex problems in both industry and academic settings.

"The ARC project that Xun has been working on has developed an agent-oriented FX prototype system using NASA's Open Agent Architecture and Xun intends exploring the use of IBM's streaming technology SPADE to develop new methods to measure risk on the fly as large volumes of complex data streams are processed," she said.

Xun with one of the team's new Nao humanoid robots

That problem-solving talent is also finding its outlet in the joint effort by UTS and the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) to be the team to beat at the 2010 Robo Cup in Singapore in June.

Xun is the UTS development leader for WrightEagleUnleashed!, a continuation of a scientific partnership forged over the past few years between USTC and UTS.

In 2008 the universities united their four-legged soccer teams (Sony Aibo robots) and placed second in competition. This year academics and students are working feverishly to prepare a new team of French-made Nao robots for the Standard Platform League.

Only seemingly for fun, the Robo Cup has been a driver for research and development since the international competition kicked off in 1997.

Xun said that in the Standard Platform League the hardware limitations spurred creativity in the development of autonomous teamwork and strategy, with potential applications far wider than kicking a ball.

The UTS-IBM connection is also in evidence on the robo soccer field, with Glenn Wightwick being a part of the WrightEagleUnleashed! team.

Xun's IBM Fellowship will grant him a stipend for the academic year 2010-2011 and will match him with an IBM Mentor in his field.