About Rewarding IEEE Volunteering with Cumulative Activity Reward Points

IEEE exists and prospers thanks to its legions of volunteers who are passionate about the technology and help in fulfilling The Institute’s mission. They serve as committee members for Societies, Councils, Chapter and Sections chairs, reviewers for journals and our conferences, conference committee members and chairs, associate editors and Editors-in-Chief for its 186 premier journals and many other roles. Their numbers are certainly in tens of thousands at any given time.

This novel idea of cumulative activity reward points is embraces the concept that active, long-term volunteers can achieve higher status and/or honors, like Premier Gold members, distinguished reviewers, lifetime Premier members and alike. I believe this idea is worthwhile, especially as IEEE is both governed and driven by an extraordinary community of volunteers who certainly not only deserve respect but also recognition. They are The Institute’s most precious resource and since the technology advances so fast, this scarce resource is in high demand. Our volunteers, however, derive no other benefits than their personal satisfaction from championing technologies and serving the IEEE mission they are passionate about.

Our present reward system is largely based on Certificates of Appreciation that are awarded for volunteering in specific roles and for a specific time period. In addition, we have a number of service awards. But in general, the IEEE recognition system tends to reward current or recent activities. In contrast, the Cumulative Rewards System would be more cumulative rather than rewarding a volunteer role for a specific period. I would favor such new reward system. However, I’d prefer that no financial benefits be attached to the higher grade status.

Is there a Need to Improve Collaboration between IEEE Societies, Councils and Standards?

In fulfilling its mission of advancing technology, IEEE technical activities are primarily pursued within 46 technical Societies and Councils (S/C) with additional support from Standards Association and geographical units grouped in 336 Sections. The vertical organization of IEEE Technical Activities follows the dividing lines defined by the technical fields of interest of Societies and Councils. The divides are natural and reflect the breadth of IEEE’s technology portfolio.

While each of the S/Cs advances different technology defined in its field of interest, such as communications, computers, power and energy, robotics and automation to name a few, the S/Cs’ tasks typically overlap. These include actual technical activities, membership and community development, events and conferences, standards development, educational/career services, and development of resources for industry professionals. Despite overlapping activities, however, joint S/C ventures are typically limited only to co-sponsored journals and conferences.

If elected President, I will encourage cross-S/C and Standards collaborations since they’re economically more efficient and consume less volunteer resources. They also promote mutual sharing of best practices. Whether they’re one-year or multiyear projects, such partnerships would require joint funding of inter-S/C projects. Pooling volunteer talent from across the units will follow. S/C volunteer leaders could develop such joint ventures through more frequent consultations, and cross-pollination of their boards, especially if their fields of interest are closely related.

Why AI Ethics is an Urgent Social Problem?

My experience with AI and Machine Learning: Being one of the pioneers of this technology that I first have exploited in my MSc Thesis, I have been actively contributing to it for about four decades. In fact, my classic text “Introduction to Neural Networks” was the first comprehensive engineering text of the field and I have received my IEEE Fellow Grade in 1996 for this particular contribution.

Now, two decades later, with a recently added paradigm of Deep Learning (DL), neural networks can do amazing and innovative pattern recognition on a much larger scale. All of it is based on extending the powers and architectures of the classic perceptron by equipping it with true multi-layer learning capabilities and, simultaneously, by harnessing the new powers of unsupervised learning in the existing architectures. These networks with thousands of units per layer can do great recognition tasks, such as tagging your picture with your name among millions of other pictures. They can identify road signs, cars and traffic patterns which will soon lead to a disruptive technology of self-driving cars.

Ethical Concerns: Progress in AI is bringing increasing societal benefits in human-computer interaction, transportation, and robotics and intelligent systems. As AI becomes entwined in the fabric of life with applications in smart homes, health care, social services, and the environment, the public expectation is that these technologies will be secure, safe, and transparent. Ethical concerns in AI are quickly gaining importance due to its so rapid growth and disruptive nature.

And here lies a great difficulty. We can guarantee these machines to have no worse performance than us, humans on comparable tasks on one side. However, their understandability and their ability to explain for their decision is one of the greatest technical AI challenge. For the time being I believe we will have to take the AI outputs at their face value without asking questions, as there would be no answers. The answers from neural networks are so intertwined that they become practically worthless. For more details how to get the most information out of the AI machines, please see my 2015 and 2016 papers in IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks.

AI in Ethics and IEEE: As an important contributor to AI-based technologies, IEEE must be a key player in this area. Further, we need to work with policy makers to support regulations that protect the public. We need to support understanding and discourse about AI. One important aspect is to upgrade the intellectual property rights laws to account for new developments in AI as the characteristics of the AI are very novel.

In 2016 IEEE has launched the Ethically Aligned Design Initiative and I’m very supportive of its initial findings. If elected 2020 IEEE President I will embrace and champion its recommendations expected to be published later this year.

On What it Means to be President

The President of IEEE has to play a triple role: of a volunteer, of a leader, and of someone who understands the mission of the organization that is quite complex, unique and operates on the forefront of the technological progress – because it leads the very progress by pushing the technology’s growth.

About volunteering: I think volunteering for a profession to be a meaningful and gratifying experience. When I am donating my professional skills to a good cause, I demonstrate a commitment to a community that has shaped me as I am. Volunteering also gives me an opportunity to return to the profession that has given me so much. This way I can share my skills and enthusiasm in order to have an impact, and at the same time I can make a difference.

My motivation here is fully altruistic except for one aspect. I derive a personal satisfaction from serving goals that I am passionate about. When volunteering for IEEE, I always feel the trust, collegiality, and professionalism of the organization, and of the people who I work with. It’s probably because we are all motivated by the goals that we all believe in. It feels as though IEEE volunteers share a connected mind as we are all dedicated to working for the common good.

About leadership: Effective leadership is about establishing a shared vision by a leader who can encourage others to follow. This can be done in many ways such as by energizing others to follow great goals and by lowering the barriers to do things while sharing the vision. An important attribute of a leader is effective communication. Communication to be credible, however, must rely on trust and mutual respect and, in my opinion, has to be followed by the leader’s passion and a degree of charisma. Effective communication skills in addition to speaking, writing and presenting includes also effective and active listening.

About leading IEEE: The aspect of volunteering and leading is different from general volunteering because it requires a special set of skills and experience. When I think about how to be a leader of a large organization such as the IEEE, I often think of the special attributes that I feel a leader must have. In my order of priority, a leader must be:

  • passionate and knowledgeable about the organization
  • forward-thinking and ready to take a reasonable risk
  • able to identify and understand critical directions that are vital for the organization’s success
  • ready to propose new initiatives that the organization should pursue
  • able to understand the process and timeline of how to get financial and grass-root support for these initiatives

An important job for a leader of a membership-based organization such as the IEEE is to keep the a balance between the services that our members are expecting to receive from the IEEE and the investment expenditures that the organization requires to succeed in the future. This is akin to balancing the current consumption levels with future investments, a dilemma that most families or businesses face and IEEE is no different.

However, IEEE as an organization that leads the advancement of technology, must constantly operate on its cutting edge. And we can’t champion the technology effectively if our operations are not using the most modern infrastructures available today, at this information age. To use an example: since our strength is in building the intellectual property and advancement of technology, we should plan to deliver to our members and subscribers more knowledge as opposed to providing them with the classic information. The classic information is formatted as traditional papers and it does not answer questions that a reader might have. If we provide our IP users/members with the knowledge and answers to their questions, or if a design or algorithm is recommended, this will be of more value than purely traditional papers. This is akin to what search engines can do today for standard internet content and I believe the IEEE can do so as well through the use of a discovery platform and data analytics.

My Top Two Priorities as IEEE President

My flagship/signature project will be to embrace advances in AI to help transform IEEE from today’s traditional technical ‘paper provider’ to a ‘knowledge provider.’ The way the existing IEEE knowledge base (IEEE Explore) of over 4.5 million+ papers and standards is organized doesn’t fit well the needs of engineers, scientists and researchers. Today, instead of offering users the knowledge, we provide them very traditional, raw information formatted as ‘papers.’ Text analytics and knowledge discovery tools can turn this ever-growing collection of documents into a much more valuable, customized resource. This way we will deliver personalized bits of knowledge such as directly applicable algorithms, design solutions, data, codes, engineering methods that meet users’ expectations. This will meet expectation both of the academics and also of industry practitioners.

My second priority will be to better respond to the needs of all segments of members, especially industry practitioners and underserved/underrepresented communities of young professionals and women. Our products, services, and educational offerings have to be more relevant to their jobs and career aspirations. I will focus on providing members in the industry with information through topical industry resource centers. Such centers with a single point of entry will help them find quality technical information quickly and in addition they allow them to continue their education, aiding to their lifelong career growth.

Support of IEEE Members in Academia

With more than 4 million documents in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, our members in academia need better, more intelligent tools to retrieve knowledge in addition to accessing traditional papers, titles and abstracts. Our members would benefit from productivity tools that use data analytics and are able to answer a technical question or recommend a design or algorithm to fit their specifications. While this goal may appear somewhat distant, it’s important to realize that five years ago we could not make inquiries with a smartphone and get instant answers, as we do today. I will lead IEEE in the direction of offering better search tools for research and design. 

Our members in academia would also benefit from quick information exchange, especially in emerging technologies. As we nurture communities working in new technical areas, IEEE needs to continue to expand our support for sharing technical information and for networking. This includes facilitating inexpensive web-based workshops and conferences.

Working with Editors and Authors

IEEE’s periodicals are considered a hallmark of technical excellence. I feel privileged to have served as an editor-in-chief of one of our transactions and later as chair of three committees: Transactions, Periodicals, and Periodicals Review. Our authors and readers justifiably expect a shorter submission-to-publication time. Realizing these needs, as vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, I launched the “train-the-trainer” workshops aimed at continuous recruitment and training of reviewers and associate editors. In addition, if elected President, I will work with editors on publishing reproducible research that connects to data repositories. I will also promote editorial policies that increase article relevance for industry practitioners and embrace non-traditional works dealing with the impact of technology on society.

Reasons to Join IEEE and Memorable Moments as a Member

I joined IEEE more than 30 years ago because of my fascination with the profession. My membership opened up abundant opportunities for participation in conferences and publishing, and engaging with Societies and Boards. All of this has encouraged me to continue to contribute. I want to give back to the profession that has given me so much.

Volunteering for IEEE has afforded me many memorable experiences because I have always felt the trust, collegiality, and professionalism of the organization. One of my favorite events is certainly the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony, which validates the societal impact of the technologies we champion. The ceremony highlights the ways in which we touch peoples’ lives as we advance technology for humanity.

Living in Europe: there is but ONE engineering profession

My experience with moving from Europe to the United States in the 1980s demonstrated that there is one engineering profession no matter where you go. Since we all speak the same language, my transition from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, to the University of Louisville, Kentucky, went smoothly. Furthermore, working for three years in Asia exposed me to non-Western cultures and taught me that the global diversity of IEEE is one of its most powerful assets. IEEE offers a common platform to contribute to the profession and to help members advance their careers regardless of their address.

Having said this, I will strive to provide equal opportunity to current and future members from underprivileged or underrepresented groups. This includes women, students and young professionals, and those who hope for professional growth in less advanced economies.

Why Should IEEE Members Vote for Me?

IEEE is a multifaceted, global organization that needs a President with a unique set of leadership, technical vision, and people skills. As a Life Fellow who has held top IEEE leadership positions on three major boards, chaired six TAB committees, and was a society president, I believe I have the vision, knowledge, and experience to take the leading role. I communicate well, form partnerships, and support innovation.

I had multicultural exposure in my educational upbringing in Poland and Switzerland, followed by my 30-year professional career in the United States. I spent sabbaticals at Princeton and leading universities in Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. In addition to English, I speak Polish, German, French, and Russian. This experience has significantly shaped my outlook and given me the confidence and skills to be an effective leader of the increasingly global IEEE.