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.

An Interview on Achieving 10K Citations

What is the focus of your research?

My specialty is machine learning and artificial intelligence. Both deal with theory and development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks which normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. These are emerging technologies that have an amazing range of applications and serve humanity by making our lives easier and more connected, and also promote social good. I’m sure you own a smartphone, the flagship achievement of AI of our generation.

What does it mean to have such a high citation score? To what do you attribute this distinction?

Traditionally, researchers had difficulties with quantifying their research contributions. The number of publications that people author or co-author is not a good metric, because publications can both be in quality journals and conferences, but also can be submitted to outlets that require no reviews prior to publication and would accept papers with little to no vetting by peers. While the former approach requires a lot of effort, the latter is a more opportunistic and less risky path that I’d compare to posting on blogs, usually done without the rigors of peer review. To sum it up – having published 50 papers in your career doesn’t tell the full story. It’s because the research impact of a paper is initially reflected by the journal title where it has been published, but it’s ultimately and accurately evidenced only several years later by how many times other researchers have cited your work. And they tend to reference papers that have been reviewed and appeared in high impact journals.

There is a general consensus in the research community that the number of citations to your body of work is the ultimate metric to evaluate the impact of your research. It’s a first-hand measure of how many times people read, notice and refer to your work in order to extend or improve it. To help answer these questions from researchers Google Scholar has equipped us with a fantastic public tool for searching through scientific literature. It also helps authors to keep track of citations to their articles and thus monitor the impact of their work.

Was this gradual? Did your research evolve to fit more into the zeitgeist, so to speak, or vice versa?

My first cited publications related to my PhD work. More recent citations have been to a very well received 2009 paper that collected over 400 citations and was published while I was on sabbatical. In the meantime, citations by other authors to some 380 papers of mine keep growing at a rate exceeding 600/year for the last 6 years.

How does this influence your work? Do you think that you may focus subconsciously with citation in mind? For example, maybe you might focus on trends in your field?

The citations can be compared to the number of records sold by a band, and perhaps less so to the number of ‘likes’ on social media. But a citation is much more than a ‘like’, because someone must have read your article and built on it. You can click 20 “likes” per minute, but can only cite several papers per your day’s work when writing a paper. Reading a paper that you want to reference requires considerably more effort than clicking on your favorite picture.

Obviously, citations offer an author a great deal of encouragement, if not a public approval for the idea. They also validate the work that your team is doing. When you publish something, you initially don’t know its future impact. So, when people carry on what you have started, that’s a big deal. It indicates that you’ve done something seminal or inspiring, or of high impact that others want to continue or expand. However, when writing a research article, I pay no attention to its future citations. Frankly, I know of no ways to engineer your citations. I focus, however, on how to contribute an original method, outline a new theory, describe a new application, or offer insights into data that I and my students have studied. Novelty, usefulness, and a lucid presentation in ahigh impact journal are all “must have” of a good, citable publication and are true gatekeepers for your future citations.

How do citations fit into the overall research landscape?

When you reflect on research, it turns out that it is a continuum in time, space and focus. It never stops, it never dies. Within this context, we don’t write papers for ourselves, so when they resonate with research community, that’s the goal they have achieved. These communities have no borders, and at any given time we know of hundreds of thousands of researchers busy with new cancer cures, thousands of researchers working on new humanoid robots or speech recognition, and perhaps only hundreds of researchers who look at how the human eye differentiates a cat from a dog. We need to keep in mind that any research serves humanity and should benefit others rather than ourselves.

How do you balance your research and other (teaching, administrative, professional) responsibilities?

University teaching, especially graduate teaching, reinforces our research and all academics agree on this. While administrative duties on campus can be viewed by some as distraction from research, we also need to realize that a collective effort is needed for the university to smoothly function as an institution of higher learning. Therefore, input from faculty with considerable research experience to the university governance is necessary. I therefore had to find the time to serve in such roles as a Speed School Senator and as a Parliamentarian for the Faculty Senate, member of the SpeedFaculty Activity Committee, Graduate Council member and as a Chair of the ECE Curriculum Committee.

This still leaves me the time to be actively engaged in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which, with over 400,000 members, is the world’s largest professional organization. It happens to be an organization created for and by electrical and electronic engineers. It is well known and highly regarded for advancing technology for humanity and for its vast and prestigious intellectual property. It publishes 180 top periodicals of the field and sponsors over 1800 conferences per year. I have served as IEEE Vice President in 2013-15, and was Chair of its Periodicals Committee and Periodicals Review Committees in 2010-13. I am also an IEEE Life Fellow.

What advice do you have for burgeoning researchers in academia?

My first and lofty message for aspiring researchers-authors is that you don’t write a paper for yourself, neither for your chair or dean or a promotion committee, but for the readers and in a broader sense you target the humanity. The wider is your target audience, the more success can be scored. My other message is of more practical nature: authors need to pay careful attention to the reproducibility of results presented in their papers so that other researchers with a similar specialized knowledge could replicate the papers’ outcomes. Dead-ended publications with no follow up aren’t useful because when our published disclosures can’t be applied, improved on or otherwise continued, our efforts have been wasted.


On What it Means to be President

About volunteering: I think that volunteering for a profession is a meaningful and gratifying experience. I feel that 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. While volunteering I share my skills and enthusiasm in order to have an impact, and at the same time I believe that I can make a difference.

As I receive no pay for volunteering, my motivation 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 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 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.

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 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 first priority will be to better respond to the needs of industry practitioners. 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. In concert, I will work toward greater engagement of industry in IEEE.

My other priority will be to continually gauge and respond to all members’ needs. This includes delivery of affordable and high-quality products and services like journals, magazines, conferences, and industry portals. While IEEE nurtures emerging technical areas and builds communities of technical professionals around them, it needs to offer more career resources for members who must keep up with advancing technology and maintain their competitiveness in a rapidly evolving career ecosystem.

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.