Professor: SZ takes lead in AI application

Writer: Chen Xiaochun  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-08-17

Video by Lin Jianping

Ercan Engin Kuruoglu, a distinguished expert in information engineering and who is among the top 2% of the world’s most cited scientists, regards Shenzhen as a global leader in AI technology applications. 

Ercan Engin Kuruoglu poses for a photo on the campus of Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School. Photos by Lin Jianping

“The AI industry in Shenzhen is now riding on the AI fast train grasping every opportunity for applications it can find. That’s why it’s developing so fast. It is one of the leading cities in the world in terms of AI technology application,” Kuruoglu commented.

The Turkish-Italian professor, formerly a chief scientist of the National Council of Research of Italy, now serves as a full-time professor at the Institute of Data and Information of Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School.

SZ, the right place to be

Kuruoglu, who has had a special affection to China since childhood, harbors profound sympathy towards the country and eagerly seized the first opportunity to visit.

“My sister used to bring me children’s books about China. The first book I ever read myself that I can remember was about China. It was a story of two Chinese twins living somewhere in central China and their daily life,” he recalled.

In 2006, during his first trip to China, he forged a long-lasting friendship with a professor from Xi’an and was introduced to the country’s wonders for the very first time.

The professor came to Shenzhen for the first time in 2016 and relocated to the city in 2019. 

A scene of Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School.

“Why Shenzhen? Because Shenzhen is the second Silicon Valley. In my field, which is mainly data science, it ranks among the top two most important places in the world. Here, you can witness rapid progress; if you have an idea, you can see it implemented quickly, which might take much longer in Europe,” Kuruoglu said on why he chose moving to the city. 

Kuruoglu added that there are different reasons for his choice, “but I felt that at this particular point in history, considering my interests and career, this is the right place to come. Coupled with my sympathy towards China and Chinese culture, Shenzhen is a highly attractive city for me.”

Research focus

Originally specializing in signal processing, Kuruoglu has now shifted his focus to artificial intelligence (AI).

“Signal processing means time series analysis but at the bottom of it there is information and data science. Today we are talking about artificial intelligence so intensely although there is not yet really thinking machines but only machines which can learn from data very well. This has been made possible by a development that happened about 10 years ago, which gave an important boost to the methods we use for understanding data,” Kuruoglu said.

Kuruoglu communicates with his students.

The primary objective of his research is to discover methods for revealing hidden information from collected data.

“We live in an era of big data that makes it so easy to generate or acquire information from our environment. We all have mobile phones. I have a Xiaomi, which is my favorite. So, it’s very easy to take pictures and make videos, leading to a massive accumulation of data. Besides, we have so many sensors everywhere. The significance of artificial intelligence lies in a new method called deep learning, which provides us a new way to understand data,” Kuruoglu explained.

According to Kuruoglu, Chinese scientists have made significant contributions to the development of deep learning as they took a crucial step by applying it to speech data, which proved to be highly influential in advancing the field. 

“Maybe the Chinese approach is very application-oriented, and this is also what’s happening in Shenzhen. Shenzhen is one of the leading cities in the world in the application of AI technologies,” Kuruoglu commented.

The professor mentioned that some companies in Shenzhen are working on driverless cars, developing methods for a teacher to communicate with deaf children, as well as working on vision data such as facial recognition, and some labs are working on biological data, just to name a few. 

Kuruoglu works in his office.

Kuruoglu's research focuses on addressing AI limitations, leveraging his background expertise on signal processing for solutions. AI shortcomings include lack of generalization, data dependency, non-adaptive behavior, and high computational requirements. He develops statistical AI models, adaptive algorithms, and cost-effective deep learning architectures. His work also applies to remote sensing and enhancing satellite imagery analysis by tackling challenges like speckle noise and improving object detection.

In the field of graph data analysis, he explores the dynamics and relationships of multivariate data, with applications in traffic analysis, cancer gene expression networks and seismological networks for earthquake prediction. Additionally, his work involves studying drug interactions and side effects using graph formulation.

Emphasis on work-life balance

Kuruoglu is used to European work culture, and for him, the work cultures in Europe and China differ significantly. Europe emphasizes personal well-being and recreation, fostering creativity during relaxation. In contrast, China prioritizes work and production over work-life balance. Chinese culture believes in working more for better results, but the professor advises working smart instead. 

Kuruoglu on Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School campus in Nanshan District. 

“Creative ideas often come to you when you are truly relaxing. Actually, the best ideas I’ve had always came to me while swimming in the sea. You need to have a good work-life balance. In China, work is emphasized more, and the concept of work-life balance is a bit pushed to the end. For example, I can be asked for a meeting at 8 on Sunday morning or receive work messages at midnight, which would not be acceptable in Europe,” he said.

However, Kuruoglu appreciates the positive aspects of both cultures, such as positive work relationships in China and creativity in Italy. Despite the demanding workload, the professor finds a friendly and respectful atmosphere in China. 

Hungry for cultural events

Kuruoglu is a lover of cultural events, with a particular fondness for concerts. He diligently keeps track of events in town through the EyeShenzhen WeChat account. Nevertheless, he believes that for a city of this size, the availability of concert halls is rather limited.

Kuruoglu appreciates the rich Chinese culture and feels grateful for the chance to experience it not as an outsider but as an integral part of the society.

The professor believes that the city of Shenzhen and its people are truly amazing, deserving more opportunities to enjoy cultural events and engage in interactions with one another, as well as with artists and scientists, and to build a joyful present and a promising future. In conclusion, he expresses his profound appreciation for the rich Chinese culture and feels grateful for the chance to experience it not as an outsider but as an integral part of the society.

Ercan Engin Kuruoglu, a distinguished expert in information engineering and who is among the top 2% of the world’s most cited scientists, regards Shenzhen as a global leader in AI technology applications.