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Microsoft Research Montreal welcomes Fernando Diaz, Principal Researcher and lead of the new Montreal FATE Research Group

June 22, 2018 | By Microsoft blog editor

Fernando Diaz – Principal Research Manager

Microsoft Research Montreal further bolsters its research force this month, welcoming Fernando Diaz to the Montreal FATE (Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI) research group as Principal Researcher.

Diaz, whose research area is the design of information access systems, including search engines, music recommendation services and crisis response platforms is particularly interested in understanding and addressing the societal implications of artificial intelligence more generally. Immediately previous to joining Microsoft Research Montreal, he was the Director of Research at Spotify Research in New York, New York. He was previously a senior researcher with Microsoft Research New York City where he founded the FATE Research Group alongside Kate Crawford and Hanna Wallach. Joining Microsoft Research reunites him with many former FATE collaborators.

The world is beginning to harness the power of AI, machine learning, and data science across many aspects of society. Indeed, these research areas form core components of many Microsoft systems and products.

But these techniques also raise complex ethical and social questions: How can we best use AI to assist users and offer people enhanced insights, while avoiding exposing them to different types of discrimination in health, housing, law enforcement, and employment? How can we balance the need for efficiency and exploration with fairness and sensitivity to users? As we move toward relying on intelligent agents in our everyday lives, how do we ensure that individuals and communities can trust these systems?

The FATE research group at Microsoft studies the complex social implications of AI, machine learning, data science, large-scale experimentation and increasing automation. The aim is to develop computational techniques that are both innovative and ethical while drawing on the deeper context surrounding these issues from sociology, history and science and technology studies. A relatively new group, FATE currently is working on collaborative research projects that address the need for transparency, accountability, and fairness in AI and ML systems. Fate publishes across a variety of disciplines, including machine learning, information retrieval, systems, sociology, political science and science and technology studies.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Fernando back to Microsoft Research. Fernando is an immensely talented leader in information retrieval, machine learning and the new field of FATE,” said Jennifer Chayes, Technical Fellow and Managing Director of Microsoft Research New England, New York City and Montreal labs. “I’m also excited and proud to announce the creation of the Montreal FATE research group. This group will work on how to increase the fairness of data sets and AI algorithms, transparency and interpretability of the output of AI algorithms, accountability of this output in fairness and transparency, and ethical questions on AI and society.”

In addition to an impressive research and academic portfolio (including a PhD and Masters in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst), Diaz brings a passion for disseminating his work outside of the research community. He works closely with product teams at Microsoft, focusing on relevant and impactful research. He also has taught graduate level courses at New York University, introducing students to the realities of production systems.

Very attractive to Diaz about Microsoft Research was the promise of considerable freedom to work on a wide range of interesting problems. While his research will continue to include fundamental work on information access algorithms, Diaz will also focus on building a multidisciplinary group studying the societal implications of artificial intelligence.

“Increasingly, we are noticing the profound societal implications of integrating artificial intelligence into everyday life. MSR Montreal—and Montreal as a city—has amongst the strongest researchers in artificial intelligence, making it the ideal location to study and understand its societal implications from a technical perspective. At the same time, this research requires a broad, multidisciplinary strength found both in Canada and at Microsoft Research, more generally,” said Diaz.

“Work in FATE is crucial for ensuring that artificial intelligence becomes an essential and positive part of our lives, and Fernando is a leader both in FATE and in connecting FATE to other disciplines,” added Geoff Gordon, Microsoft Research Montreal Lab Director. “I am thrilled about the opportunity to work closely with him on a daily basis.”

Yoshua Bengio, Scientific Director at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) also expressed his encouragement. “Ethical and social issues associated with AI are really important and that is why MILA has put it in its mission to contribute to AI for the benefits of all and to collective discussions about the use of AI,” he said. “There already are strong collaborations between MILA and Microsoft Research Montreal and I’m delighted at the perspective of expanding this collaboration with the new FATE group which Fernando Diaz will head. This is clearly a great move for Microsoft as well as for the Montreal AI community.”

Indeed the Microsoft Research FATE team will continue to expand with impressive post-doctoral researcher talent joining the group across the summer including Canadian Luke Stark, returning to his native Canada following fellowship tours at the Department of Sociology at Dartmouth College and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

The French version of this blog post can be found on the Microsoft News Center Canada.

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