Thursday, April 21, 2016

Horizons: Multimedia Technologies that Protect Privacy

The Survey on Future Media for the new H2020 Work Programme gave me 500 characters each to answer a series of critical questions. I’m listing questions and my answers below. I'm taking this as my chance to pull out all the stops: extreme caution meets idealism. Did I use my characters wisely?

Describe which area the new research and innovation work programme of H2020 should look at when addressing the future of Media.

Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness (NORA) is a set of data mining techniques that find relationships between people and events in data that no one would think would exist. European Citizens sharing images or videos online have no way of knowing what sorts of information they are revealing about themselves. We need innovative research on media processing techniques that protect people's privacy by warning them when they are sharing information, and that obfuscate media making it safe for sharing.

What difference would projects in the area you propose make for Europe's society and citizens?

Projects in this area would contribute to safeguarding the fundamental right of European citizens to privacy and protection of personal data. Today, privacy protection focuses on protecting "obvious" personal information. This protection means nothing when personal information is obtainable "non-obvious" form. European citizens need tools to understand the dangers of sharing media in cyberspace, and tools that can support them in making informed decisions and protecting themselves.

What are the main technological and Media ecosystem related breakthroughs to achieve the foreseen scenario?

The Media ecosystem in question is the whole of cyberspace. The breakthrough that we need is techniques to predict that impact of data that we have not seen entering the system. We need techniques that are able to obfuscate images and videos in ways that defeat sophisticated machine learning algorithms, such as deep learning techniques. These technologies must be designed from the beginning in a way that is understandable and acceptable to the general population: protection only works if used.

What kind of technology(ies) will be involved?

Technologies involved are image, text, audio, and video processing algorithms. These algorithms will re-synthesize users' multimedia content so that it still fulfills its intended function, but with a reduced risk of leaking private information. Technology must go beyond big data to be aware of hypothetical future data. Yet unheard of: technology capable of protecting users' privacy against inference of non-obvious relations must be understandable by the people who it is intended to serve.

Describe your vision on the future of Media in 5 years' time?

People will begin to worry about large companies claiming to own (and attempt to sell them back) digital versions of their past selves, forgotten on distant servers. The realization will grow that it is not enough to have a device that takes amazing images and videos, but you also need a device that allows you to save and enjoy those images in years to come. An understanding will emerge that a rich digital media chronicle of ones own life contributes to health, happiness and wellbeing.

Describe your vision on the future of Media in 10 years' time?

Social images circling the globe will give people unprecedented insight into the human condition. People living in both developed and developing countries will rebel at anyone in the human race living under conditions of constant fear, and threat of constant hunger. The world will change. If protecting privacy means that people need to stop sharing images and videos all together, the opportunity to fulfill this idealistic vision is missed. The future of Media is bright, only if can be kept safe.

At the end of the day, multimedia is about making the world healthy, happy, and complete. At the end of this exercise I have concluded that the horizon stretches even further than 2020.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Starting to RUN

Thank you for the email, tweets and texts about my new appointment at Radboud University Nijmegen. I'm happy that other people realize what a special day it was for me, and share my excitement about new opportunities and new challenges. I appreciate the warm reception at Radboud University. The "Welcome!" was unmistakeable: actually written on my whiteboard, when I walked into my office in the Center for Language Studies for the first time.

My appointment is as "Professor of Multimedia Information Technology" at the Faculty of Science, Institute for Computing and Information Sciences (iCIS). It involves a double affiliation (50/50) between iCIS and the Faculty of Arts, Centre for Language Studies (CLS). In this way, it brings together my background (pre-1990 in Math and EE; 1990-2000 in Formal Linguistics; and since 2000 in Computer Science, i.e., audio-visual search engines). It is a natural extension of this background that I will be working to bridge the research occurring on information access between the two faculties.

A press release about my appointment appeared on 31 March on the Radboud University homepage. I was very happy about the publicity for the MediaEval Multimedia Evaluation Benchmark. MediaEval is an initiative aimed at driving the development of new multimedia access technologies by offering shared tasks to the community. Instead of being centrally organized, it is grassroots in nature. My role is the bass player who, in a band, helps to links different parts together and keep the music moving forward on tempo. The success of the benchmark comes from the dedication and efforts of the task organizers, and the participants. (MediaEval is offering a great lineup of tasks in 2016, and signup is now open on the MediaEval 2016 website. The MediaEval 2016 workshop will be held 20-21 October 2016, right after ACM Multimedia 2016 in Amsterdam.)

Starting January 2017, Radboud University will be my main university (4 days per week), but I will maintain an affiliation with Delft University of Technology (1 day a week).

Currently, my main affiliation remains the Multimedia Computing Group at Delft University of Technology. However, I am at Radboud University Nijmegen for two days a week to get started at CLS. My first act is teach Intelligent Information Tools, a course for first and second year undergraduate students in Communication and Information Science. The students learn about the nature of information, the structure of the internet, how search, recommendation, and other information tools work, and also how to think critically about these tools.

At TU Delft I continue teaching, and pursuing my research. The main focus of my research at this time is recommender systems, within the context of the EC FP7 project CrowdRec "Fusion of active information for next generation recommender systems". It is a privilege to serve the CrowdRec consortium as the scientific coordinator.  Current highlights are: The NewsREEL news recommendation challenge, at CLEF 2016 the ACM RecSys 2016 job recommendation challenge, and the Workshop on Deep Learning for Recommender Systems, also at ACM RecSys 2016. I look forward to a successful conclusion of the project September 2016, and also to future collaborations.

Seven years ago, nearly to the day, I wrote the first post on this blog. I had read an article advising kill your blog, as an answer to blogposts getting lost in a sea of mainstream information. My post points out that it is strange to suggest that bloggers must change, and not mention the role or responsibility of search engines.

Now, I am more convinced in ever of the value of information within small circles. Search needs to support exploitation of that value. The readership of this blog is intended to be future versions of myself, and also a limited number of people interested in a deep dive into reflections on various search-related topics. As I move to a new university, and the number of people I teach or collaborate with grows, I would like to remember that. I'll probably have less time to write blog posts, but I have decided that I will wait a few more years until moving away from occasionally blogging.

Creating information is a way in which we help ourselves think. Intense conversations also refine thought. But the model of everyone talks to everyone about everything does not always make sense. Instead, we need room for reflection with a relatively small set of individuals. Search should support that.

What's blocking the road? Maybe we feel that small scale search is a success because Google now displays calendar events in our search results. Maybe facing the personal is somehow more laborious or painful. In any case, currently we are far from understanding the aggregated impact of thousands of local dialogues, or to evaluating the success of small search that helps us exchange ideas with our past selves, and our closest colleagues. The future holds no lack of challenges.