Professor Sylvie Thiebaux first woman in Australia elected an AAAI Fellow

Sylvie Thiebaux with AAAI President, Yolanda Gil and AAAI Past President and Fellows Committee Chair, Subbarao Kambhampati
Tuesday 11 February 2020

ANU researcher Professor Sylvie Thiebaux has been elected as a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

Professor Thiebaux accepted the prestigious accolade on 9 February at a ceremony in New York City, USA.

The fellowships are awarded to individuals who have made a significant lifetime contribution to the field of Artificial Intelligence.  Generally, only 5-10 Fellows are selected each year worldwide, and Professor Thiebaux is the first woman based in Australia to be given the honour. 

She has had a distinguished career as a researcher – including building a prominent AI planning research group at ANU early in her career, leading the Canberra Laboratories of NICTA as a mid-career researcher, and being involved in a number of productive multi-disciplinary collaborations.

Recently, she was elected as co-editor in chief of Artificial Intelligence, the top journal in the broad field of artificial intelligence.

We asked Professor Thiebaux a few questions to reflect on her career and achievements.

 

Tell us about your research?

My work is about the design of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems that are capable of planning ahead. These systems help humans decide the most effective way of achieving their goals. This includes planning which course of action to perform, deciding how to manage resources and constraints, exploring the safety measures and contingencies when there is uncertainty, and making ethical, fair, and responsible decisions.

I share my time between designing general algorithms that solve a wide range of these complex planning problems efficiently, and working on specific practical applications where these problems are central.

 

What impact do you hope your research will have?

My work in collaboration with students and colleagues from academia and industry has had an impact on a number of areas, including managing maritime traffic to decide when ships can sail in and out of ports to take advantage of the tide and maximise cargo, and constructing flight plans that reduce fuel consumption despite weather uncertainty.

I am excited by the work we are doing on energy management to enable a future grid that is at the same time renewable-rich, cost-effective and secure.  Planning is required to intelligently coordinate a large number of energy resources like rooftop solar and batteries. They need to work together to benefit owners, the distribution network, and electricity markets – in the presence of network constraints and uncertainty around solar generation and demand.

In the Consort Bruny Island Battery trial, we've demonstrated that planning ahead and coordination doubles the effectiveness of residential batteries and solar in supporting the network during peak periods.

 

What has been your experience as successful woman in STEM?

I would definitely recommend computer science to women. Don't believe the stereotypes: computer science appeals to all sorts of people, because it can be whatever you make it. It combines creativity, artistic elegance, logical rigour, and a new way of approaching problems. It requires understanding both computers and people.

You can pick your ideal balance between times of peaceful solitary activity, and times of excitement and teamwork. Computer science accounts for much of the current progress in almost all areas of the economy, so you can apply it to virtually anything, and produce something new and useful which you can see working as you build it. My passion for computer science and AI date back from my teenage years, and I have not regretted my choice one second.

Find out more about Sylvie and her research.

 

 

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