Imagine a robot, a camera lens mounted on a human-like face, watching you. When you move, gesture or speak, the robot understands your actions and can respond appropriately.
But none of this happens on its own — a camera is just a camera until someone designs software that can interpret the camera’s images and make decisions based on that interpretation.
In Yun Raymond Fu’s Synergetic Media Learning (SMILE) Lab, researchers study “how humans interact with AI, and we try to build a machine learning algorithm that can understand human status — their emotion, their needs and their feedback,” Fu says.
Now Fu, a distinguished professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, has received the 2024 Edward J. McCluskey Technical Achievement Award for his “innovative and impactful contributions to representation learning, computer vision, face and gesture recognition,” the IEEE Computer Society wrote.
“We use computer systems to mimic human beings,” Fu explains. “So basically we use a camera to mimic human eyes.”
But once an image is captured, computer processing is required to make the image legible to a computer. “If you consider a robot as an example, ‘computer vision’ represents the robot’s eyes,” Fu says.
“We try to invent algorithms to process the videos we’ve captured from cameras.”
This kind of processing creates artificial intelligence systems able to interact with human speech, gestures and even body language.
The award “is a big honor,” Fu says, both because it recognizes his two decades of research but also the global impact of his work. When Fu looks at the list of former recipients, “they’re all distinguished researchers, professors and [people who] made a significant contribution to industry and product development,” he says.
The IEEE is the largest technical professional association in the world, with over 400,000 members coming from 190 countries. (Originally called the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, it no longer goes by that name except in legal proceedings.)
With such a large organization, it’s only natural that membership would divide into smaller, more specialized societies. Some of them — like the Computer Society, of which Fu is a member — can be quite competitive, Fu notes.
A fact that makes the McCluskey reward all the more remarkable.
Awarded to only three or four individuals each year, the “candidates [come from] different subfields of computer science,” Fu says. This year, he’s “the only one from the computer vision field.”
“I’ve been at Northeastern for 12 years now,” Fu says. Within that time, he has noted “a big advancement” of Northeastern University’s “ranking and reputation in the world.”
Fu hopes that notable awards — like the McCluskey Technical Achievement Award — will continue to promote long-term, positive effects on the status of research in the university.
“It’s going to contribute to the reputation of Northeastern,” he says, and “attract more excellent researchers, professors and students to join our system and work with us.”
Fu says that he’s noted the accolades received by other professors from their own societies. “Becoming one of this excellent team, excellent community, is a big honor,” he says.
But research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While Fu will receive the award — at a yet-to-be-scheduled conference this year — “I want to give the credit to all my students who contribute significantly to my lab,” he says.