Dr. Yigal Arens, Senior Director for Administrative Affairs at USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) and research professor in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, was designated AAAI Senior Member status at this year’s Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in February. Arens received the recognition for his notable scientific accomplishments in AI and his leadership at ISI.
AAAI designates Senior Member status to members that have made significant contributions and achievements in AI. In order to be eligible, candidates are required to have been AAAI members for a minimum of five consecutive years and be professionally active in the AI sector for at least the past decade.
Arens received his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of California Berkeley, with a focus on natural language understanding. Four years after joining the faculty at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science in 1983, Arens joined ISI, working on the Integrated Interfaces project, a multimedia briefing system that combines elements such as texts, tables, graphics, and maps. Arens’ research helped make significant strides in the field of information integration, which studies the ways that various data sources can be combined to best serve users’ information needs.
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Arens said of the AAAI honor. “I was the first to begin work on information mediators and information integration at ISI (in the 1990s), which established ISI as a leader in that are to this day,” he explained. “The work was continued and greatly expanded by Craig Knoblock, José Luis Ambite, and Pedro Szekely, who lead well-known projects in that area now.”
Arens also resumes his research in the field. An early key endeavor in Arens’ research, the SIMS (Single Interface to Multiple Sources) project was established in 1996 and aimed to optimize the way information from data can be retrieved and integrated from different sources using a semantic data model. Arens has been continuing this effort through a project supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the NIMH Repository and Genomics Resource (NRGR), formerly known as the Center for Collaborative Genomic Studies on Mental Disorders (CGSMD) and centered at Rutger’s University.
The NRGR is NIMH’s main data and biosample repository, providing the scientific research community with DNA, RNA, and cell lines from populations of individuals with psychiatric conditions. Arens leads the ISI branch of the NRGR team, which manages the NRGR database and web systems. “[The project] supports integrated access to all data and samples collected by NIMH-funded projects studying the genetics of mental health,” Arens elaborated, noting that ISI has been part of the effort for about 13 years now and recently embarked on an another 5 year phase of the project.
Before serving as the Senior Director for Administrative Affairs, Arens was the director of ISI’s Intelligent Systems division, now known as the Artificial Intelligence division, from 2007 to 2017, growing the division from approximately 80 people to 150 staff and students within that time period.
“When I joined ISI almost thirty years ago, Yigal had a paper at the AAAI conference on pioneering research for integrating information from text and other media, linking the entities mentioned in the text with what was mentioned in a video or appeared in an image,” said Yolanda Gill, current president of AAAI, who also serves as a principal scientist at ISI and a research professor in the Department of Computer Science and the Spatial Sciences Institute at USC Viterbi. “This work was visionary, because back then we didn’t have the web and all the multimedia data that came with it. He’s made significant contributions to semantic modeling for information integration over several decades. We’re very fortunate to have creative researchers like Yigal at ISI, and it’s exciting to see him receive this recognition.”