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Historical notes

20 years of research in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence

The creation of LIACC was proposed in 1988 by professors from the Faculties of Science, of Economics, and of Engineering, and was approved by the Scientific Council of the University of Porto in September of that year. One of the main goals associated with this initiative was to promote the close collaboration of researchers of this University that were separately working in the fields of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence with a common interest in Logic Programming.

Main research lines

The main topics of research in LIACC after its inception in 1988 were Diagnostic Systems, Tools for the Development of AI Systems, Interfaces and Formalisms for Natural Language Processing, Implementation of Programming Languages, and Formal Methods.

Some 10 years later the list of topics had changed and consisted of

  • Declarative Programming and Parallelism: design and implementation (sequential or parallel) of declarative programming languages
  • Distributed Artificial Intelligence: multi-agent systems techniques and applications, agents negotiation and adaptativeness, Electronic Commerce
  • Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining: design and implementation of methods for extracting of non-trivial, potentially useful and easily interpretable information from data
  • Logic, Language and Computation: algorithmic complexity, formal systems, cryptography and language theory
  • Machine Learning: design and implementation of automatic inductive learning methods useful in classification and regression
  • Innovative Applications: development of practical applications based on recent languages and tools
  • Intelligent Robotics: agent-based robot control, hybrid architectures
  • Parallel and Distributed Systems: design and implementation of programming environments with support for mobility and distribution of computations.

To this list were later on added other topics, one of which not directly related to the existing ones:

  • Information and Communication Networks: theoretical foundations, system architectures, and security mechanisms for mobile, ad-hoc and sensor networks, scalable solutions for reliable Quality of Service, network coding, service-oriented integration of heterogeneous network infrastructures.

In 2007 there was an overall reformulation of the Laboratory in terms of long-term goals and internal rules that entailed a reduction in the number of researchers and research topics.

Organization

Between 1988 and 2006 LIACC was organized as a federation of three autonomous groups directly related to the three Faculties mentioned above: the Computer Science Group (Núcleo de Ciência de Computadores, NCC), the Artificial Intelligence and Data Analysis Group (Núcleo de Inteligência Artificial e Análise de Dados, NIAAD), and the Distributed Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Group (Núcleo de Inteligência Artificial Distribuída e Robótica, NIAD&R). The Coordinating Board was formed by representatives of these groups (2 from NCC, 1 from NIAAD and 1 from NIAD&R, reflecting their relative dimensions). This Board was mainly concerned with administrative matters and had no effective power for recruiting or dismissing research staff.  Common resources were allocated to each group by a fixed rule based on the dimension of its research team.

This organization model worked quite well for a long period, until a rapid growth in the number of researchers led to a dispersion of goals and to different views on the strategies to adopt for the future. In order to overcome these problems, the present organization tries to move away from the federative model through the adoption of a set of common long-term and short-term (3 years) research goals, a flexible division in focused research groups not related to a Faculty, and by enlarging and giving more prerogatives to the Coordinating Board. This Board is now composed by three senior researchers, one of which is the LIACC Coordinator, and three researchers usually elected among the heads of the research groups.

In 1994 LIACC was selected for funding through the FCT Multi-year Funding Program that imposed the existence of an Advisory Board. Its members are invited among internationally recognized outstanding experts, and the following ones are thanked for their collaboration:

  • since 1996, Claude Kirchner., LORIA, Nancy
  • 1996-2000, Claude Sammut, University of South Wales
  • 1996-2005, Nick Jennings, University of London, then University of Shouthampton
  • 2001-2005, Peter Flach, University of Bristol
  • 2006, Maarten van Someren, HCS, University of Amsterdam
  • since 2006, Carles Sierra, IIA, CSIC, Barcelona 


External evaluations


In 1991 LIACC submitted a proposal for funding to the A measure of the CIENCIA Programme that was accepted with cuts. The ensueing independent evaluation made by an international panel was very favourable.

In the scope of the FCT Multi-year Funding Program there were two evaluations by international panels (1997, 2000) in which LIACC got the maximum grade (Excellent). The next evaluation (2004) led to a demand by LIACC of a new evaluation; this was turned down with the final grade being the one below the maximum (Very Good).

Team


The following bar graph shows the growth of the research team in the 20 year period 1988-2007. Red bars correspond to numbers of researchers holding a PhD and the pale brown ones the numbers of other researchers.

 
During the first 19 years there was an almost 8-fold increase in the number of researchers with a PhD (from 5 to 39) with most of the PhD theses oriented locally. In 2007 there has been a reduction in the number of researchers with a PhD to 21 (similar to that of 2002) as a consequence of an overall reformulation of the Laboratory.


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