Exceptional PhD opportunity for Caleb

6 September, 2022

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The right combination of people, research, support and timing has enabled Caleb Moses to head to McGill University in Montreal to study natural language processing.

After a year of coursework, he will start a research project supervised by Associate Professor Jackie Chi Kit Cheung.

“Dr Cheung is an expert in evaluating language models”, says Caleb. “I’m really interested in some of his recent work on improving our understanding of what language models learn while they’re being trained. He takes inspiration from developmental psychology and education.”

Jackie is also a core academic member of Mila, a highly regarded AI research lab based in Montreal. It was founded by Professor Yoshua Bengio, a renowned AI pioneer.

The attraction of McGill goes back to two indigenous AI workshops in Hawai‘i in 2019. There he met Associate Professor Noelani Arista and Michael and Caroline Running Wolf.

“The four of us became a little crew and we’ve kept in touch with the hope that we could work together in the future. When McGill appointed Noelani, we wanted to work out a way to all get together in Montreal.”

Caleb and Noelani share a strong interest in exploring digital archives with modern machine learning techniques. The techniques offer an opportunity to understand the historical and cultural context of the records.

“I want to understand better what learning a language teaches you about the people who speak it and what they value. It’s a very interesting question that not a lot of people have thought about in depth. As a Māori working in that space, it keeps me up thinking at night.”

Caleb says the challenging aspect of research with machine learning is doing it rigorously.

“Neural networks just figure things out themselves – and each one could do it differently. So how do you get repeatable results that are independently verifiable? The challenge of a PhD is to work out a way to approach these problems with rigorous methodology, rather than speculation”

Arriving in autumn will allow Caleb to join other students in semester one. It’ll also give him time to acclimatise to the cold.

“To be honest, the climate scares me. Winters in Montreal drop below minus 20 Celsius, which is unfathomably cold. I think the coldest places I’ve been are the walk-in freezer on the marae and the top of Mt Ruapehu!”

Although he’s handed his current project work over to Henry MacDonald, Caleb isn’t cutting his ties with Dragonfly.

“I’m thankful for all the people who have supported me to realise this opportunity. The portfolio of work I’ve built up here is a big part of me getting such a generous offer from a top university.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve done with Dragonfly, especially the work with Te Hiku Media on Māori speech recognition. I hope to return to Aotearoa when I have completed my doctorate and continue working for my people.”

Read about the workshops Caleb attended in Hawai’i to document indigenous perspectives on AI.

Top image: Michael Running Wolf and Caleb outside the offices of Mila. Credit: Caleb Moses