Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research Graduates its First PhD
Computer Science PhD graduate Dr Gavin Rens graduated through the Knowledge Representation and Reasoning (KRR) group at the Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR) with research which attempted to bring new insights into the field of cognitive robotics.
‘I developed a formal language (a logic) for agents (usually artificial) to specify their beliefs about their actions and perceptions in uncertain environments, and then reason with those beliefs to make good choices of what actions to take,’ said Rens.
After serving a year in the army, then working as an Electronics Technician before giving lessons in Korean and Chinese Martial Arts, Rens was given the opportunity by his parents to study Computer Science full time at the University of South Africa (UNISA).
A fascination with Artificial Intelligence (AI) led him to pursue his honours and then his Masters Degree which focused on combining logic and probability within AI.
Rens’ MSc degree was sponsored by the Meraka Institute at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). ‘I was then fortunate enough to get a scholarship through CAIR (UKZN and Meraka) to pursue a PhD,’ he said.
Rens has a post-doctoral contract for two years with UKZN.
Along with his PhD supervisors, CAIR Director Professor Tommie Meyer and Dr Deshen Moodley, Rens is working on Probabilistic Belief Change, an area in AI.
‘In his thesis Dr Rens advances the state of the art in cognitive robotics by making a contribution towards endowing agents with the ability to reason intelligently in the face of uncertainty,’ said Meyer. ‘His work has applications for virtual agents, such as intelligent software, and physical agents, such as robots.’
Said Rens: ‘For me, the PhD was a continuation of my previous studies, but on an ever growing scale. One learns how to think critically and how to break through barriers. Once you hear that your thesis is accepted and you are awarded the degree, it is a huge feeling of accomplishment.’
In his spare time, Rens is examining different ways to generate electricity from wind. He hopes that in the future he can inspire the youth to seek knowledge, and provide them with employment opportunities to develop their skills.