Annual General Meeting

December 13th 2006

Peterhouse College, Cambridge

Chairman's Report to AGM

Last year was the twenty-fifth anniversary year of SGAI, which was founded in 1980. This year marks 50 years since the name Artificial Intelligence first came into use for the pioneering conference known as 'The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence' in 1956.

SGAI has continued to develop during the year. Miltos Petridis (University of Greenwich) and Alice Kerly (University of Birmingham) joined the committee. Our vice-chair, Ann Macintosh left the committee after many years because of pressure of other commitments and became our fifth honorary life member.

Our long-running annual series of conferences has now reached its 26th year and once again was held at Peterhouse College in Cambridge. This is the fifteenth conference we have organised since it moved to Cambridge in December 1992 and reflects a considerable long-term effort by our very strong and experienced organising team. This year's Conference Chair was Andrew Tuson from City University, with Alun Preece and Frans Coenen as Deputy Conference Chairs for Electronic Services and Local Arrangements respectively. Adrian Hopgood acted as Workshop Organiser. The Application Stream Chair was Richard Ellis, with Tony Allen as Deputy Chair. I acted as Technical Stream Chair, with Frans Coenen as Deputy Chair. The poster sessions were organised by Nirmalie Wiratunga. Alice Kerly was responsible for Research Student Liaison. The eleventh UK Case-Based Reasoning Workshop, which ran during the first day of the conference, was organised by Miltos Petridis. Rosemary Gilligan acted as Treasurer. Our conference administrator was Mark Firman at City University. Richard Ellis and Alice Kerly were responsible for the conference registration desk. I should like to thank all those involved for their continued work on our behalf to make this series such a success.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the name Artificial Intelligence and to place that development in its historical context the conference began with a keynote lecture by myself entitled Artificial Intelligence in Fact and Fiction: The First 3,000 Years. The final programme included papers by authors from countries spread across four continents. All papers submitted were reviewed by an international panel of expert referees. The prize for the best paper in the technical stream was once again sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. There were also prizes awarded for the best paper in the application stream and the best poster. As well as the eleventh UK Case-Based Reasoning Workshop, and other workshops, the conference included the second in a series of UK Workshops on AI in Education, which was organised by Maria Fasli (University of Essex) under the auspices of the Information and Computer Sciences Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy (HEA-ICS). As an experiment, the workshop day also included a full-day stream on 'Basics of AI', contributed by SGAI committee members. Another innovation in this year's programme was the addition of an Industry Presentations stream for days 2 and 3, organised by Richard Ellis. Papers accepted for poster presentation were published as short papers in the proceedings volumes for the first time.

The Group once again subsidised a reduced rate for non-presenting students and offered bursaries comprising free registration for a limited number of full-time research students. The Machine Intelligence competition ran for the fifth year as a showcase for new developments 'towards machine intelligence' and was co-organised by John Gordon (AKRI Ltd.), Richard Ellis and myself, with Chris Needham (University of Leeds) as webmaster. We are again grateful to Electrolux plc for their sponsorship of this event, which has become an increasingly valuable part of these annual conferences.

Our system for electronic submission and reviewing of papers and our online registration system continued to develop thanks to the efforts of Alun Preece. We will move over to full online registration including credit card payments as soon as our parent body the British Computer Society is able to accept them.

The conference proceedings were again published in two volumes with an accompanying CD-ROM version by Springer: the technical proceedings as Research and Development in Intelligent Systems XXIII and the proceedings of the applications stream as Applications and Innovations in Intelligent Systems XIV. A Special Issue of the international journal Knowledge Based Systems appeared during the year, reprinting the best papers from each stream of AI-2005. A further special issue containing the best refereed papers from each stream of AI-2006 is now in production. It is expected that AI-2007 will be held in Cambridge in December next year.

Our programme of low-cost one-day symposia co-ordinated by Tony Allen continued to develop during 2006. The BCS SGAI Colloquium/Symposium on Intelligence in Security and Forensic Computing, organised by Bill Buchanan and Abiola Abimbola was held at Napier University in April 2006, the second UK KDD Symposium (UKKDD'06), organised by George Smith, Frans Coenen and Alex Freitas, was held at the Norwich Research Park also in April and a Workshop on 'Challenges and Promise of Semantic Web Services', organised by Taha Osman and Dhavalkumar Thakker was held at Nottingham Trent University in September. The third UK KDD workshop will be held at the University of Kent in April 2007.

Another volume of our journal Expert Update appeared during the year under the editorship of Nirmalie Wiratunga. A Members' Area has been added to the website, providing downloading access to the full text of Expert Update back to Volume 8, No.1 as well as access to the full text of the ECCAI journal AI Communications, a state-of-the art review of AI and the SGAI 'AI Information Portal'. Further facilities and services for members will be added as time goes by. A password needed to access the Members' Area has been circulated to all members.

During the year Andrew Tuson published an AI careers guide for the Independent Schools Careers Organisation (ISCO) and the British Computer Society via the BCS careers working group.

The use of the Group’s website and list server, known for historical reasons as AI-SGES, has continued to develop. The service is open to all (whether or not they are members of the Group) and is free of charge. Full information is available on the Group's website.

Our programme of free evening lectures in London, which has been dormant in recent years, has resumed at City University, led by Andrew Tuson in collaboration with SSAISB. The first lecture in the new programme was given by Professor Aaron Sloman and others are planned for 2007.

During the year discussions took place with SSAISB, the other British-based AI society, with a view to making a joint bid to bring ECAI, the largest European AI conference, to Britain in the Olympic year 2012. The SGAI representatives on the joint SGAI/SSAISB Steering Committee for the bid are Andrew Tuson, Tony Allen and Rosemary Gilligan.

Following changes to the British Computer Society's internal procedures for nominating representatives to Technical Committees of IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing, my nomination as the BCS representative on IFIP Technical Committee 12 (Artificial Intelligence) was extended for a further period. I was already chair of the Technical Committee and was re-elected for a further (and final) three-year term at the Technical Committee's meeting during the IFIP World Congress in Santiago in August.

The role and membership of Specialist Groups have been significant topics of discussion in our parent body, the BCS, during the year and SGAI has taken an active part in these discussions.

One long-standing problem that has remained unresolved at the time of writing is that the final accounts for IJCAI-2005, which the Group organised, have still not been approved. This results from a substantial delay in our administering company obtaining some outstanding payments, delays in receiving financial information from IJCAI and most recently an onerous contractual requirement for a full (and thus necessarily lengthy and expensive) audit of every item of income and expenditure. It is to be hoped that the accounts can now be finalised so that both IJCAI and SGAI can receive their share of the conference profits without any further delay,

Overall, the Group is continuing to flourish 26 years after its foundation in 1980. In that time it has played an important role in the development of Artificial Intelligence in the UK. Although the boom years of conferences of 700-800 people are behind us, we are continuing to innovate and our range of activities is continuing to expand. Our committee members past and present have had prominent roles in AI companies and relevant government bodies as well as other AI societies in Britain, Europe and worldwide. There are now at least three regular series of colloquia and workshops associated with the Group, as well as our annual conferences, other one-off colloquia, evening lectures and the annual sponsored Machine Intelligence competition. In addition to the possibility of hosting ECAI-2012 there are many other ideas in the pipeline. This is all due to considerable hard work over many years by a dedicated team of volunteers.

In the last year or two our parent body the BCS has adopted a strategy of increasing centralisation and standardisation with respect to the operation of specialist groups. This appears to be driven by anxiety about the harm that could be caused to the Society's reputation and possibly financial position by a Specialist Group that was incompetently or profligately managed. Whilst this hypothetical risk is acknowledged, it is to be hoped that this risk-averse approach will not lead to the stifling of innovation by groups with a long-established track record of success such as SGAI.

Max Bramer
Chairman, SGAI