Annual General Meeting

December 12th 2007

Peterhouse College, Cambridge

Chairman's Report to AGM

This has been another successful year for SGAI, overshadowed by the death of our founder Professor Donald Michie in a car accident in July. Professor Michie was a leading AI pioneer, who began his long career as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, working with Alan Turing, during World War II and remained professionally active right up his death. He was a finalist in our Machine Intelligence competition at AI-2004 held at Queens' College, Cambridge and we presented him with an award for lifetime achievement at the conference dinner that followed. The Group has purchased a permanent trophy in his honour, the Donald Michie Memorial Trophy, which will be awarded to the winner of the prize for the best refereed technical paper at our annual conferences.

During the course of the year Maria Fasli (University of Essex) joined the committee to replace Andrew Tuson, conference chair for AI-2006, who left because of pressure of other commitments. Zoe Lock was co-opted to the committee as a representative of the Technology Strategy Board.

Our long-running annual series of conferences has now reached its 27th year and once again was held at Peterhouse College in Cambridge. This is the sixteenth conference we have organised since it moved to Cambridge in December 1992. This year's Conference Chair was Miltos Petridis from the University of Greenwich, 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 twelfth 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 Rachel Browning from our parent body the British Computer Society, with paper administration by Bryony Bramer. Richard Ellis, Alice Kerly, Rosemary Gilligan and Rachel Browning (BCS) were responsible for the conference registration desk. I should like to thank all those involved for their continued efforts on our behalf.

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 twelfth UK Case-Based Reasoning Workshop, and other workshops, the conference included the third in a series of UK Workshops on AI in Education, which was organised by Maria Fasli under the auspices of the Information and Computer Sciences Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy (HEA-ICS). The applications stream included additional invited industry presentations, organised by Richard Ellis. Papers accepted for poster presentation were again published as short papers in the proceedings volumes.

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 sixth 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 debit/credit card payments as soon as our parent body the British Computer Society is able to accept them. An innovation this year was the development of an online system for processing final versions of accepted refereed papers and related administrative information, which proved invaluable.

The conference proceedings were again published in two volumes by Springer: the technical proceedings as Research and Development in Intelligent Systems XXIV and the proceedings of the applications stream as Applications and Innovations in Intelligent Systems XV. A Special Issue of the international journal Knowledge Based Systems appeared during the year, reprinting the best papers from each stream of AI-2006. A further special issue containing the best refereed papers from each stream of AI-2007 is now in production. It is expected that AI-2008 will be held in Cambridge in December next year.

An innovation at this year's conference was the Research Student Forum, a free event for PhD and MRes/MPhil research students in the AI field organised by Alice Kerly, which ran in parallel with the workshops on the first day of the conference. The Forum offered students the opportunity to meet other research students and to discuss their work with senior researchers and practitioners, with sessions covering guidance on conducting research and writing a thesis, feedback on research and research plans, and advice on undergoing a viva. It is hoped that this free forum will become a regular feature of the annual SGAI conferences.

Our programme of low-cost one-day symposia co-ordinated by Tony Allen continued during 2007 with the third UK KDD workshop, which was held at the University of Kent in April. The one-day workshop on 'Basics of Artificial Intelligence', first presented as part of AI-2006, was repeated at the British Computer Society London office in July. Further events are planned for 2008.

Another volume of our journal Expert Update appeared during the year under the editorship of Nirmalie Wiratunga. The Members' Area on the Group's website provides 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.

The use of the Groupís 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.

During the year discussions continued 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 Frans Coenen, Tony Allen and Rosemary Gilligan.

I am pleased to be able to report that one long-standing problem was resolved during the year. The final accounts for IJCAI-2005, which the Group organised, have now been approved and the profits from this very successful event have been allocated in accordance with the contract between the BCS and IJCAI.

The role, membership and financing of Specialist Groups have continued to be significant topics of discussion in our parent body, the British Computer Society, during the year. The Specialist Groups are and have long been one of the principal means through which the Society meets its charitable object, which is "to promote the study and practice of Computing and to advance knowledge and education therein for the benefit of the public". It is important that the Society adopts systems of control of Specialist Group activities that meet the requirements of good professional practice for organisations with charitable status, whilst allowing successful Groups such as SGAI the flexibility they need to continue to succeed and to innovate. It is also important that the substantial role of non-BCS members in Specialist Group activities over many years is fully recognised and acknowledged. SGAI continues to take an active part in these discussions.

Max Bramer
Chairman, SGAI