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Eugene Fiume: Renowned and Distinguished Computer Science Professor University of Toronto

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Eugene Fiume.

Eugene FiumeEugene Fiume is Professor and past Chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, where he co-directs the Dynamic Graphics Project and is Director of the Master of Science in Applied Computing Program.

Following his B.Math. degree from the University of Waterloo and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Toronto, he was an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow and Maitre Assistant at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He was awarded an NSERC University Research Fellowship in 1987 and returned to the University of Toronto to a faculty position. He was Associate Director of the Computer Systems Research Institute, and was a Visiting Professor at the University of Grenoble, France. He has participated in numerous boards of directors and advisory boards of start-ups and scientific institutions all over the world. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of Tucows Inc. (Toronto).

Eugene has been on many task forces and reviews of research institutes around the world. He has had a long association with the computer graphics and electronic media industries in Canada and the U.S., notably with Alias|Wavefront, where he was Director of Research and Usability Engineering while on leave from the university. He now works with several companies in an advisory capacity on both technological and business issues. He also works with venture capital companies on due diligence and strategy.

Eugene's research interests include most aspects of realistic computer graphics, including computer animation, modeling natural phenomena, and illumination, as well as strong interests in internet based imaging, image repositories, software systems and parallel algorithms. He has written two books and co-authored over 120 papers on these topics. Thirteen doctoral students and 29 master's students have graduated under his supervision. He has won two teaching awards, as well as Innovation Awards from ITRC for research in computer graphics and Burroughs-Wellcome for biomedical research. He was also the papers chair for SIGGRAPH 2001, past chair of the SIGGRAPH Awards Committee, and was General Co-chair of Symposium for Computer Animation 2008. He is currently co-chairing Pacific Graphics 2011 with Ming Ouhyoung.

His industrial interests include technology transfer in the Information Technology area, internet-based applications, digital media, wireless and multimedia systems, web-based services, large-scale computation, and the interaction of information technology and business.

On occasion, he manages to sneak a few hours of sleep.

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To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:51: Describe your journey in computing from your youth up to the present. What foundational lessons did you learn from this journey? Why were you initially attracted to computing?
"....I found with computers I had the opportunity to effect control over something....I loved programming for the sheer joy of creating something from nothing and playing around with computers and understanding the way you could simply convert data into information...."

:02:40: What significant outcomes will you achieve with the Dynamics Graphics Project?
"....The Dynamics Graphics Project is a mixture of both human computer interaction people and computer graphics people....As a general sensibility the Dynamic Graphics Project is about doing the research and science and technology behind making useable interactive visual communication...."

:04:01: Do you have industry partners who are involved in the project or who are utilizing some of that research?
"....Computer graphics has been quite fortunate in having rather a receptive community within industry....A lot of computer graphics are now very physically oriented, a lot of physical simulation now, and as a consequence we are now able to take our work and move it into areas such as biomedicine and that's an area of ongoing growth within the Dynamics Graphics project...."

:05:47: What are some of the lessons that you can share from your Board and Advisory Board roles?
"....Generally speaking it is this idea of a high-level view of big, deep, rich and difficult problems being looked at by people of very diverse backgrounds from which and from whom you learn....."

:08:04: Describe your work with Venture Capital and with company business challenges?
"....So really the VC thing for me was less about earning a living and more about getting exposure to a different way of understanding how technology fits in the world...."

:10:13: How would you describe your top innovative achievements in terms what specifically inspired these innovations, what were the factors that made the innovations possible, the problems you were trying to solve, your solutions, and the impact they have today and into the longer term future?
"....I was one of the originators of at least the idea to look at computer graphics more mathematically, more theoretically....Another one that became more mainstream practical was that together with a PhD student Jos Stam, we developed a way to simulate the effect of fire, smoke, clouds and water....A third non-technical innovation - introducing a teaching professoriate within the computer science department...."

:15:15: On the teaching side you have also won two teaching awards.
"....The kind of teaching I like to do nowadays is less about the technology and the science and more about the humanistic side, which is very hard to do. In other words things like the social implications of computing, aspects of things like computing for good, and also some of the aspects of business of computations...."

:17:00: Amongst all your achievements, which three are you most proud of and why?
"....One is in the area of natural phenomena – modeling the effect of natural processes....Another is rendering or illumination....The third is more about motion – how people move...."

:19:22: Can you profile your future research, its challenges, opportunities, and implications?
"....I'm planning to continue the things in rendering and natural phenomenon and expressive motion, but I'm actually moving in a couple of different directions....Biomedical applications of computer graphics....What it takes to be convinced by images. I guess we could call it the neuroscience of visual reality....The third one is the area of computing for good. Applications that enhance the quality of life for people around the world...."

:23:54: From your two books and 120 papers, can you pick a few areas to spotlight?
"....If there's one thing that characterizes all of that work it's the importance of fundamental science and fundamental mathematics almost as a precursor to thinking about computations of these things....It's [focus of my research] really on the creation of visual models that can be sustained through computations...."

Now I'm going to focus on the Department of Computer Science (DCS) at the University of Toronto.

:26:24: From your insider perspective, describe your time with Kelly Gotlieb at DCS?
"....When I was Department Chair, Kelly was the only person for whom I always had my door open. He could literally barge into my office at any time simply because I so valued his advice. And if he came and wanted to know something, I knew it was important...."

:28:51: What’s little known is that the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto is one of the top ranked Computing Research institutions in the world. Why isn't the University of Toronto better known?
"....We have achieved a level of international quality, recognized virtually world-wide among those who know; that is incredibly difficult for a public university to get to and even to aspire to....As the competition for great students and resources intensifies we do need to work harder at getting the message out...."

:32:16: You are the Director of the Master of Science in Applied Computing program. Can you describe this program, what differentiates your program from others, and compelling reasons for entering the program?
"....We've developed a program that allows students to synthesize their knowledge....This idea of being able to do computations within an area in which a new risky idea can be tried out and evaluated over the course of the internship...."

:34:41: Where do you see graduates of your program in three years, five years?
"....There will be a spectrum of different areas....Those who may want to remain technical for their careers and that's perfectly good because it's a way to get people to have a larger awareness of the industry....The next category are those who mix technical leadership with business leadership and that's really a growth area...."

:37:18: If you were to make some predictions of the future what would they be?
"....The disappearing computer....Computing as prosthetics - the idea that computers are going to be used for truly interesting things that help us in our day-to-day lives....Computing is growing in the direction of facilitating social growth...."

:41:01: More broadly, what do you see as the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....We may not have a balanced outlook on the issues of humanity....It's a growing concern that we don't seem to be engaging as a global community on how we can become more universally more informed...."

:44:42: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask, and then what would be your answer?
"....Why do you try to do so much?....."