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2015-01-15

Halmstad researcher creates artificial intelligence at Google

After some years at Halmstad University, researcher Roland Philippsen has left Sweden for Google in California. There, he is working with advancing robotics and artificial intelligence. His most valuable experiences from Halmstad include organisational development and pedagogical skills – but also the beneficial effects of the Swedish coastal weather.

Roland Philippsen came to Halmstad University from Stanford University, USA, in June 2011. During his years in Sweden, he has worked as an assistant lecturer at the University – specialising in robotics and intelligent machines. Going from Halmstad University to Google was a more difficult decision than some may think, but he is currently looking forward to facing his new challenge.

During his years at Halmstad University, Roland Philippsen researched and taught robotics. Here, he sits with Jonson the humanoid robot. Photo: ROLAND THÖRNER

“My new workplace will be in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I will be working on advancing robotics and artificial intelligence. Some of the people I will work with I already know and deeply respect from my years as a researcher at Stanford University”, says Roland Philippsen.

How does one get a job at Google? Who are they looking for?

“Well, to be honest, I am not quite sure. Of course, I passed several interviews, some of which were very technical and felt more like actual work meetings than job interviews. But not all interviews went well.

“Generally, I never really plan what I need to do in order to get a job at this or that university or company. It is much more worthwhile to make sure you work on something that fascinates you, that you commit to getting to the bottom of things, and that you work hard towards achieving excellence. The rest seems to fall into place somehow.

“You pick up lots of know-how, you learn how to phrase questions and articulate approaches, and you constantly have to wrap your mind around novel concepts. And every answer you find leads to more questions. I have a feeling that it was this mindset that landed me the job. Or maybe that is just what I imagine.”

Do you think your experience from Halmstad played a role in you being recruited to Google?

“Indirectly, yes. On the surface, I am going back to what I did before joining Halmstad, namely creating and implementing cutting-edge algorithms and software frameworks for making robots move autonomously in everyday environments.

“However, at Halmstad I was involved in shaping where the university is going, and what kind of competence, partnerships, and structures need to be in place in order to get there. This was an incredibly enriching experience, particularly in the highly supportive atmosphere that I enjoyed here.

“In the process I learned about the thought processes involved in setting the stage for exciting new developments, and I think that is exactly what Google is doing with their robotics effort. That is definitely an experience from Halmstad that I’m taking with me to Google.”

How do you feel about leaving Halmstad University? Was the choice to go to Google easy or hard?

“This was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and I have not yet sufficiently digested everything. I expect to have more clarity in a couple of weeks or even months, but at this stage I cannot elaborate.”

Roland Philippsen has many positive experiences from both Halmstad University and Sweden – including dark mornings filled with icy rain and wind. "There sure is no better way to wake you up before an early morning lecture", he says. Photo: JOACHIM BRINK

What unique set of skills from Halmstad will you be bringing to Google?

“I already mentioned the experience with helping to foster excellence and sustainable growth. Then there is also the experience I gained from teaching at Halmstad.

“This may sound strange, as I am leaving academia – why would that matter to Google? First of all, because the best way to understand something is to teach it. Thus, the courses I taught and created at Halmstad deepened and broadened my knowledge. Also, by following Halmstad’s course on teaching and learning in higher education, I got a glimpse into the different pathways for learning, and adapted my teaching methods accordingly.

I expect this to also be beneficial for working in multidisciplinary teams, be it at Google or elsewhere: experts coming from different fields need to establish a common understanding. In a sense they are constantly teaching each other.”

What will you miss the most from Halmstad University, and Sweden in general?

“This is a deceptively simple question. For sure, I will miss the wonderful people here. Indeed, one of the main reasons why I left Stanford to accept a position here was precisely because there was such a good connection with everyone I met during my interview. And there was the excitement of joining a young and dynamic place, and to have the opportunity to help shape where it is going. It is really hard to leave this behind.

“Thankfully, I will remain at least a bit involved by continuing to coach my PhD students from afar. This makes the departure feel less like a cut for them and me.

“I am not sure yet what else I will end up missing. Maybe the more relaxed pace of life, maybe the long summer evenings, maybe even the cold rain blowing into my face on the way to work. There sure is no better way to wake you up before an early morning lecture”, says Roland Philippsen.

Footnote. Roland Philippsen starts working at Google in January 2015.

JOACHIM BRINK

“My new workplace will be in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I will be working on advancing robotics and artificial intelligence", says Roland Philippsen. Photo: ROLAND THÖRNER

"There was the excitement of joining a young and dynamic place, and to
have the opportunity to help shape where it is going. It is really hard
to leave this behind."

Roland Philippsen about coming to Halmstad University.

Updated 2015-05-06