TOP Slovenia Interview: Matej Guid

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Dr. Matej Guid by Jože Suhadolnik/Delo

Matej Guid has extensive experience as a manager, researcher, mentor, and lecturer in the areas of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. He is the founder and CEO of technology start-up companies Avior and InstaText. Matej Guid is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Ljubljana, where most of his research interests include the development of artificial intelligence methods with application in the construction of expert systems, the development of intelligent tutoring systems, and computer gaming.

His latest start-up, InstaText, was recently named Slovenian start-up of the year 2020. InstaText is a user-friendly writing and editing tool that focuses on rewriting your text so that you are understood and perceived as a professional. InstaText improves styling and word choice, corrects grammatical errors, and enriches your content to make it more readable and understandable. For more information about InstaText click here.

We recently talked to Matej Guid about the development of both InstaText start-up and Artificial intelligence in Slovenia.

How would you describe Slovenia in five words?

In exactly five words: offers high quality of life. This includes strong care for the environment, good education, plenty of opportunities for recreation and pleasant leisure activities, strong social ties, and generally good health care enables people to pursue their happiness.

You work in the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, why is Ljubljana a great city to work in? What do you love the most about Ljubljana?

Ljubljana has only about 300,000 inhabitants and is also a university town. Therefore it is not overcrowded, but it is very lively. The proximity to nature, including the sea and mountains, makes it easy to combine work and leisure. Access to various experts from different fields. Healthy business environment, strong support for start-ups, easy access to knowledge. A beautiful city center with a river and a castle on the hill make Ljubljana particularly attractive. Above all, Ljubljana allows you to use your time effectively.

With so many ongoing projects and responsibilities that you have, how and where do you like to spend your free time?

Doing the right things at the right time can have a huge impact on efficiency and effectiveness, and also saves a lot of time. When you do things with passion, the line between work and free time is not so clear, because you really love what you do. I enjoy spending time with my family, we actually spend a lot of time together. Of all the sports activities, I love playing football the most and I usually play it once a week. Mastering the game of chess is another never-ending challenge. A short nap in the afternoon can save a lot of valuable time in the evening. I usually stay up late at night, when I enjoy watching movies and TV series. And I love to travel and meet interesting people.

InstaText – Slovenian start up of the year 2020

We know you also work in the field of artificial intelligence. Were you always interested in technology and artificial intelligence? How did you “fall” into this interesting field?

I think the best way to get involved in research activities is through your hobbies and interests. My mentor and doctoral supervisor, professor Ivan Bratko, also known as the father of Slovenian AI, gave me an interesting challenge while we played chess. “How to determine the best chess player of all times in the most objective way?” It contained a comparison of world chess champions, some of whom never had the chance to play against each other because they lived in different eras. This research attracted international attention and led to several new and interesting questions, e.g. what makes problems difficult for people, how to generate intelligent comments and annotations, how to combine the knowledge of experts with AI algorithms, and how to explain AI decisions in a way that we humans would understand. My biggest AI challenge at the moment is to generate ideas in a creative way to improve written communication.

What is the one thing that intrigues you the most when it comes to artificial intelligence?

It is probably a similar experience to the one parents have when they are fascinated by the creative but simple, pure and intelligent thoughts, questions and answers of their young children.

Are InstaText and artificial intelligence connected? If so, how?

The major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that enabled the development of our text enhancement technology took place between 2015 and 2018. During this period we witnessed the rise of Deep Learning and some groundbreaking technologies such as AlphaZero. These technologies enabled much more powerful writing enhancement software. InstaText is based on the idea that we can rewrite the entire text as if it had been written by a native speaker. It generates ideas and suggestions on how to write better, and the program often does this in a way that we can experience as very creative. In a way, it is a demonstration of computer-aided creativity. This should actually be one of the greatest virtues of man, but now we can see that AI can also become very creative when it comes to written communication.

See how InstaText works here.

Where does Slovenia stand in the field of artificial intelligence? How do we compete with other countries? What are the Slovenian advantages in the field of artificial intelligence?

UNESCO recently approved the opening of the International Research Center on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) in Ljubljana, which is another sign that Slovenia is one of the most advanced countries in the field of artificial intelligence. The beginnings of artificial intelligence in Slovenia date back to the early 1970s. In recent decades, the Jožef Stefan Institute and the University of Ljubljana have produced several world-renowned AI researchers and outstanding AI projects. Artificial intelligence has a long tradition in Slovenia, and this is the main reason why Slovenia is a country that probably has the most AI researchers per capita.

A similar question perhaps, but could you tell us why should people come to Slovenia to work in the field of artificial intelligence?

I think it is the combination of the relatively high quality of life in this country, the relatively high number of AI researchers, and the quality of AI research. Such a stimulating environment represents a great opportunity, especially for young researchers interested in artificial intelligence. The fact that Slovenia is a small country is indeed an advantage, as researchers from different disciplines have more opportunities to connect and collaborate.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you over the years?

Life is like a game, and it is worth learning to play it well. Our world is extremely rich in possibilities, there are countless alternatives, and certainly all too often we settle for a good solution and miss an opportunity for a better one. World chess champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker said one wise thought: “If you find a good move, look for a better one.” But time is another factor: we must make decisions in time. Sometimes our best decisions are made intuitively, and there is a reason for this: our intuition is based on accumulated experience, and our subconscious can lead us to solutions that our slow mind would never foresee. And from here it is not too difficult to draw the next conclusion: Dreams are very important, perhaps worthy of exploration on a larger scale. Let me return for a moment to artificial intelligence: If it is the question “why?” that distinguishes us from animals, then perhaps dreaming is what make us unique compared to robots and intelligent systems.

What is your personal motto or philosophy in life?

I think that Dalai Lama is quite right: the purpose of our lives is to be happy. This is much more complicated and difficult than it sounds. Since happiness is not binary, I would add: “… to the greatest extent possible”. And there is also a time component: Throughout our lives, different things make us happy and feel right for us, change is inevitable. Gathering relevant experience and knowledge seems to be an important means to become happier. It seems that our subconscious very often “feels” what is right for us. However, it is often difficult to understand it, and this prevents us from making the right decisions. Therefore: Trust your intuition, but try to understand it.