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QCRI aims to boost Qatar's knowledge economy

Qatar Computing Research Institute head discusses aims and programs

QCRI aims to boost Qatar's knowledge economy
Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, executive director of the Qatar Computing Research Institute says the Institute will be doing applied research that can help society.

The new Qatar Computing Research Institute, which opened its doors in October, took part in the Qatar Foundation's first annual Research Forum in Doha this week, to discuss research programs and initiatives undertaken by national stakeholders, universities, international partners and multinational companies.

Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, executive director of the institute spoke to ITP.net about the aims of the Institute and the research projects it is currently working on.

According to Elmagarmid, the Institute is a part of the Qatar Foundation's mission to transform society from depending on carbon to a more knowledge-based economy, centred on  three pillars of education, community and service research.

"The Qatar Computing Research Institute is tasked with three missions: one is to look at and evaluate and come up with a global national strategy for computing research, two is to do in-house research - this is not research which is contracted or funded, no, we want to actually grow a research culture here locally and do the research here - the third mission is to do outreach; outreach through education, training of graduate students, training of contractual students and things of that nature," Elmagarmid told ITP.net.

Elmagarmid is very clear on the vision for the Institute and emphasises that he wants to do research that can aid society.

"We are interested in doing research but not mathematical, not basic research, we are interested in doing research that has a potential of impacting society, of doing technology transfer to industry," he said.

The Institute has two broad areas of research, core computing and computational thinking, or computer-enabled scientific discovery.

In core computing the Institute is interested in Arabic language technologies, cloud computing and in data analytics.

The computational thinking section of their research is focused on applications that are important to the region.

"We are interested in things that are relevant to Qatar such as, bio-informatics, because there is a huge investment here in health care, in the biomedical sector," said Elmagarmid.

The institute is also interested in high performance computing and is working with scientists and engineers to develop model simulations looking at and analysing data intensive applications.

The last area the institute is involved in is infrastructure development, which cradles the basic computing research, the core computing research and the applied areas.

"We see a role that we play in developing advanced computing infrastructure for the science and engineering communities in the world, not only in Qatar, not only in the region, but in the world," said Elmagarmid.

The Institute is working towards developing an infrastructure that will aid scientists across disciplines in their research work. Elmagarmid says the current computational infrastructures for research are woefully inadequate.

"I see the existing computer infrastructure made available to scientists and engineers today to be awfully insufficient. The reason is, we require our scientists, our engineers, even social scientists to be computer-savvy before they can read the results of their research. We would like to develop a computing infrastructure that makes it easy for a chemist to pay attention to the chemistry and a biologist to pay attention to the biology and a social scientist to pay attention to sociology and not become computer experts. We want to develop computing infrastructure that hides the complexities of the infrastructure and only provides the layers that are needed for them to do their work," added Elmagarmid.

He says the development of these types of hub technologies will make it easy for scientists to run their research, do their experiments and run their simulations through a simple interface.



Upcoming projects

The Qatar Computing Research Institute is currently working on two major areas; developing Arabic language technologies on the web, and cloud computing.

In terms of the Arabic language development, the institute is developing the tools and components of search engines which can be used in conjunction with the international search engines that are already in place.

"I don't see ourselves starting today to develop a brand new, brand name search engine in Arabic. We would like to write things, for example, doing word search, doing image search and make those available for Arabic users on top of existing search engines so we can get the attention of Google and Bing who will say ‘oh, ok this is useful, we want to adapt it'. We want to become part of a food chain for these big search engines," said Elmagarmid.

The Institute has already hired some people who are expert in Arabic language information retrieval and natural language processing, such as morphological analysis.

Elmagarmid also has plans to address the problem of a lack of Arabic content on the web.

"Everybody that works in Arabic knows that content is not as it should be. If you compare the amount of content to the amount of internet penetration in the Arab world to the number of potential users, you can se that there is a huge potential for growth," he said.

In January, Elmagarmid will be convening a group of top-level experts in Arabic technologies from around the globe from both industry and education and hailing from such enterprises as Google, Yahoo! and educational institutions such as Colombia University, to discuss the problems of the Arabic language on the web.

"It is a small hand-picked group of not more than 15 to 20 people and we are going to have a serious discussion as to why we have such problems with the Arabic language, why isn't there more progress being made? We are not just going to be asking philosophical questions, we will be asking technical questions, specifically; what should we be emphasising in the institute to make an impact in the Arabic language?" he added.

The second project the Institute is currently working on is in cloud computing:

"The reason we honed down on cloud computing is because it is an area that is up-and-coming, that is very important to people from the green, environmental world, and also to people that are looking at this as a way to cut costs," said Elmagarmid.

The Institute has made some strategic hires in this area and has technologists working on problems such as disaster recovery as well as further developing the operating system environment for cloud and developing services on the cloud.

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