Although he enjoyed IT at school, Michael Harrison never thought he would be studying towards a master’s degree in computer science, but he found the allure of artificial intelligence hard to resist.
After completing a Bachelor of Business Science, a four-year degree, Michael signed up for a Master’s in Computer Science, a two-year degree through dissertation.
It was only in his fourth year of the business science degree that Michael had enough time to concentrate on computer science and discovered that that was where his passion lies.
Master’s wasn’t Michael’s intention, but he found the fourth-year research project so stimulating that he decided to continue his studies. “Defining algorithms to reason was novel and surreal to me. I found it very intriguing… You are dabbling a lot in maths and philosophy.”
His master’s research deals with the theoretical side of computer science, knowledge representation and reasoning, a sub-field of artificial intelligence. This focuses on reasoning about a knowledge base that contains exceptions. For instance, if birds can fly, and a penguin is a bird, then how does a computer system deal with this inconsistency?
Michael’s work focuses on a specific logic language called datalogue, originally a database-querying language, and enriching this to handle defeasible information, so, in simple terms, a bird ‘typically’ flies instead of just ‘flies’.
Once the language has been constructed then algorithms can get the right conclusions at the right time.
This research is all so new that it’s hard to foresee all its possible uses, but it underpins many different fields of artificial intelligence. Applications that already exist are Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.
While making his research a top priority Michael has also tutored a commerce course, lectured first-year computer science, and acts as a postgraduate teaching assistant. He has also travelled to Europe for the Summer School of Logic, Language and Information, held in 2018 in Bulgaria
Michael has received funding for his studies through CAIR (Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research) research group, and he encourages other students to apply for funding.
Employment prospects are also good. Michael already has a position with Oracle lined up after spending an internship with the IT company. After that, he hopes sometime in the future to study towards a PhD.
School of Information Technology
Skool vir Inligtingstegnologie