ASEF Zgodba - dr. Dunja Mladenić
ASEF Story

Research work means that you keep studying throughout your whole life

May 26, 2024 | 7:48 am |

On Thursday, April 4, ASEF Junior Fellows heard a new story in a series of talks with highly successful Slovenians. In this ASEF story, we were joined by Dr Dunja Mladenić, Head of the Artificial Intelligence Department at the Jožef Stefan Institute, a professor and researcher who focuses on text analysis with machine learning.

Dr Mladenić began by pointing out that managerial roles bring additional stress, which makes it all the more important to take time for oneself. Yoga, which she also coaches, is a particular help in relieving the daily pressure.

She became interested in data policy and machine learning during her studies, when she listened to lectures by Professor Ivan Bratko, a pioneer of artificial intelligence in Slovenia. Together with fellow students interested in AI, they were introduced to the research environment at the Jožef Stefan Institute, where Dr Mladenić still works today. She emphasized that she was attracted to working at the Institute because of the flexibility or openness of the environment and the emphasis on content.

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Dr Mladenić presented the work of the research team at the Jožef Stefan Institute. She said that the amount of data has increased over the years and, accordingly, the need for methods that work with large amounts of data has also increased. Since they and their team have established themselves as flexible and conscientious partners from the start, they have become well known in the European area and are working on a number of European projects.

She also told us what it was like to study with Professor Tom Mitchell at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States. There, they worked on data that had been edited, which was different from the work in Slovenia. Because the culture and quality of life in America is so different, she soon began to miss Slovenia and returned home. She said that the fact that she was able to contact a PhD student abroad whom she knew from before made her circumstances much easier.

She also spoke about the importance of supporting and recognising the work of women scientists, who sometimes have to dedicate themselves to their families in addition to their demanding academic careers. She pointed out that computer science in particular has a label of a technical and isolated science, which is far from the truth.

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Dr Mladenić pointed out that the field of artificial intelligence used to be not as popular as it is today, and above all, it was not clear that it would become so popular in the business world: “It was not clear that generative models would be so successful. Today, everyone else is an AI expert.”

She concluded by reminding the audience that in the end, it is the human being who decides what AI will do. She urged the Fellows to be aware of the importance of understanding the systems background of new technologies: “How do new possibilities help us to solve problems that we have posed in the past?”

The conversation was moderated by Jernej Birk, ASEF Junior Fellow 2024. 

The ASEF Story project is supported by the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad and the Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Youth.

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