University of Toronto South Korean technology company Naver Corp. and works with its Toronto-based subsidiary Wattpad – artificial intelligence research aimed at using technology to power human creativity.
Guided by the Partnership Framework Agreement, Naver will collaborate with U of T on four research projects ranging from human-computer interaction to natural language processing. Both projects are run in partnership with Wattpad, which was founded by U of T alumni and acquired by Naver in early 2021.
The five-year research partnership – which will train dozens of master’s, PhD and post-doctoral researchers – was announced recently by U of T’s Office of the Vice President, International following a visit by senior leaders to South Korea.
“The partnership with Naver and Wattpad is a landmark corporate partnership,” he said Alex Mihailidis, U of T’s associate vice president, international partnerships. “This allows the support of the Toronto-based business at Wattpad to be paired with the global ambitions of their corporate parent Naver, but two of T’s greatest strengths in computing: artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.
“This partnership is multi-disciplinary, multi-party and multi-year. It’s a great testament to the power of integrated expertise – something U of T is uniquely positioned to offer.”
The project funds research projects led by Naver, one of South Korea’s largest companies and a global powerhouse in AI research and development. Anastasia Kuzminikh And Tony Tang Faculty of Information, and Daniel Wigdor, Funny Chevalier, Frank Rudzig And Gerald Penn Department of Computer Science in Faculty of Arts & Science.
The projects address one of the biggest challenges in the field: how to structure effective human-computer dialogue and realize the power of AI in writing and social reading technologies – ensuring diversity and fairness are built into AI text recommendations.
“AI is a powerful technology, but its true value is only realized when paired with world-class human-computer interfaces,” said Jung-Woo Ha, Head of Naver AI Lab. “We are excited to be working with top experts in these fields through our partnership with U of T.”
From left: Namsun Kim, Suk-gen Chung, Jung-woo Ha, Sang-do Eun, Young-ho Kim, Illon Kramer, Alex Mihailidis, Catherine Lee and Trevor Novak (photo courtesy of Naver)
The announcement comes on the heels of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s recent visit to U of T’s St. George campus, where he met with U of T’s president. Merrick Gertler and discussed the growth and applications of AI with leaders and luminaries in the field, including University Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Hinton.
The event included presentations on avenues for AI research and collaborations from South Korean tech companies including Naver.
Kuzminikh said his research with Naver examines how human perceptions of and interactions with conversational “agents” (such as chatbots and virtual assistants) are affected by various aspects of “conversation structure,” or the structure and flow of conversation.
“Lack of awareness of these effects, [which are] “Critical for conveying an agent’s speech synthesis leads to shortcomings in current human-agent interaction design,” Kuzminikh said.
She notes that current conversational user interfaces are dominated by transactional exchanges that convey information rather than lengthy back-and-forth interactions. “If agents are to truly be communication partners for human users and provide meaningful input, their activities must support extended conversations, augmenting transactional interactions with social entities used to establish and maintain social relationships,” Kuzminikh said.
At the same time, Rudzicz says his project with Wattpad focuses on parsing linguistic information into modern language models so that syntactic, semantic and rhetorical aspects of texts can be better understood in neural networks.
“It can be applied to identify sources of bias in text and models towards more fair machine learning,” he says.
Headquartered in Seongnam, a satellite city of the South Korean capital Seoul, Naver owns several companies and services, including its eponymous search engine, Line instant communication app, Naver Clova interactive AI engine, and digital comics platform Webtoon.
In early 2021, Naver acquired Wattpad, founded by U of T alumni Allen Lou And Evan Yuen, for $600 million US. At the time, Law said U of T News He said the webtoon’s potential to appeal to the digital comics audience was a key driver behind the acquisition, which would help take Wattpad “to the next level.”
“We’re excited to partner closely with both U of T and Naver to develop research that will help us deliver more innovative experiences to our users,” said Brendan Cohn, head of engineering at Wattpad. “Between Wattpad’s content platform, millions of stories from diverse voices around the world, Naver’s impressive hyperscale AI technology, and U of T’s comprehensive AI expertise, we hope to help our users discover and create more content they love.”
Patricia Thompson, U of T’s partnership officer and led the Naver relationship, The collaboration between U of T and Naver provides significant training opportunities for graduate and postdoctoral students.
“We hope that both Naver and Wattpad will see this partnership as a launchpad for a long-term relationship with the university and continue to leverage U of T innovation to further support their missions to empower human creativity.”