A year to reinforce ties between Idiap and Mexico

Full time professor in Mexico, Esaú Villatoro is on sabbatical year at Idiap. He aims to develop a project in the Natural Language Understanding field with different researchers from the Idiap Research Institute.

Having a visitor from abroad is not only a chance to strengthen our network, but it’s also a unique opportunity to gain new insights on some of our specific research fields, as well as on specificities of our institute. We met Esaú Villatoro after his first month at Idiap.

What is your background and why have you decided to collaborate with the Idiap Research Institute?

I have met Petr Motlicek from the Speech and Audio Processing Group during a conference, but we never had the chance to work together. As in Mexico scientists are allowed to take a sabbatical leave every six years and I never had one, it was the perfect opportunity to submit and start a project together. My research interests lie in the identification of psychological cues in the language that can predict a mental disorder. I am a full professor, member of the Language and Reasoning research group, at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City and an external member of the Laboratory of Language Technologies (LabTL) of the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics, located in Puebla. But here at Idiap not only the Speech processing group is really big, there is a great variety of research fields that are potentially interesting for my project.

What kind of collaborations are you expecting?

The use of a multimodal methodology, incorporating for example methods such as statistics, semantics, speech rate, allows to create a link between the natural language understanding field and the behavioral approaches. For example, based on a written text, you can detect the gender of a person or if the person suffers from depression. With this approach you can imagine to incorporate the text analysis to the analysis of images and videos. The challenge is to be able to detect topics and to categorize them in a meaningful way. We use linguistic models and work with Swiss companies involved in such activities to develop and tune our own model. Beyond these networking opportunities, I hope to be able to preserve some collaborations beyond the project, but it’s difficult to set projects between Europe and Mexico.

Beyond the scientific complementary, what are the cultural and work differences you have observed at Idiap?

I quickly observed some uncommon things here, such as the paper submission process for big conferences. It’s a synchronized task which involves everybody in a group, from students to senior scientists. It’s quite unusual for me and I find it very interesting. The number of applied projects in collaboration with a private company is also new for me. It offers a lot of financing opportunities, but it also seems to come at a price and to put more pressure on post docs. On a more personal note, I enjoy meeting so many people with diverse cultural backgrounds and I find amusing to see how food can be a big deal. Fortunately, I love cheese.

More information:

-    Esaú Villatoro personal webpage
-    Speech & audio processing group