Alumnus Haris Aziz Honoured by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

For Alumnus Haris Aziz, It is all about Al

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LUMS alumnus, Haris Aziz, BSc Class of 2003, Scientia Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, has recently been honoured by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) for his contribution to Game Theory and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Apart from the latest award, Aziz is listed among the world’s top two per cent of scientists in a study led by Stanford University researchers and published by PLoS Biology. He was named as a research field leader in Game Theory and Decision Science in The Australian’s Research 2020 leader board. Aziz is also a conjoint research scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s premier science agency. The list of laurels does not stop here. Aziz has regularly held visiting positions overseas such as at Paris Dauphine, Oxford, and Harvard. He has solved some major open problems in his field and is an associate editor of several major journals in AI. 

Definitely not a very common field of study, Game Theory and Al are actually the buzz words that are making waves in today’s scientific world. So how important are these today? How are they impacting lives? How and why did a LUMS alumnus journey into this particular field?

“Throughout school and university, I found it convenient to opt for mathematical subjects because my apparent natural inclination allowed me time for other activities such as football and tennis. My father, an electronic engineer who played his part in the country’s nuclear programme, influenced my deeper appreciation for scientific inquiry and encouraged me to pursue a career path that I was passionate about. One critical point is that, when I had opportunities for jobs in London’s financial sector right after an MSc degree from Oxford, I opted to pursue a PhD because fundamental research intrigued me,” explains Aziz. 
Grateful for an opportunity to pursue a career that allows for deep thinking and international collaboration, Aziz, born and bred in Lahore, remembers most of his childhood, where his mother happily drove him and his siblings to school and various sports activities. “Our family is crazy about tennis and our dinner conversations often veered to animated technical discussions on the finer points of the game,” remembers Aziz.  

Having achieved so many laurels, Aziz believes that there is a lot he has to explore. “To be honest, I am not big on sitting comfy and looking back. There are always more impactful things to do or aspire to improve both professionally and personally. One easy way to stay grounded is to look at people who are international leaders in the field and see their contributions.” A sound piece of advice from an international figure himself, Aziz adds, “In terms of achievements, I am grateful to be in a position to make regular research contributions to what I find exciting—fundamental problems in AI and algorithmic game theory.”

Attributing his success to his alma mater, LUMS, he says, “At a time when several people of my age were trying to move overseas for an undergraduate degree, LUMS allowed me to spend four additional, wonderful years with my family in Lahore, while receiving international quality education. I am thankful to the computer science and mathematics faculty members who helped shape my thinking. I also admire the LUMS ethos of focussing on merit and open discussion,” says Aziz. 

Aziz is involved in various socially relevant research projects. His current research is at the interface of computer science (in particular AI and theoretical computer science) and mathematical economics (in particular, game theory, social choice, and market design). Presently, he is working on designing healthcare rationing mechanisms that take into account various ethical principles and priorities to make principled decisions. “An algorithmic solution to the problem also applies to various other application domains such as fair and efficient placements of students or effective ways to allocate immigration slots. Many of these problems fall under the field called algorithmic market design,” explains Aziz.  

Another one of Aziz’s ongoing projects entails building general market design algorithms that satisfy desirable properties such as efficiency and stability under complex distributional constraints. “There are many applications of this general approach such as fair and efficient exchange of organs to patients who need them critically,” says Aziz. He is also working on crafting axioms and algorithms for funding coordination and participatory budgeting. “Participatory budgeting is an exciting democratic paradigm in which citizens decide on how much funding is to be allocated to various city projects.” Various team formation, coordination, and routing problems are also part of his work, where optimised routing, and efficient, distributed problem solving is important. These approaches can help autonomous robots cooperate with each other.

Not one of his projects can be described as an easy task, but to Aziz, all these come naturally since he is passionate about what he is doing. "I followed my interests and am grateful to have a job that is more of a passion,” Aziz adds.

As for his future, Aziz plans to visit LUMS soon after the travel restrictions are lifted in Australia and would be happy to have a deeper engagement with the University such as a visiting position. LUMS looks forward to meeting and learning from him! 

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