Prof. William Wang Joins CS Faculty

Computer Science is pleased to welcome Professor William Wang to UC Santa Barbara. He joined the department on July 1, 2016.

Q:  Which courses will you be teaching?

A: I will be teaching an undergraduate "Introduction to Natural Language Processing" (Intro NLP) course in the upcoming Winter quarter. I am very passionate about this class, because it is the first time in history that the CS department is offering such a course. NLP is a core area within Artificial Intelligence (AI), and I will be covering the theoretical background and Machine Learning (ML) approaches for modern NLP problems such as Question Answering, Information Extraction, Machine Translation, and Speech Recognition. I am also planning a graduate level class on Deep Learning for NLP. My goal is to empower our students with modern statistical thinking, and prepare them with better data analytic skills.

Q:  Why Computer Science at UCSB; what influenced your decision?

A: I have interviewed at eight leading CS departments throughout the country this past Spring, and UCSB was my second stop. I was very impressed with the audience during my job talk: the room was completely packed, and many interesting questions were asked. Not sure if it's because of weather, but everyone seems to have a good mood, and they are quite responsive to my jokes. Right chemistry is very important, so I think it's a good match between us at the first sight. A key factor for my decision is the world-class faculty around us here at UCSB CS. The department has many world-renowned researchers in the broad area of data science and systems: Xifeng Yan, Linda Petzold, Matthew Turk, Amr El Abbadi, Ambuj Singh, Tobias Höllerer, Chandra Krintz, Ben Zhao, Rich Wolski, Divy Agrawal... just to name a few. I am super excited about the challenge of building up AI, ML, and NLP research at the most beautiful campus in the world!

Q:  Has there been a defining moment in your academic career? 

A:  The defining moment was during my graduate school: after taking the natural language processing class, I realized that Maths was actually really useful. It is remarkable to see how one can use elegant Mathematical tools and design practical models to solve real-world problems: for example, using the Bayes' rule to build a speech recognizer; using calculus to optimize a log-linear model for building a part-of-speech tagger; and using linear algebra to extract relations from sentences and parse a query. Since then, I have been following my passion, and really enjoy doing cutting-edge research in machine learning and NLP. 

Q:  What are you most passionate about, outside of academics?

A:  When I am not working, I enjoy playing competitive badminton. Badminton is most popular in Asia and Europe, and I think it's an excellent sport: it requires good reaction, concentration, agility, power, flexibility, and endurance. One thing you might not know is that the fastest badminton shot was recorded at over 200 mph. I am also a big fan of the Giallorossi. Forza Roma!

Q:  Is there anything that has surprised you about Santa Barbara?

A:  Well, I was surprised that Santa Barbara has so much to offer. Not just world-class beaches and scenic mountains with awesome hiking trails, but also many historical landmarks with Spanish heritage. The restaurants are of top quality, and I think I have already gained a few pounds even before the new quarter starts. While Santa Barbara has a nice airport and it is very accessible to big cities, what I really enjoy is the tranquility of this city---this is THE perfect place for doing research. 


Q:  During your time as a research scientist intern of Yahoo! Labs, Microsoft Research Redmond, and University of Southern California, did you experience any "Aha!" moments?

A: I think it is very nice for these big tech companies to support fundamental research in Computer Science, and this is what makes America a truly innovative powerhouse.  

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