Associate Professor Yong Jae Lee joins UW-Madison Computer Sciences Department to focus on Computer Vision

Yong Jae Lee comes to UW-Madison from an artificial intelligence visiting faculty position at Cruise and before that from faculty positions at University of California-Davis. Lee studies Computer Vision – “enabling machines to ‘see’ the visual world.” Lee believes it is important to share his work widely, in keeping with the Wisconsin Idea: “It’s very rewarding to know that what we created is being used by the general public, beyond the immediate academic community.”

Hometown: Seoul, Korea

Educational/professional background: B.S. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Ph.D. University of Texas-Austin; Postdoc. Carnegie Mellon University/University of California-Berkeley

How did you get into your field of research?
Computer vision. I took an image processing class during my junior year in college and then worked with the professor on a research project on face detection. I became fascinated by this subfield of AI whose goal is to create intelligent systems that can understand the visual world as we humans do. So I decided to pursue this area for my graduate studies and have been studying it ever since.

Could you please describe your area of focus?
Computer vision is the study of enabling machines to “see” the visual world (i.e., images and videos). 

What main issue do you address or problem do you seek to solve in your work?
Humans and animals learn to see the world mostly on their own, without supervision, yet most of today’s state-of-the-art visual recognition systems rely on millions of manually-annotated training images. My research in computer vision and deep learning focuses on creating scalable recognition systems that can learn to understand visual data with minimal human supervision.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
That computer vision, and more generally, AI is an exciting subject to study!

What attracted you to UW-Madison?
The world-class faculty and students, and amazing CS department.

What was your first visit to campus like?
It was towards the end of summer. The weather was perfect (sunny and cool), and campus was vibrant with lots of activity. I definitely felt a lot of positive energy.

What are you looking forward to doing or experiencing in Madison?
Having stimulating research discussions with my students by the water.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
I want my research to advance science and humanity positively. One of the ways I try to do this is by publicly sharing the artifacts (e.g. code and data) from my lab’s research projects. I’ve seen our work being used by startups, tech enthusiasts – it’s very rewarding to know that what we created is being used by the general public, beyond the immediate academic community. 

Please tell us about something you’re working on in layperson’s terms, so that non-computer scientists at UW-Madison and the general public can understand what you’re passionate about.
If you’ve ever taken a picture with a digital camera and seen it generate boxes around people’s faces, that was the result of computer vision.

Hobbies/other interests:
These days I spend almost all my free time with my kids (a one-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy). I particularly like building Lego with my son. I also enjoy playing sports (soccer and basketball are my favorites). Although I have not had much time recently, I’d love to pick this up again.