It is the first time a faculty member of the school has received this award. The fellowship, which carries a research grant of $3 million, provides opportunities for early career researchers to carry out independent research locally over a five-year period.
Dr. Zick said that the fellowship gave him peace of mind to work on his two main research interests. The first is designing and implementing fair division and collaboration methods in various economic domains. Citing the example of taxi booking apps like Uber and Grabcar, he said,” When one hitches a ride, these apps decide which driver one’s getting and the taxi fare one will pay. However, there is a need to ensure that these economic interactions are conducted fairly.” Dr. Zick added that underlying his research is the employment of techniques from computer science and machine learning to solve problems in economics and social choice.
He also conducts research on algorithmic transparency that involves the design of mathematical models that make algorithms more open. Dr. Zick said, “While Big Data algorithms help make predictions on individuals' income in order to decide whether he or she is eligible for a bank loan, the input to these algorithms can be highly diverse. In addition to straightforward parameters like income, employment history and credit history, others like age and marital status are used. The decision making system becomes so complex that no one is able to explain the reasoning behind decisions and outcomes.” He seeks to understand the relative importance of each input in arriving at a decision, and identify discriminatory practices by algorithms in ways that common statistical methods do not.
The NRF funding will also allow him to conduct large scale experiments to ensure that the methods devised actually help people and can be deployed in real world systems. Underscoring his interest in the intersection between computing and the social sciences, Dr. Zick sums up the philosophy underlying his research: “I want to design systems that treat people fairly and ensure that algorithms use data in a transparent manner.”
Dr. Yair Zick is supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF), Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, under its NRF Fellowship (Class of 2017). He is awarded the fellowship for his work on data-driven strategic collaboration.