My name is Falk Pollok. I am a Research Software Engineer at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and specialize in AI Systems Integration with a focus on neuro-symbolic integration, esp. in hybrid cloud settings.
- PalmQA: Question answering ensemble for e-learning and research at RWTH Aachen that was able to defeat PhDs on factoid open domain question answering tasks
- IBM Sapphire: I was the lead developer of IBM Sapphire at the University of Michigan, a dialog system for academic advising which consisted of over 30 neural and non-neural AI services.
- IBM’s Fabric for Deep Learning (FfDL): Open source heart of Watson Machine Learning (WML) for framework-agnostic distributed deep learning on top of Kubernetes that integrates with a wide ecosystem of related open source projects like Uber Horovod, the Adversarial Robustness Toolkit (ART), AI Fairness 360 (AIF360), H20.ai, Seldon and kube-batch. Won InfoWorld’s Best of Open Source Award 2018.
- IBM Verdi: Multi-Agent System for Business Process Optimization and Automation, foundation of Watson Orchestrate
- DARPA Machine Common Sense: My current main focus is the DARPA MCS project. I am a part of the MIT-Harvard-Stanford team to mimic the development of commonsense in young children working in close collaboration with Josh Tenenbaum, Dan Gutfreund and Vikash Mansinghka.
I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree of Computer Science from RWTH Aachen.
Furthermore, I have for multiple years worked for the University of Michigan and with MIT (ongoing).
You can also connect with me on LinkedIn.
InfoWorld’s Best of Open Source (BOSSIE) Award 2018
My team received InfoWorld’s Best of Open Source (BOSSIE) award in 2018 for our work on the Fabric for Deep Learning.
One of Five Faces of IBM Research 2021
I was featured as one of the five Faces of IBM Research in 2021 for leading IBM’s Engineering Excellence platform. If you are within the IBM network, you can read more here (“Spotlighting our Engagement Catalysts – 5 researchers driving positive change and culture”). [I also received two Manager’s Choice awards in the years before.]
Research Accomplishment 2021: Neuro-Symbolic Models and World Simulators for Machine Common Sense
From a very young age, humans are able to grasp basic physical and social principles that govern their environment. For example, at around 4 months of age, babies understand that an object does not vanish out of existence even when it is out of sight. Often such principles are not labeled or taught in a direct supervised manner and we refer to them as common sense. As humans grow and develop the ability to communicate in natural language, their common sense understanding develops as well. For example, adults possess an intuitive understanding of Newtonian physics and are able to make accurate predictions and answer questions about dynamic scenes involving interactions between several objects. Common sense is necessary for humans, and other animals, to successfully interact with their environment and achieve their goals, and it is often a prerequisite for learning and solving higher-level tasks, e.g. changing a flat tire. It is likely that the road to general AI and embodied agents will require developing models and systems that have common sense. This accomplishment is for a body of work that led to a significant scientific impact, including more than 20 publications in top tier conferences, invited talks and organized workshops and patents, as well as [budget redacted since confidential, but a multi-million] 4-year DARPA contract, several open source projects including a highly realistic simulation environment for training and testing AI agents, numerous released datasets and benchmarks, and media coverage. This impact is a result of a long-term, cross-organizational and multi-disciplinary teaming effort between researchers and engineers from IBM and our academic partners at MIT, Harvard and Stanford. [If you are within the IBM network, you can read more here.]
Here is a selection of press coverage about projects I worked on.
Fabric for Deep Learning
- IBM wants to open up the deep learning expertise bottleneck
- Q&A on IBM’s Fabric for Deep Learning with Chief Architect of Watson
- IBM and University of Michigan develop human computer
- Your guidance counselor may one day be a robot
- U-M, IBM Partner on $4.5M Development of Conversational Computer
- IBM Watson Orchestrate uses AI to help improve sales, HR and operations
- IBM Introduces Watson Orchestrate for Task Automation
There were multiple articles about the DARPA Machine Common Sense project that I am currently working on, but since they tend to be about the whole project and not my team in particular, I will skip them for now.
“I am convinced that with his abilities and dedication he will be a great addition to any team aiming at pushing the boundaries of machine learning, reasoning and natural language processing for smarter and more natural interaction between humans and computer systems.”— Prof. Ulrik Schroeder, Professor at RWTH Aachen
“Falk is an exceptionally hard-working and dedicated member of the UMich team making this project happen. He is the lead developer for the project, and as such, manages the integration of research ideas into stable, well-engineered software. He has proven himself to be a critical piece of this multi-million-dollar collaboration between industry and academia.”— Prof. Walter Lasecki, Professor and PI at University of Michigan
“Falk’s leadership role as an experienced engineer at the MIT-IBM Watson AI lab has been crucial in achieving the goals and deliverables on some of the most central projects in the lab.”— Dan Gutfreund, Principal RSM and Manager at MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab
“I don’t think I’ve had a collaborator who writes such nice code (and cleans up my mistakes nearly as well)!“— Dan Bear, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stanford
“Falk, I want to thank you for your incredible contribution to the Engagement Catalysts efforts in 2021. Yours is the most significant contribution – you laid the ground for our Engineering Excellence platform (announced by Dario!). Your Engineering Excellence talk series is an admirable achievement, that professional event organizers would envy”— Michal Jacovi, Global Engagement Leader for IBM Research
The view from my previous apartment’s balcony over Boston as well as MIT on the other river side.
My office in Cambridge is exactly on the opposite side of the river – here are some images looking out the windows:
Before IBM Research AI Cambridge and the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab I worked for the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Besides campus I also liked my apartment:
RWTH Aachen – the university where I studied. [Full disclosure: Images licensed from Alamy.]
Zitadelle Jülich – my school. [Full disclosure: Images licensed from Alamy.]
Let me share a few personal interests as well.
I like playing with technology, many genres of music, haute cuisine and was fortunate enough to experience a few interesting places.
Computer science has been a passion of mine ever since I got my first computer at age 4. I always got the best possible CS grade in school and participated in a workgroup at my school that won a nation-wide CS award (“Wasserschulgarten Jülich”, Schüler als ComputerLotsen – Ein gemeinsamer Wettbewerb des Bundesverbandes der Deutschen Industrie e.V. (BDI) und der Stiftung Industrieforschung in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln). My relationship to my field and profession goes way beyond just being a job.
Fun fact: Somehow I managed to get into the credits of the video game Dex (video) – big thank you to my colleague Jan Jirkovsky from Prague who unfortunately has passed away since then. May he rest in peace.
N.U.M.B.A. Station is an exclusive blend of eclectic music for your secret agent lifestyle. It is my main music collection and has been significantly influenced by SomaFM’s superb Secret Agent station as well as the excellent KEXP 90.3 FM.
Under-Counter Freezer is one of my niche channels and provides your under-the-counter dose of well-tempered, lightly iced grooves to chillax. It was inspired by SomaFM’s amazing Groove Salad, but has a wider scope including not only ambient, but diving into genres like trip hop, postrock and electronica.
Monte Carlo Club is another one of my niche channels and collects the hottest beats from the most prestigious night clubs in the world. If you frequent Jimmy’z or the Billionaire clubs or were a regular at Club Рай in its heyday you will recognize what the inspiration was.
Miami Night Crew is probably my most niche channel. It is the perfect mixtape for driving your Lamborghini through neon-filled Miami nights. Beware that Miami nights are not only beautiful, but can also be dangerous and violent. If you like a genre mix of synthwave, 80s music and the occasional excursus into almost video-game-like tunes, owned a Power Glove for your NES or are fond of plastic flamingos, lip-shaped telephones and thunder-shaped electric guitars, you might enjoy Miami Night Crew as well.
Another one of my hobbies is cooking. Here are a few of the dishes I’ve prepared:
I also appreciate a good drink from time to time. A few of my favorites have been:
- Rémy Martin Louis XIII I had at The View in New York
- Hennessy Richard I had at the Top of the Hub in Boston
- Macallan M I had at the Lenox in Boston
- Havana Club Máximo I had at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo in Monaco
- Roederer Cristal (which I prefer over both Armand de Brignac and even Dom Perignon)
Finally, I like traveling, even though I usually travel in a business context. Unfortunately for this section, I do not take many pictures on trips. I frequently visit New York City and the Bay Area [where I have attended multiple events at Berkeley and Stanford as well as visited the usual places like Menlo Park incl. Facebook HQ, Mountainview incl. Googleplex, Cupertino incl. Apple HQ, Palo Alto, San Mateo etc.], but my recent trip from Frankfurt over Stuttgart to Zurich, Cannes, Nice and Monaco clearly stood out.
While I love American atrium hotels such as the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square or the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at Embarcadero Center, my favorite hotel is the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo in Monaco. The most luxurious hotel suite I ever had the pleasure to enjoy was the Presidential Suite at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich. The hotel features a rather unique indoor atrium as well with lots of plants and an artificial indoor creek that is worth seeing. Another hotel that I enjoyed very much is the Hôtel la Pérouse in Nice – looking over the promenade from their whirl pool at the top floor as well as being upgraded to a room with a giant balcony where I could enjoy my breakfast while looking over Nice was amazing.
As next trips I hope I can find an excuse to visit Geneva as well as travel from Milan over Florence and Rome down to the Amalfi coast. I have already visited the first three Italian cities via online tours which I appreciate as a cheap and environment-friendly alternative to see places. I have virtually visited many additional locations this way including London, Munich, Paris, Madrid, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Venice, Singapore and Prague.
Monaco Christmas Market and Yacht Harbor
Hyatt Regency Greenwich Presidential Suite
A friend of mine assigned a dedicated house to me so I could study machine learning undisturbed in the evenings. Thanks, Ingmar.
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Please inform me via the contact form if any concerns should arise, so I can do my best to correct them. Thank you.