21 March 2022

Adam Herout: I enjoy connecting the world of atoms and bits

Adam Herout's blog is popular among students, where he gives advice on how to write a thesis | Autor: Jan Prokopius

For his academic and pedagogical achievements he received a silver medal from the Rector this year. In 2015, at the age of 37, he became one of the youngest professors at the BUT (Brno University of Technology). He works at the Faculty of Information Technology as a representative of the Institute of Computer Graphics and Multimedia. He specializes in computer vision and also co-founded Angelcam, a company with the same focus. In addition, he writes a blog where he advises students on how to write a thesis or how to succeed in state exams. In his spare time he is a coach. Yet Adam Herout says of himself – I am an amateur and a dilettante.

Based on your CV, the amateur and dilettante label doesn't really fit you.

It fits for me. Amateur is from the Latin “amare”, which means to love. This is a man who loves what he does. Dilettante is from the Latin “delectare”, which means to entertain. I don't know why those words became swear words. In doing so, they refer to people who do things with love. I feel that way – I am an amateur and a dilettante in the field of computer vision and pedagogy. I like doing it very much and with interest. But in an academic environment, I have to state such things with a certain amount of caution. (laughs)

Otherwise, you probably wouldn't have won the silver medal at the BUT.

I admit that it caught me off guard and I have some feelings about whether I really deserve it. But I am happy, it is an appreciation of my research and teaching activities.

Why did you decide to focus on computer vision?

We have a world of atoms in which we move. The mug, the table, the room. And then there is the world of bits where information is stored – the database. We can work in the world of atoms – like building engines. We can also work in the world of bits – create databases and search for information. It's fascinating to learn how to communicate between these two worlds, and that's still problematic. We use cameras and develop clever algorithms to do this, but there are some pieces of information that computers cannot interpret yet. They don't recognise some important things from CCTV, like the fact that when two people are holding hands, they like each other.

Some of your research into computer vision algorithms has also been in transport systems.

For example, we have designed algorithms for camera systems in parking lots that do not store license plates. I think the issue of privacy is an important one. We have therefore devised a system to re-identify cars without storing their registration plates. We used cameras to collect car characteristics such as model, colour and other distinguishing features. To do this, we worked with the timeline. People want their privacy to be protected and I understand why. I try to contribute to the creation of systems that do not collect personal data even in situations where it is not necessary.

My colleagues and I have been trying to teach computers to see everything. For example, to understand what the pilot is doing in the cockpit and how much stress he is under. Recognize important points on the patient's skull in CT images and directly design implants in areas where the skull is damaged. In the production, even small damages can be seen, so that the rejects are caught in time and do not spoil the next process. There are many situations where it is really useful for the computer to see and understand to some extent.

Your blog is popular among students, where you also give advice on how to write a thesis. Why did you start it?

I really like thesis supervision. More than some other forms of teaching. Some formal questions were repeated during the consultations and I explained the same things to the students. I figured I'd summarize it on the blog. I have written a series of texts called The Tao of Thesis. The article on how to write an abstract was the most successful.

What do you think students make the most mistakes in?

They repeat dogmatic procedures or formulations when writing a thesis or defending it without understanding, because they feel that “that's the way to do it”. Although it doesn't make sense and the text is then not to read and the presentation is not to listen to. I try to awaken critical thinking and empathy in them – to empathize with the reader of the thesis or the committee members. Let them formulate things clearly, simply, understandably and logically. The state exams are burdened with a lot of myths, it can be done more humanly and truthfully without academic Latin and ornaments.

Are you still posting to the blog?

I used to post weekly and the blog had thousands of visits daily from various universities. Mostly right before state exams, of course. I haven't added anything to the blog now, I've sort of written the topic off. I have received thank you emails from students and that has made me happy. I hope that they will then continue to use the same principles that helped them with their state exams presentations and express themselves simply and when they speak, they will speak to people and speak clearly. Some students even contacted me asking me to coach them.

You have completed four years of psychotherapeutic training and are involved in Gestalt therapy – who do you coach?

At first I focused mainly on professional coaching in the field of technology and innovation – precisely because I can see a little bit into the development of information technology thanks to my experience. But I really enjoy personal coaching – helping people who are struggling, looking for their own path and want to make a change in their lives.

It is a somewhat unconventional combination of professions – information technology researcher and psychotherapist.

As I said, I'm fascinated by the connection between the world of atoms and the world of bits. And then there is a third, completely different world – the world of souls. Algorithms can be viewed in terms of data structures. Or you can look at it from an application perspective – what the technology can do and what it can be used for. I am interested in another perspective – what technology does to the human soul. Take the mobile phone, it's no longer a personal computer that calculates something for some person. There is a huge chunk of a person's life in the texts, the calendar and the gallery. The telephone is a gateway to human intimacy. I'm interested in how technology relates to our souls, how to deal with it, and what is yet to come.



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