Cinetrii merges computer science and film

Your next movie night is about to get a whole lot more interesting

Movie recommendation websites and generator apps rarely produce satisfying results. For the most part, the films recommended either share the exact same cast or are way too similar to be exciting. Well, most recommendation websites.

Cinetrii is designed to establish connections between films. These connections can be anything from recurring themes, motifs, explicit references, and homages. It’s simple interface is easy to use and each search yields a multitude of results.

“The results range from profound to quite spurious, but for certain films with rich discourse surrounding them it works pretty well,” says Nils Everling, creator and founder of Cinetrii. “For example, I am a fan of Michelangelo Antonioni who made a string of great films in the 60s and 70s. Through Cinetrii I found Burning by Chang-dong Lee since critics had compared it to L’Avventura.”

Everling got the idea for Cinetrii after watching a YouTube video wherein the narrator discussed the importance of understanding the lineage and history of art, in all its different forms.

“The subject of the video was a Rihanna song, but it got me interested in exploring the “lineage” of cinema in some way as I’m more of a film nerd,” says Everling. “I was studying computer science at the time, so I thought to apply natural language processing to movie reviews and see what insights could be gained from it.”

While most film recommendations are based on popularity, likes, and ratings, Cinetrii’s algorithm analyzes written critic reviews for a given film; it can recommend works that have been influenced by it and works that have influenced it.

In regards to traditional recommendations systems, Everling says, “While the results can be more consistent, they usually exhibit a strong bias toward the most popular movies, stuff everyone has already seen.”

Instead of recommending popular box-office films, Cinetrii looks for mentions of other films in reviews of a particular film and tries to evaluate whether the mention is interesting, explains Everling.

For example, a search for Taxi Driver will yield The Assassination of Richard Nixon, among others, both old and new. The recommendation links to a 2004 review stating that “The character [of Richard Nixon] is based on a real person and true events which also may have been the inspiration for the similarly named Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

“Two films with intersecting casts are unlikely to make up an interesting connection, a connection will score higher if multiple critics establish it, and so on,” says Everling. “Under the hood there are a sequence of technical problems that have to be solved, like finding reviews, determining which parts of a web page constitute a review of a particular film and resolving references to other films.”

Since finishing his studies in computer science, Everling employs data science in other, less artistic, ways. Cinetrii remains his creative pass time.

“There is plenty to do within Cinetrii still, such as improving the coverage of international films and reviews in other languages,” says Everling, adding that he is in the process of updating the Cinetrii algorithm. “I maintain Cinetrii because I use it myself and it may be of interest to others.”

Everling encourages viewers to reach out via Facebook to let him know if their favourite movie is missing.

Student Life

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

“HackHarvard was maybe my 10th hackathon,” said Nicolas MacBeth, a first-year software engineering student at Concordia. He and his friend Alex Shevchenko, also a first-year software engineering student, have decided to make a name for themselves and frequent as many hackathon competitions as they can. The pair have already participated in many hackathons over the last year, both together and separately. “I just went to one last weekend [called] BlocHacks, and I was a finalist at that,” said MacBeth.

Most notable of the pair’s achievements, along with their other teammates Jay Abi-Saad and Ajay Patal, two students from McGill, is their team’s first place ranking as ‘overall best’ in the HackHarvard Global 2018 competition on Oct. 19. According to MacBeth, while all hackathons are international competitions, “HackHarvard was probably the one that had the most people from different places than the United States.” The competition is sponsored by some of the largest transnational conglomerates in the tech industry. For example, Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, a multinational conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, retail, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, as well as Zhejiang Lab, a Zhejiang provincial government sponsored institute whose research focuses on big data and cloud computing.

MacBeth said he and Shevchenko sifted through events on the ‘North American Hackathons’ section of the Major League Hacking (MLH) website, the official student hacking league that supports over 200 competitions around the world, according to their website. “We’ve gone to a couple hackathons, me and Alex together,” said MacBeth. “And we told ourselves ‘Why not? Let’s apply. [HackHarvard] is one of the biggest hackathons.’ […] So we applied for all the ones in the US. We both got into HackHarvard, and so we went.”

Essentially, MacBeth, Shevchenko, Abi-Saad, and Patal spent 36 hours conceptualizing, designing, and coding their program called sober.AI. The web application uses AI in tandem with visual data input to “increase accuracy and accessibility, and to reduce bias and cost of a normal field sobriety test,” according to the program’s description on Devpost. “I read a statistic somewhere that only a certain amount of police officers have been trained to be able to detect people [under the influence],” said MacBeth. “Drunk, they can test because they have [breathalyzers], but high, it’s kind of hard for people to test.”

MacBeth explained that the user-friendly web application could be helpful in a range of situations, from trying to convince an inebriated friend not to drive under the influence, to law enforcement officials conducting roadside testing in a way that reduces bias, to employees, who may have to prove sobriety for work, to do so non-invasively.

Sober.AI estimates the overall percentage of sobriety through a series of tests that are relayed via visual data—either a photo of an individual’s’ face or a video of the individual performing a task—that is inputted into two neural networks designed by the team of students.

“We wanted to recreate a field sobriety test in a way that would be as accurate as how police officers do it,” said MacBeth.

The first stage is an eye exam, where a picture of an individual is fed to the first neural network, which gives an estimation of sobriety based on the droopiness of the eye, any glassy haze, redness, and whether the pupils are dilated. The second stage is a dexterity test where individuals have to touch their finger to their nose, and the third is a balance test where people have to stand on one leg. “At the end, we compile the results and [sober.AI] gives a percentage of how inebriated we think the person is,” said MacBeth.

“Basically, what you want to do with AI is recreate how a human would think,” explained MacBeth. AI programs become increasingly more accurate and efficient as more referential data is inputted into the neural networks. “The hardest part was probably finding data,” explained MacBeth. “Because writing on the internet ‘pictures of people high’ or ‘red eyes’ and stuff like that is kind of a pain.” MacBeth said that he took to his social media pages to crowdsource photos of his friends and acquaintances who were high, which provided some more data. However, MacBeth said his team made a name for themselves at the hackathon when they started going from group to group, asking their competitors to stand on one leg, as if they were sober, then again after spinning around in a circle ten times. “That was how we made our data,” said MacBeth. “It was long and hard.”

Participating in such a prestigious competition and having sober.AI win ‘overall best’ left MacBeth and Shevchenko thirsty for more. “HackHarvard had a lot more weight to it. We were on the international level, and just having the chance of being accepted into HackHarvard within the six or seven hundred students in all of North America that were accepted, I felt like we actually needed to give it our all and try to win—to represent Concordia, to represent Montreal.”

MacBeth and Shevchenko have gone their separate ways in terms of competitions for the time being, however the pair’s collaborations are far from over. Both are planning to compete separately in ConUHacks IV at the end of January 2019, where MacBeth explained that they will team up with other software engineering students who have yet to compete in hackathons. “We’re gonna try to groom other people into becoming very good teammates,” said MacBeth.

The first-year software engineer concluded with some advice for fellow Concordia students. “For those in software engineering and even computer science: just go to hackathons,” advised MacBeth. “Even if you’re skilled, not skilled, want to learn, anything, you’re going to learn in those 24 hours, because you’re either gonna be with someone who knows, or you’re gonna learn on your own. Those are the skills you will use in the real world to bring any project to life.”

Feature photo courtesy of Nicolas Macbeth

Student Life

The unbalanced world of technology

President of the Harvey Mudd College discusses women in tech programs and careers

Concordia’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering invited Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College (HMC) to discuss the lack of women in the tech world, the progress that is already underway and what still needs to be done.

Harvey Mudd College president, Maria Klawe. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

HMC is a private school located in California, dedicated to the study of science, engineering and mathematics. At the lecture on Nov. 7, Klawe discussed the lack of gender diversity in the tech industry and how HMC is finding innovative ways to change that.

According to a 2013 Atlantic article, “We Need More Women in Tech: The Data Proves It,” women’s participation in the tech industry has decreased over the last decade. Similarly, Klawe’s own research found that, more than any other STEM discipline (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), computer science programs in North America have seen women’s enrolment decline from mid-30 per cent in the 80s to approximately 15 per cent today.

In an effort to recruit more students, Concordia offers small amounts of award money to incite top students to enroll into technology programs.

Klawe said there needs to be improvement in the enrollment process for female undergraduate students in computer science and engineering programs worldwide.  That being said, she also believes the problem goes beyond school, and into the workforce.  First, to successfully recruit female candidates, Klawe proposed that hiring committees be  trained to avoid gender biases.  “What we all need to accept about ourselves is that we grow up in a culture that makes us more likely to think that nurses are going to be female and engineering and computer scientists will be male,” said Klawe.

According to a 2010 research report from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, authors Catherine Ashcraft and Sarah Plithe found that 56 per cent of women working in the tech industry leave their organizations at the mid-level point of the careers, in other words, after 10 to 20 years. Klawe said this is because of women’s own perceptions that they lack the same advancement opportunities as their male colleagues. Therefore, she said, there should be more effort made to keep these women in the tech industry.

“If we make learning and work environments interesting and supportive, build confidence and community among women and demystify success, women will come, thrive and stay [in tech careers],” said Klawe.

The demand for people graduating with computer science and engineering degrees is higher than Klawe has seen in her lifetime. The jobs within the computer science discipline are flexible and pay well, but Klawe said the most important reason more women are needed in tech careers is because they provide different backgrounds and perspectives. She thinks this would lead to more creativity and better solutions to problems.

In addition to her work with HMC, Klawe is also the co-founder of the Computer Research Association (CRA), which was founded in 1991. CRA’s goal is to find ways to get more women in computer research institutions. The association also developed the Distributed Mentor Project (DMP), which allows female undergraduate students to conduct a research project in their field of interest with the guidance of a female mentor from a university faculty different from their own.

“We need more women in academia because, from research, we know that it is important for young women to see role models, and, often the faculty that they are going to interact with are those role models,” Klawe explained. Indeed, a 2015 Higher Education Statistics Agency report found that, globally, only 22 per cent of university professors are women.

HMC has increased its percentage of female computer science majors from 10 per cent to 40 per cent since Klawe’s arrival at the college in 2006.

Maria Klawe. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

The college’s department of computer science revamped its program in 2005, grouping students in computer science introductory classes depending on their prior experience and knowledge in the discipline. This initiative was created in an effort to make female and male students feel like they belong, and can work together on the same level, within the tech industry.

HMC also arranges for first-year undeclared major students to be taken to the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, where 90 per cent of attendees are women. The conference is the world’s largest annual gathering of women from the technology industry. Klawe said this conference is a good way to expose students to successful women from the industry. “[Students] will be inspired,” said Klawe, “and no matter what they major in later on, they will know that there are tons of technical women who have great experiences in their careers.”

While advocates like Klawe strive for more balance between women and men in the tech world, she emphasized that this is not a solo mission for women. “It is not the women that need to fix the imbalance,” she said. Ultimately, Klawe said entire communities need to decide if the representation of women in the tech world should be a priority.

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