School of Informatics

Stanford Bing study visit

Building trust in autonomy has been the focus of a month-long programme of lectures and research, organised for 16 Stanford students.

Stanford students with Professor Henry Thompson and Professor Mykel Kochenderfer
Stanford students with Professor Henry Thompson and Professor Mykel Kochenderfer

It is the first time that Informatics has welcomed visitors under the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP), which offers Stanford undergraduates the opportunity to study abroad while remaining enrolled at the university.

The itinerary has been arranged by Professor Henry Thompson in association with 2006 PhD alumnus Professor Mykel Kochenderfer, now director of the Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory.

Activities have included lectures, guest lectures, student presentations, individual research and a series of cultural excursions, 15 June-13 July 2016.


The students who have taken part are: Arjun Varman Balasingam, Ellen Lindsey Blaine, Chi-Fang Chen, Delenn Tzu Chin, Amanda Yuling Chow, Caroline Amy Debs, Brendon Di Go, Michelle Guo, Helen Jiang, Reginald Long, Huyen Thi Khanh Nguyen, Derek James Phillips, Katherine Elizabeth Stowell, Debnil Sur, Colin Yuan Wei, and Jessica Zhao.


Before arriving, participants undertook a course with Professor Kochenderfer to prepare them for the research they are undertaking here in Edinburgh.

Each individual was also matched to a research institute within Informatics, so that each student has a named supervisor. Relevant staff include Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, Dr Mark Van Rossum, Professor Alex Lascarides, Dr Kenneth Heafield, Professor John Lee, Dr Michael Rovatsos, Professor Steve Renals, Dr Shay Cohen, Professor Mark Steedman, Dr Adam Lopez, Dr Chris Lucas, Dr Kousha Etessami, Dr Iain Murray, Dr Ram Ramamoorthy, and Professor Dragan Gasevic.

While they have been here, the visitors produced research papers and presented their work to their peer group, as well as to their respective institutes.


In addition to morning lectures by Professor Kochenderfer on topics such as probabilistic inference, parameter and structure learning, decision theory and Markov decision processes, the students have heard from three guest lecturers:

  • Professor Barbara Webb: Biologically inspired autonomy
  • Professor Sir Tom Devine: The Scottish Enlightenment: A puzzle from Scotland's past and the influence on America*
  • Professor Henry S. Thompson:  Empowering artefacts: Who is responsible?

Cultural programme

At the weekends, the students enjoyed trips to places of interest in and around Edinburgh, St Andrews, Stirling and Loch Ness.

Professor Thompson says:

"It's great to have Mykel back with us, and the Stanford students he brought with him are having a great time working on their research with us and learning about Scotland as well."

Professor Kochenderfer says:

“The program has been very successful in exposing some of the best Stanford engineering students to the remarkable breadth of research on artificial intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. This opportunity they had to work with world-class researchers will be a major highlight of their undergraduate experience and will play an important role in helping shape their future careers.”

Useful links

Bing Overseas Studies Program

Stanford Intelligent Systems Laboratory


*Footnote: Professor Devine’s talk took place the day after the Referendum in which the UK decided to leave the European Union: an historic day on which to hear from the leading authority on the history of modern Scotland and its diaspora!