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Q&A With Petition Candidate José M. F. Moura

IEEE Life Fellow José M.F. Moura was successful in getting nominated by petition as a candidate for 2018 president-elect. His name appears on this year’s ballot along with the two board-nominated candidates, Fellow Vincenzo Piuri and Life Fellow Jacek M. Zurada. (We published our interview with Piuri and Zurada last month.)

Moura is a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at Carnegie Mellon. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineers, a Fellow of the U.S. National Academy of Inventors, a corresponding member of the Portugal Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He holds 14 patents and helped invent a detector found in more than 3 billion hard disk drives—in 60 percent of all computers sold in the past 10 years. His technology has been licensed by Intel and Siemens, among others. He was the 2016 vice president of IEEE Technical Activities and is a former member of the IEEE Board of Directors.

In this interview, Moura discusses his priorities for the organization and says how he would improve IEEE’s products and services.

What would be your top two priorities as IEEE president?

Over the last few years, IEEE top leadership lost its focus on membership. It has been emphasizing corporate mandates instead of member value while at the same time accumulating multimillion-dollar deficits. The IEEE Board holds closed executive sessions, with the Board of Directors instructed to keep what was discussed in utmost secrecy. From my perspective, this has questionable impact on IEEE’s members and technical communities. As president, I will strive for an open organization, addressing two persistent and existential IEEE challenges: dramatically increasing IEEE membership through enhanced member value and addressing the multimillion-dollar deficit of IEEE’s operational budget.

IEEE has more than 423,000 members, less than 10 percent of the more than 4 million unique users of the IEEE Xplore Digital Library. Why are the other 90 percent of IEEE Xplore users not IEEE members? The number of members is trending down and aging, and many young professionals do not find value in membership. Yet, they seek networking and mentoring opportunities more than ever.

As president, I will make it my priority to dramatically increase our membership, while developing new ways to monetize on an expanded membership. I will work with volunteers and staff from regions, societies, and councils to understand how to best serve each segment of our professional communities. I’ll help develop new membership models and new products and services that provide value to our members in different regions, age groups, and industry segments.

My second priority is to overcome the persistent multimillion-dollar IEEE operational deficit. Since I joined the IEEE Technical Activities Board about five years ago, I have helped, along with others, to promote IEEE’s financial transparency. Unfortunately, we still don’t know where each dollar is spent. We still don’t know the root causes of the organization’s deficit. Why out of each $3 of gross revenue generated by our IP, $2 are expended at the corporate level and corporate overhead and only $1 comes back to the revenue generators to develop the IP products and services? With volunteers and staff, I will forge a transparent financial system that explains where each dollar is spent. I will root out waste while promoting ongoing efficiencies and reduce costs without affecting the quality of products and services to you, our members.

As a professor, how can IEEE better support members in academia?

IEEE journals and conferences serve members in academia well. However, we need to offer new types of events that combine technical sessions with networking opportunities, mentoring and career guidance, and exposure to new technologies and trends; for example, develop technical and professional events mixing technology and networking and mentoring and entertainment, something akin to a South by Southwest in the United States or the Web Summit in Europe.

IEEE Xplore, with its millions of articles, needs to significantly expand its functionality as well. This would include content curation and intelligent answers to queries, finding the most relevant articles to particular topics. As vice president of IEEE Technical Activities, I also supported organizational programs to educate academics and professionals on how to become entrepreneurs and innovators. One example is IEEE N3XT, a global entrepreneurship initiative to bring together founders, entrepreneurs, and investors.

How has living in several countries helped shape your view of engineering? Based on this perspective, how could IEEE better serve members in different geographic regions?

I was born and raised in Mozambique, went to college in Portugal, and earned my Ph.D. at MIT. I have been a professor in Portugal and a visiting professor at several U.S. institutions including MIT and New York University. I am now at Carnegie Mellon. I have traveled around the world, including to Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and South America. I understand the broad diversity of interests from professionals in different countries. IEEE will better serve them by tailoring products and services to these professionals, accounting for the different needs based on country and region of the world.

Ethical concerns are being raised about artificial intelligence. What role should IEEE play to ensure ethical considerations are part of its development?

Last year I helped create an ad-hoc committee between the Technical Activities Board and the IEEE Standards Association to engage IEEE in broad conversations with other professional societies. They included the Association for Computing Machinery, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, and the European Association for Artificial Intelligence, which all have a strong presence in the fields of AI and autonomous systems. This activity has helped to launch IEEE TechEthics, a platform for addressing ethical and societal implications across a variety of technology areas. I will continue to promote IEEE’s strong engagement in these discussions.

You have served as editor in chief of IEEE publications and have authored numerous articles. Are there improvements IEEE can make to better assist editors and authors?

I have served as EIC of two IEEE journals—the IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing and, as interim, and the IEEE Signal Processing Letters—and was vice president of publications for the IEEE Signal Processing Society and for the IEEE Sensors Council. The increasing number of submitted manuscripts, along with the goal of continuing to shorten the time from submission to publication, poses tremendous challenges. We need to help EICs and editors by unburdening them from editorial administrative tasks and by helping them to identify reviewers, for example, by increasing the functionality of IEEE Xplore to make it easy to identify the best experts in the subject area of a given paper.

A second idea is to reward reviewers and editors for their selfless service. I would consider a proposal from the IEEE Computer Society that entails a rewards program similar to loyalty programs offered by airlines and credit card companies. Volunteer activities are granted points, which members can exchange for IEEE products and services.

Why did you join IEEE? What has been your most memorable moment as a member of the organization?

In the late 1990s, I proposed and led the digitizing of all IEEE Signal Processing Society journals, conference and workshop proceedings, newsletters, and board of governors minutes. In short, we digitized more than 50 years of the society’s content, dating back to 1948.

Partnering with other societies, we formed IEEE’s first digital offering, Opera, which morphed into IEEE Xplore, the most successful product the organization offers. Another memorable moment was my first volunteer activity, when I joined a small group of IEEE members to found the IEEE Portugal Section.

Why should members vote for you?

I am strategic and a team builder. I focus on two or three main strategic challenges and then engage interested parties, including members, volunteers, and staff, to successfully address them. I don’t micromanage. Once action is defined, I facilitate, encourage, and find the resources that others need to feel empowered by their roles and deliver on what they agreed to.

Full story can be found in the Institute.

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