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On September 7, 2019, a press meeting was held in the new and beautiful Chinese-German Incubator Building of Hefei University [合肥学院], during which international experts described their point of view on working and living in our city Hefei [合肥]. Hefei is the fastest-growing city in China and, during the past few years, has become one of most internationalized ones as well. Indeed, it ranks third in terms of popularity rated by foreign experts for two consecutive years. One reason why many foreigners would come here may be the rich academic landscape that has made Hefei a motor of innovation and which has also strongly influenced the local industry. Hefei has excellent universities, including, but not limited to, University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) [中国科学技术大学], Anhui University [安徽大学], Hefei University of Technology [合肥工业大学], Anhui Agricultural University [安徽农业大学], Anhui Medical University [安徽医科大学], and, of course, our Hefei University [合肥学院]. The different unis in Hefei cover all fields of science and also all types of research: While USTC, e.g., is a world-leading institution in fundamental research and attracts top sciences, e.g., in physics, from all over the world, our Hefei University is strong in applied research and leading in the adaptation of the dual system of cooperative education to Chinese needs and has attracted many international experts with its Demonstration Base of Sino-German Educational Cooperation [中德教育合作示范基地]. In order to investigate why Hefei's popularity as a place for foreigners in China has become so high, reporters from several newspapers and media outlets therefore conducted several interviews with international experts in Hefei and also visited our Hefei Economic and Technological Development Area [经济技术开发区]. In the interviews conducted here, Olaf Rack (Industrial Design) and Thomas Weise (Computer Science, Optimization, Operations Research) from our university took part, together with Manfred Beuche (Sievert) and SEO Young Hwan (Anhui Wanlang Magneto Plastic). I think among all experts, a general consensus is that Hefei offers a very nice environment, excellent living and working conditions, that Hefei and our hosting institutions take excellent care of their guests and offer great support on all levels.

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On September 2nd, 2019, I had the honor to be one of the foreign experts taking part in the Foreign Experts Consultation Symposium on the 2021-2035 National Medium- and Long-Term National Science and Technology Development Plan [2021-2035年国家中长期科学和技术发展规划外国专家座谈会]. The meeting took place in the Hefei Municipal Government Conference Center [合肥市政府会议中心]. It was hosted by Qingqun XU [徐庆群], the Editor-in-Chief of two periodicals of the Foreign Talent Research Center, Ministry of Science and Technology (State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs) and opened with a speech by Zhengmao XIE [解正茂], Deputy Director of the Division of Foreign Experts Services, Anhui Provincian Department of Science and Technology (Provincial Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs). During the meeting, each expert gave a short statement regarding which major challenges and opportunities they see for the scientific and technological development of China in the next 15 years, as well as which fields of research they perceive as particularly important for a successful development and how they think the internationalization of Chinese institutions can further be improved. The panel of experts included Prof. Dr. Christa Fittschen of the University of Lille and CNRS (France), Professors Dr. Zachary Smith and Dr. Kaiqin Chu of USTC, Prof. Dr. Nikolay Morozov of the Sino-Russian Superconducting Proton Joint Research Center, Patrick Félix Simon Solé of Anhui University, Prof. Dr. Claus Thomas Weise, and Mr. Jean-Lou Collet of CNSG Anhui Hong Sifang Co. Ltd. The meeting ended with a summary speech by Haiyang WANG [王海洋], Deputy Director of the Foreign Talent Research Center of the Ministry of Science and Technology (State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs).

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Applications of optimization algorithms are gaining more and more importance in the real world. Thus, also more and more research on real-world are published. One important outlet for such publications is the "Applied Soft Computing Journal" (ASOC), which is indexed by ESCI and EI. As a result, its 2018IF (impact factor) has remarkably risen to 4.873 from 3.901 for 2017. Our team members contribute to the journal as reviewers and Prof.Weise serves as one of its many editors. Additionally, we are currently guest-editing a Special Issue on Benchmarking of Computational Intelligence Algorithms in the journal.

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Today, the project "Automated Algorithm Selection for Discrete Black-Box Optimization" with principal investigator Prof. Dr. Carola Doerr (Laboratoire d’Informatique de Paris 6 (LIP6), Sorbonne University, Paris, France), has been accepted for support from the Paris Region under the DIM-RFSI (Domaine d’Intérêt Majeur, Réseau Francilien en Sciences Informatiques) program. The partners involved in the project are Prof. Dr. Benjamin Doerr (LIX, École Polytechnique), Dr. Johann Dreo, (Researcher at Thales Research & Technology, Palaiseau), Dr. Pascal Kerschke (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Münster, Germany), Dr. Olivier Teytaud (Facebook Artificial Intelligence Lab, Paris), and Prof. Dr. Thomas Weise (of our Institute of Applied Optimization at Hefei University, China). The acceptance of this project shows that the interest in optimization algorithm selection, configuration, and benchmarking is ever-growing, and the presence of two industrial partners indicates that this is not just the case in the scientific community, but that the field has gained also very practical importance.

In the real world, a variety of planning, packing, scheduling, routing, or management problems emerge in many different scenarios. There are highly-efficient specialized algorithms for certain problems, e.g., the TSP or Satisfiability tasks, which have been developed over decades of research. The vast majority of practically relevant problems come with unique characteristics and constraints, rendering the specialized algorithms unsuitable for them, while the time available to deliver an algorithmic solution usually does not permit decades of research. Here, black-box algorithms (e.g., metaheuristics) are in order: General and flexible methods than treat the optimization task as black-box, i.e., require very little effort when adapting them to a virtually arbitrary task. However, there are many such metaheuristics and the question which one to use for the task at hand arises. The goal of this project is developing a suitable framework for training automated algorithm selectors and configurators for black-box optimization heuristics for discrete problems defined over a Boolean search space.

In this project, we will have the chance to collaborate more closely with many of our friends. The experiments will be done using the IOHprofiler, an open source optimization algorithm benchmarking tool. IOHprofiler is jointly developed by the teams of Prof. Dr. Carola Doerr, Thomas Bäck (Leiden University, The Netherlands) and Ofer Shir (Migal research institute, Israel), who, like most of the project team members, are already important members of the BB-DOB Workshop series. We are happy that our W-Model has been selected as one of the ingredients of the project, serving as a basic benchmark to investigate and test different fitness landscape measures to drive algorithm selection and configuration. The W-Model allows for defining a wide variety of different benchmark problem instances with different characteristics (scale, ruggedness, epistasis, neutrality, etc.) over the Boolean domain. As one of the modules of the project, we will evaluate for which problems a training based on the W-model provides accurate predictions and use this knowledge to extend the model together with Dr. Olivier Teytaud, the main developer of Facebook's nevergrad benchmarking platform.

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