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).

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.

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.

On Monday, 2019-07-08, we had the honor to host our distinguished guest Prof. Dr. Alexander A. Solovev, full professor at Fudan University [复旦大学] (Shanghai). Prof. Solovev gave the talk "Man-Made Nano- and Micromachines" at 10:00 in Room 210 of the Sino-German Incubator of our Hefei University (the newly renovated Building 33), in which we learned about the astonishing achievements of tiny devices, such as nano-tubes and the advantages and potential of such microscopic motors for a variety of applications, ranging from medicine over clean water/air/energy to improving the cost/benefit ratio of chemical reactions by orders of magnitude. We are thankful to Prof. Solovev for his interesting talk and the exchange of thoughts and inspiring discussions that followed. This talk was followed by the presentation "GAIN – The Global Academic Innovation Network" given by Mrs. Irina Lebedeva.

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