David Staples: Did the Earth move for you? Irene Cheng’s team can measure it from space
The breathtaking change in computer science can be seen in the shifting focus of University of Alberta computer scientist Irene Cheng over her career.
Cheng started her work in computing science in the early 1990s, before the days of Google or even AltaVista and WebCrawler. Her then-cutting-edge research was to develop a search engine and algorithm that could take a databank of digitized images and find the image that best matched an individual search.
These days Cheng is involved in a new kind of cutting edge, using artificial intelligence and data from satellite radar images to monitor industrial projects and land forms for millimetre-sized shifts in elevation so that both man-made and natural disasters can more easily be predicted and proactive measures taken to avoid human harm and property loss.
A Hong Kong native, Cheng joined Hong Kong Bank and Lloyds Bank out of high school, where she worked on bringing in major upgrades to early electronic databanks for these institutions. This led her to study computer science and data bases at the University of Alberta, a world leader in computing science. She came here because her father and brother had previously immigrated to Canada.