Logic ForAll: A Tour

From the blog post ‘Vanity Trip’. Translation: Valerria de Paiva: Brazilian Logician and Computer Scientist

While touring the math blogosphere I was very excited to find Logic ForAll’, a blog dedicated to making math accessible by mathematician and computer scientist Dr. Valeria de Paiva. She also writes in another great blog Women in Logic, which is used to organize and keep links to studies and graphs that show the extent of the problem and the tools other people have found to fight it. Women in Logic is also a Facebook group for women in Logic, philosophical, mathematical or computational or any other kind of formal logic that you care about. They have almost 500 members now and as described in the blog “so far, we have been finding it useful to discuss issues that affect us in our daily lives. There is also a Women in Logic spreadsheet with names of female logicians, organized by continent. This is an attempt at showing that there are plenty of female logicians around.”

Back in 2015, Dr. de Paiva was featured in the MAA article where she provides a brief description of her background and research interests.

“I am a Brazilian, from Rio de Janeiro, but I got my doctorate in Mathematics in Cambridge, UK, for work on “Dialectica Categories” written under Martin Hyland’s supervision. Working in Cambridge was a life-changing experience: I am now proud to say that my “academic great-grandfather” is none less than the founder of theoretical computer science, Alan Turing. I have, since my Cambridge days, worked on logical approaches to computation. My research interests include categorical proof theory, type theory, programming languages, logics for knowledge representation, logics of context, linear logic, intuitionistic modal logics and linguistic applications of logic. My work spans several different fields and I like all of my ‘hats’: mathematician, logician, computer scientist, and more recently computational linguist.”

One of the aspects I like most about the blog is the fact that it captures the life of a researcher quite well. Her writing combines a mix of styles that remind me of a mix between a classroom, research seminar, and talking with colleagues. I was curious to know more about the inspiration behind the ‘Logic ForAll’ blog so, in this tour, I hope to give you a glimpse of the blog’s style, content, and insights from Dr. Valeria de Paiva herself!

1. VRQ: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your blog?

Valeria de Paiva: “Sure. I am a mathematician, an AI scientist and a computational linguist. I did my PhD in Cambridge, UK on Category Theory and I was a professor of Theoretical Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, UK, until I moved to the Bay Area, some twenty years ago. Here I have worked for some nine years at Xerox PARC and then in a series of other enterprises, like Nuance Communications and Samsung Research America. Along this way I have accumulated several different lines of research, so now I do work on several things, with different people. My blog started when I was teaching “baby logic” at Stanford and Santa Clara Universities and wanted to give students things to read. But nowadays its main function is to help me keep balancing these different projects. A sketchy description of the projects in the blog simply gives names to the buckets of things I do: Categorical Structures for (Linear) Logic, Constructive Modal Logics and IMLA, Lexical Portuguese Resources and OpenWordNet-PT, Lean Logic and Entailment and Contradiction Detection (ECD). This is in vaguely chronological order, but I actually work most when I have collaborators to play mental ping-pong with: I have an idea, you don’t like a bit of it, we try again, and the game goes on until we decide that we have a nice story of making a dent on our common ignorance.”

2.VRQ: What is the inspiration behind your blog?

Valeria de Paiva: “I’ve got inspiration from many mathematicians that I see trying to make mathematics more accessible to everyone. The name of the blog is “Logic ForAll”, now this is what I want, all people using logic formalized or not in the daily activities. But the name is also a pun, because in Brazilian Portuguese we have a dance and a style of music called “forro’ “. I only realized very late that the music (which is great and very danceable) comes from a mispronunciation of the English expression “for all”. So I wanted my blog to be like the music, fun and enjoyable and for all. Also, if possible full of little puzzles and games that it didn’t matter if you didn’t get them. It’s not about competition, it’s about fun!”

3.VRQ: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned through blogging?

Valeria de Paiva: “I think I learned a while back that I only understand things when I am able to explain it to others — wherein others, I include myself. Once it’s written, it looks like another person did it, so I can debate it and discuss it all over again. I think one of the first posts in my blog, (I’m afraid I don’t remember where I copied it from) shows what I mean well 

From the webcomic Abstruse Goose.

You don’t just read mathematics, you fight it. An attitude that we should carry over to all kinds of things we read, right?”

4. VRQ:  Do you have advice for other mathematicians interested in creating their own blog?

Valeria de Paiva: “I do not think that I am good enough at this job, to be giving advice. My blog is a mess, I cannot keep the number of posts reasonable. I cannot find things I need that I know are there. I cannot write latex in it, I end up in a latex pidgin, where some things are their latex symbols, some others whatever name I prefer to give them, etc. But I’d suggest that any amount of demystification that we can do of mathematics is a good thing. It’s not rocket science, actually not even rocket science is rocket science, you just have to put the effort to understand it. And, as Barbara Fantechi was saying in Twitter the other day “most mathematicians aren’t like the gentlemen in this picture (Erdos and Tao). We’re not geniuses, just honest workers, motivated by a love of beauty, and patterns, and discovery. Most of us cover a variety of social roles, and not all of our time is for maths. We all count.” But we count more when we’re not impenetrable, when we have pictures and drawings, when we make our ideas more accessible, even if they do get a tiny bit less precise. It’s worth the trade-off, I say. Also, if English is not your first language (like it’s the case for me) using some grammar and spelling software does wonders for you (and your prepositions!).”

Some of her recent blog posts include:

“SICK (the data set) in these trying times” 

Here Dr. de Paiva describes her work with colleagues involving the Sentences Involving Compositional Knowledge (SICK) data set, provides a list of references, and shares her future research directions. In particular, she shares her article “Textual Inference: getting logic from humans, and her belief that their systems should learn from datasets that agree with human experience and how the single implication cases in SICK, they expected to find many problems. She mentions a few directions of the work towards addressing these problems.

“Artifacts in NLP”

In this post, Dr. de Paiva shares the work that is being done to track the progress (i.e. frameworks, tasks, and datasets) in the area of Natural Language Processing (NLP). She explains that in the area of Natural Language Inference (NIL) which  “is the task of determining whether a “hypothesis” is true (entailment), false (contradiction), or undetermined (neutral) given a “premise””. As she remarks, many of the results reported on the NLI task seem to be the outcome of biases on the datasets constructed to detect inference, and these are called artifacts.  I really enjoyed reading this post and learning about the growing literature regarding NLP and modeling inference and its challenges.

Do you have suggestions of topics or blogs you would like us to consider covering in upcoming posts? Reach out to us in the comments below or let us know on Twitter (@MissVRiveraQ)

About Vanessa Rivera-Quinones

Mathematics Ph.D. with a passion for telling stories through numbers using mathematical models, data science, science communication, and education. Follow her on Twitter: @MissVRiveraQ.
This entry was posted in Applied Math, Artificial Intelligence, Blogs, Category Theory, Math Communication, Mathematics and Computing, Theoretical Mathematics, women in math and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Logic ForAll: A Tour

  1. Jeremy says:

    Just a quick comment: I’m pretty sure that comic is from Abstruse Goose, if you wanted to give it credit (which it should get). A very nice interview!

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