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Graduate of l’X Bachelor of Science, Kayo Yin wins the 2020 Global Undergraduate Awards

One of the top student of her batch, Kayo Yin says she “barely knew anything” about Computer Science before starting her Bachelor of Science at Ecole Polytechnique, but three years later, she is the winner of the prestigious 2020 Global Undergraduate Awards in computer science for her thesis on “Sign Language Translation with Transformers”.

She was selected amongst 4100 worldwide submissions after a rigorous and lengthy judging process led by over 400 expert academics. Leading the way in top class research, her long-term goal is to break down communication barriers between people, and between computers and people using Natural Language Processing.

Congratulations on winning the 2020 Global Undergraduate Awards! In your opinion what were the key factors of this great achievement?

Thank you so much! It is an immense honor to receive such a prestigious award. Above all, accepting this award gives me great confidence and responsibility, and I am immensely motivated to continue research in the domain and to provide language technologies I find important.

I am eternally grateful for the rich experience and support Ecole Polytechnique has given me throughout my academic studies. I am very lucky to have been surrounded by supportive professors and brilliant peers who fed my curiosity and encouraged my passion for learning. Prof. Jeese Read (LIX, Computer Science Laboratory of the Ecole Polytechnique) was an exemplary thesis advisor who always believed in my abilities even when I doubted myself, and encouraged me to tackle the most ambitious research questions. Jean-Baptiste Rémy was an excellent mentor who generously shared his time and expertise with me, despite his busy PhD studies he was always available to give me new research ideas and chat about academia life over coffee.

Can you tell us more about your thesis?

My Bachelor’s thesis is titled “Sign Language Translation with Transformers” where I study how to leverage recent advances in Neural Machine Translation to translate sign languages into spoken languages. My proposed model, the “STMC-Transformer”, achieves state-of-the-art results on benchmark datasets for this task.

Sign languages have a difficult history: in 1880, they were banned from deaf schools in Europe, in the US, and even today only 41 countries legally recognize them as official languages. Sign languages fall behind in technology, mostly because of the novelty of its research and lack of resources. I am hoping that by developing a translation tool for sign language, not only will the Deaf community have better access to communication in their native language, but their linguistic identity will be promoted and preserved.

What’s great about the Bachelor’s program is that in the first year, we all receive high-level instruction in math, physics, economics and computer science. I’m not sure when or if I would have discovered computer science otherwise. I barely knew anything about this subject prior to the Bachelor, so stepping out of what I was already good at seemed very daunting. I’m still in shock that just three years later, I won the “Junior Nobel Prize” in computer science!

What are your future plans?

My long-term research goal is to break down communication barriers between people, and between computers and people using Natural Language Processing. I hope to improve how computers understand and respond to all the different human languages so that everyone can benefit from technology.

I am currently doing my Master’s degree in Language Technologies at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. I am very fortunate to study at Carnegie Mellon University, where my department, the Language Technologies Institute, is one of the first, and best- known institute for my field. Right now, I’m working on multilingual dialogue translation, where I try to render speakers of different languages mutually intelligible in a single conversation.

I haven’t given too much thought on what to do after my Master’s, I’m motivated by both a PhD or industry R&D. I’m confident, though, that whatever opportunities the future has in store for me will be enrichening and fulfilling!


> Read about Kayo Yin’s testimony on the Bachelor of Science Program.

> Watch Kayo Yin talk about her extra-curricular activities and experience at Ecole Polytechnique.