For pioneering contributions to machine learning of the cognitive relationships between different languages, De Kai is among only 17 scientists worldwide selected in 2011 by the Association for Computational Linguistics to be awarded the honor of Founding ACL Fellow, and is a Distinguished Research Scholar at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute. A native of St Louis, he worked and traveled extensively in San Francisco, New York, Germany, Spain, China, India and Canada before joining Hong Kong’s ambitious creation of Asia’s now top-ranked HKUST, where he developed the foundations of modern statistical machine translation technology, with broad applications in computer music and computational musicology as well as human language processing, and built the world’s first public web translation service resulting in global coverage.
De Kai’s cross-disciplinary work relating music, language, intelligence, and culture stems from a liberal arts perspective emphasizing creativity in both technical and humanistic dimensions.
A multi-instrumentalist songwriter classically trained at Northwestern University’s School of Music, De Kai started piano and composing at age 4 while simultaneously immersed in the improvisational, rhythmic, conversational forms of Chicago’s blues, soul and funk. At Berkeley he studied West African polyrhythms prior to years of intensive training on flamenco cajón with a wide range of top Spanish percussionists and dancers.
In parallel with music performance and theory, De Kai began building analog synths at the age of 12. Several years later, he began studying computer music at the UCSD Center for Music Experiment and Related Research (CME / CRCA). At Berkeley he subsequently designed digital additive synthesis chips. His recent work explores the potential of cognitive machines that learn the relationships between various different kinds of musical languages.
During his doctoral studies in cognitive science, artificial intelligence and computational linguistics at Berkeley, he worked on seminal projects on intelligent conversational dialog agents. His PhD dissertation employing maximum entropy to model human perception and interpretation of ambiguities was one of the first to spur the paradigm shift toward today’s state-of-the-art statistical natural language processing technologies. De Kai also holds an executive MBA from Kellogg (Northwestern University) and HKUST. His undergraduate degree at UCSD was awarded cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and won the liberal arts oriented Revelle College’s department award.
In 2015, Debrett’s HK 100 named De Kai as one of the 100 most influential figures of Hong Kong.