Thought Leaders
October 17, 2023

The FMsquare Foundation: Forging a fuzzy future

The FMsquare Foundation is an organisation dedicated to spreading the holistic values of ‘fuzzy logic’ – a varied and reflexive ‘natural’ logic that accounts for infinite values and human imprecision in data processing. In an exciting interview with Research Outreach, Andreas Meier (Founder), Edy Portmann (President), and Witold Pedrycz (Ambassador) discuss their respective roles as fuzzy logic evangelists working with the FMsquare Foundation, why fuzzy logic is so important, and its wider applications for the future.

There are many pitfalls to classical logic as fixed binaries can often overlook the complexities of human experience. The age-old issue of how to account for human imprecision – and indeed how to capture this technologically – is at the core of the FMsquare Foundation and an ethos they seek to disseminate. The foundation has produced a recent series of ‘fuzzy’ podcasts and a Springer International book series on fuzzy management methods, where fuzzy logic and its wider implications are examined.

Research Outreach was privileged to talk with the key players behind the organisation: Andreas Meier, Founder and Emeritus Professor of Data Science at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland; Edy Portmann, President and Swiss post-sponsored Professor of Informatics at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland; and Witold Pedrycz, Ambassador and Professor in Computational Intelligence at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. The trio discuss their respective roles as ‘fuzzy logic’ evangelists, why fuzzy logic is so important, and its wider applications for the future.

The FMsquare Foundation aims to promote fuzzy logic for business, governmental, and societal challenges. Could you briefly outline what exactly fuzzy logic is, why it is so important, and how it relates to the aims of the organisation?

Edy: Fuzzy logic is a kind of paraconsistent, or inconsistency tolerant, natural logic that allows for sensing the imprecise with precision. By applying computing with words, this logic allows a perceptual computing theory of human reasoning, making it viable to build systems using not only measurement-based, but also perception-based logic. In other words, these systems can handle perception-based information such as the perceived ambient temperature in an inclusive, natural way. Fuzzy logic allows organisations to mimic natural reasoning, which is a more energy-efficient and privacy-preserving way of dealing with organisational tasks (eg, interfaces to customer/supplier, storing information in a natural-language orientated style and the creation of more natural knowledge structures).

Fuzzy thinking is at the heart of solving complex and diverse problems across a range of disciplines.

Witold: Fuzzy logic considers the formation of a new environment in terms of conceptual and algorithmic developments of human-centric computing where processing is carried out at a higher-level (than numeric) abstraction. This facilitates processing information granules represented as ‘fuzzy sets’ which leads to interpretability of results – critical in data mining and machine learning.

Andreas: The programming codes traditionally used to perform instructions on digital computers are based on binary numbering systems – everything is expressed in values of 0 or 1 in line with the true-or-false principles of classical logic. Fuzzy logic is different in that it takes a non-binary approach and allows for infinite values between 0 and 1. Fuzzy thinking means shades of grey begin to enter a world that has previously only been seen in black and white.

As the Founder, President, and Ambassador of the FMsquare Foundation, could you please tell us about your respective roles and how you became involved in the organisation?

Edy: I was a PhD student of Andreas Meier, encouraged by Lotfi Zadeh, the father of fuzzy logic, after finishing my PhD thesis. Witold Pedrycz was my external PhD supervisor. So, in a nutshell, you may say that Andreas Meier is my academic father, Witold Pedrycz my academic uncle, and Lotfi Zadeh my academic grandfather!

Fuzzy thinking means shades of grey begin to enter a world that has previously only been seen in black and white.

After my return to Switzerland from Lotfi Zadeh’s BISC research centre at UC Berkeley, Andreas Meier founded the FMsquare Foundation and was its first president. After his retirement, I took over his FMsquare responsibilities, and I am very proud to continue to develop the Foundation as President. I have meanwhile been able to recruit Witold Pedrycz and other ‘big shots’ from the fuzzy logic community as ambassadors.

The FMsquare Foundation is firmly in touch with acknowledging the history, present state, and future potential of fuzzy logic. Why is this important?

Edy: Fuzzy logic is a more natural way of processing information than the binary one implemented in today’s digital systems. It is the beating heart of how we, as humans, process information and reason. It is an interdisciplinary research endeavour which incorporates psychology, neuroscience, language, mathematics, artificial intelligence, and engineering, as well as many more. As a holistic framework, fuzzy logic allows for more inclusive and therefore more ethical technologies, in a more sustainable way, by applying approximation to solve hard problems which is, in effect, mimicking the human brain’s processing.

Witold: As researchers, we always build on the historical developments in the subject area. In fuzzy sets, which is rapidly growing with a lot of new directions, it is imperative to maintain a global perspective on what has been accomplished. Likewise, it is important to realise how fuzzy sets could synergistically develop with other disciplines. The interaction is multifaceted: fuzzy sets support the developments of existing disciplines by instilling some conceptual aspects and thoughts, and the developments of fuzzy sets could benefit from other disciplines, especially machine learning and social sciences.

While technology is able to capture and process complex information, we must continue to work towards accurately capturing human imprecision.

Andreas: Fuzzy thinking evolved in ancient times and many philosophers argued, and indeed still argue, about methods of truth seeking. Researchers should therefore look at the historical development and the state of the art, as well as the potential for future application areas. It’s also important we share these findings with users from business, administration, and society.

The FMsquare Foundation publishes the International Springer book series on fuzzy management methods. Could you tell us about this publication, and how the Foundation engages with society more widely?

Edy: With the publication of my PhD thesis, we started the international book series on fuzzy management methods. Since then, all fuzzy-related PhD theses have been published in this series; it became a kind of academic outlet for the FMsquare Foundation.

The board of the FMsquare Foundation, which is composed of former fuzzy logic PhD students, is either involved in university teaching and research or in innovation management in big organisations. During my stay at Lotfi Zadeh’s BISC group, I got to know the who-is-who of the fuzzy-logic community. I, for one, am building the foundation on these trusted contacts!

As fuzzy logic is practical to the core, all involved researchers and ambassadors do applied research into the benefit of fuzzy logic as a form of outreach and wider communication. In addition, we all give presentations and attend expert panels, where we can highlight the importance of fuzzy logic in digital transformation, with a focus on humans and societies.

Andreas: In just the last few years, we have published more than a dozen research books about the benefits of applying fuzzy logic for managerial decision-making processes! The core of our foundation is our international community, comprised of young and older researchers, who share the conviction that our real-world problems cannot be solved by black-and-white methods only. This collaboration is imperative.

The FMsquare Foundation has run two international conferences on fuzzy management methods, first in 2016 and again in 2019. What was achieved from these conferences, and do you intend to hold another soon?

Edy: We held small but fine conferences and plan to do so again. However, the COVID-19 pandemic set us back a bit, and we are still feeling the effects. The conferences are well attended, especially by friends and researchers from the community.

Fuzzy management methods could change how we, as humans, interact with technology for a more sustainable future.

We are all excited by the prospect of future conferences where new research collaborations and important discussions arise.

Fuzzy logic is the beating heart of how we, as humans, process information and reason.

Andreas: It would be great if international conferences about fuzzy management methods would be organised periodically to spread knowledge about the potential of fuzzy logic in different application domains. This is an interesting prospect for the future, and the Foundation encourages new, interdisciplinary discussions.

What are the main challenges in the field of data science and what contribution does the FMsquare Foundation make towards resolving them?

Edy: Today’s data science works mainly on statistics. Lotfi Zadeh famously said that to the statisticians’ hammer, everything looks like a nail. We believe, however, that we should create a toolbox, comprised not only of hammers, but also other soft computing tools. Fuzzy logic and its further developments towards computing with words and perceptions allows bridging logic, mathematics, and more with intuition, emotions, and human experience. The holistic nature of fuzzy methods helps encourage the activation of both the left and right hemispheres of our brains, to better align with each other. Soft computing has been conceived as an interdisciplinary toolbox that can balance science with philosophy and engineering with art, respectively; in this way, fuzzy methods enable us to connect our consciousness, which manifests itself in logic, mathematics, etc, with our subconsciousness – like emotions and feelings – which can be accessed by perceptual computing.

Witold: Data science has witnessed a great deal of accomplishments with several success stories. The key challenge in the field is with regards to building efficient communication user-system mechanisms, through which users can benefit from the results generated by the advanced methods of data science. Here fuzzy sets occupy a pivotal position; interpretability is the key feature that is of genuine interest to data science and machine learning, and the technology of fuzzy sets delivers this important functionality.

Andreas: Today, in the age of big data, we suffer from the so-called ‘information overload’. It’s becoming more and more difficult to analyse all available information. Management decisions are informed, for example, by everything from emails, social media, and internet searches, to content management and geographical information systems, as well as customer databases, stock exchange data, and data from the electronic measurement of anything from energy use to manufacturing inputs.

Lotfi Zadeh famously said that to the statisticians’ hammer, everything looks like a nail. We believe, however, that we should create a toolbox, comprised not only of hammers, but also other soft computing tools.

Conventional data science approaches are based primarily on statistical methods, which cannot truly deal with linguistic and perceptual meaning. Therefore, data science approaches should become more human-orientated and fuzzy logic can help us reach this goal. Human-interpreted semantics can be better filtered from raw data using fuzzy techniques, which is why they may provide a more human-centered approach than classical methods. In a nutshell: fuzziness stands for human-centricity.

The FMsquare Foundation engages with a mixture of challenging and technical subjects. How is this information communicated to others, and society more widely?

Edy: Through conferences, presentations, expert panels and, maybe more important, through applied research projects with partners, we aim to disseminate accessible knowledge about fuzzy logic to society at large. I am a Swiss Post-sponsored professor for public services, and in this role, I apply fuzzy logic in practical projects. For example, in our innovative public service projects we strive to map the fuzzy needs of citizens in smart participation. Here, we refer to on- and offline participation as ‘smart’, which rests on the fuzzy notions of safe planning and sociocracy and systemic consensus building. The goal is to find unique decisions for which there is as little group resistance as possible. Moreover, we can also incorporate the citizens’ perceived quality of a location for an urban improvement, which improves traditional, measure-based data, such as counted accidents or burglaries, as in traditional smart city concepts.

The FMsquare Foundation is an international community comprised of interdisciplinary researchers and professionals.

However, the main outlet of our fuzzy management methods research is our Springer International book series.

Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

Edy: In Switzerland, we are proud of our country’s direct democratic structure. Despite this, our political system only allows voters to vote ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and not ‘fuzzy.’ This is something that we feel is important, and we have experimented with fuzzy voting in communes, cities, and cantons. To this end, we take a transdisciplinary approach (ie, across academic disciplines, also involving society at large) with authorities and the population, among others, under the guidance of political scientists. These results have been promising and we aim to work towards a more adaptive, ‘fuzzy’ and direct democracy in the future!

Witold: The direction of society-orientated machine learning (and green machine learning) is of paramount importance with a clearly identified potential. There are several essential ways in which granular computing and fuzzy sets can play a vital role in the development of new initiatives.

Andreas: As drones and other computer-generated devices and systems are not in themselves intelligent or ethical, it is possible to evaluate their effects according to moral and ethical principles. A fuzzy approach can help because it allows humans to interact with computers using words instead of numbers. Not only are fuzzy approaches closer to human experience, but they are also particularly suitable in situations where meaning is imprecise, which is an exciting prospect for applications in the future.

This feature article was created with the approval of the research team featured. This is a collaborative production, supported by those featured to aid free of charge, global distribution.

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