Faculty Profile: Assistant Professor - Dr. David Churchill
Dr. David Churchill joined the Department of Computer Science in September 2016.
What is your educational background?
I was born in Newfoundland and lived here until 2009 when I moved to Edmonton to do my PhD in Computing Science from the University of Alberta, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Buro. I did my undergrad at Memorial with a BSc Honors in Computer Science and Pure Math. I also did my MSc in Computer Science at Memorial in autonomous robotics and computer vision, supervised by Dr. Andrew Vardy.
Do you have any other relevant education or work background?
Since 2014 I have been working part-time as Lead AI Programmer with an Ontario-based game company Lunarch Studios on their strategy game: Prismata. I am also currently consulting part-time with Facebook AI Research in New York on research in artificial intelligence for Starcraft.
Do you hold any chairs or special titles?
No, I can’t hold chairs for very long because my arms get tired :)
What is/are your research area(s)?
My main research area is artificial intelligence for games, and my PhD was on the topic of Heuristics Search Techniques for Real-Time Strategy (RTS) Games. Much of my research so far has revolved around developing new algorithms and techniques for playing strategically complex video games such as Starcraft, which is one of the most popular video games of all times. Since 2011 I have organized, run, and competed in the AIIDE Starcraft AI Competition, in which dozens of teams from more than 15 countries write AI programs that compete in the full game of Starcraft: Broodwar. Over the past few years, companies such as Facebook, DeepMind, Microsoft, and OpenAI have all expressing interest in Starcraft AI, so it is a very exciting time to be working in the field.
Do you have any recent publications or presentations?
You can view a list of my publications on my website here:
Two of my recent high-impact publications have been:
 Hierarchical Portfolio Search: Prismata's Robust AI Architecture for Games with Large Search Spaces.
In this paper we presented a new algorithm called Hierarchical Portfolio Search, which I developed for making intelligent decisions in complex strategy video games. This algorithm was used as the basis for the AI system in the retail video game Prismata, which I have been working on with Lunarch Studios since 2014. This paper was presented at the 2015 Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment conference, where it won the Best Student Paper award.
 Portfolio Greedy Search and Simulation for Large-Scale Combat in Starcraft.
In this paper we presented several new algorithms for performing combat in Starcraft, including Portfolio Greedy Search, which was the first algorithm capable of performing well in large-scale combat scenarios. This paper also introduced SparCraft: an open source project which performs combat simulation real-time strategy games. This paper was presented at the 2013 Computational Intelligence in Games conference, where it won the Best Paper award.
What courses are you/will you be teaching?
In January 2017 I will be teaching two courses in Computer Science:
COMP 1510: An Introduction to Programming for Scientific Computing:
This is a first year programming course for science students which will teach students programming skills in Fortran and C, as well as some numerical methods and scientific computing.
COMP 4752: Introduction to Computational Intelligence:
A fourth year course covering topics in Computational Intelligence such as neural networks, swarm intelligence, evolutionary algorithms, and reinforcement learning.
What new research areas/courses are you developing?
The Computer Science department is planning on introducing new streams for their undergraduate program, one of which will focus on Visual Media and Games. As part of this stream there will be several new courses related to games and artificial intelligence, and so I’m looking forward to helping develop and teach those new courses in the next few years.
Do you hold any grants or awards?
Other than the start-up grant given to me by MUN, I do not currently hold any awards. I just applied for an NSERC Discovery Grant though, so fingers crossed!
Why did you choose to come to Memorial?
I came to MUN for a number of reasons, some of which are: I really like the university and think that there is a real opportunity to do great research here. The new visual media and games stream in the Computer Science department is a great opportunity to develop and teach new courses on games and AI, which will hopefully get more students motivated to study Computer Science. And last but not least I am from Newfoundland and my entire family is here, so it’s nice to live close to them again.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I spend far too much time playing video games, and have probably spent more time in virtual worlds than in the real world. My favourite games would have to be World of Warcraft, EverQuest, League of Legends, Quake, and Tekken, but I’ll play pretty much anything. I also love to play sports: volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, softball, and badminton to name a few.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t think that any single piece of advice applies universally – you really just have to do things based on what you’ve learned and experienced. However, I do believe strongly in pursuing topics that you’re passionate about and not letting the opinions of others dissuade you. If I had listened to people throughout my life saying that video games are a waste of time I certainly wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today :)
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
I have 4 ferrets, and they’re the cutest things ever.
What are you most looking forward to within the next year?
I’m really looking forward to teaching new courses and supervising new graduate students.
What is your website address?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?