News

Doug Tygar's class of "ethical hackers" learns to wage cyberwar

Prof. Doug Tygar and his CS 194 Cybewar class are the focus of a New Yorker article titled "At Berkeley, a New Generation of “Ethical Hackers” Learns to Wage Cyberwar." The students have teamed up with the white hat hackers at HackerOne, a vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform.  Companies, organizations, and government agencies use HackerOne to solicit help identifying vulnerabilities in their products––or, as Tygar put it, “subject themselves to the indignity of having undergraduate students try to hack them.”  Junior Vy-An Phan decided to focus on various secretary-of-state Web sites around the country, which house tools central to the electoral process—voter registration, ballot measures, candidate information, Election Day guidelines.  She has already found eight bugs spread across four sites.  “I could trick someone into registering for the wrong party, or not registering at all,” Phan said.

Embodied Intelligence raises $7M in seed round

Start-up Embodied Intelligence,  founded by Prof. Pieter Abbeel and his grad students Peter Chen, Rocky Duan, and Tianhao Zhang, raised $7M in a seed round yesterday led by venture capital firm Amplify Partners.  VC firms Lux Capital, SV Angels, FreeS, 11.2 Capital, and A. Capital also supplied capital.  Embodied Intelligence is building AI software to enable robots to learn tasks performed by the user via a virtual reality headset.  It claims existing robots will be compatible with the "robot brain," which would supplant coding scripts tailored to each task.  Embodied will use the seed capital to write its first robotics applications.

Bhat and Phadte (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Students help debunk fake news surrounding Texas shooting

EECS junior Rohan Phadte and fellow student Ash Bhat launched their Chrome browser extension, Botcheck.me, on Halloween and it is already proving invaluable.   The app determines whether news posts on Twitter likely came from real people or were generated by a bot.  When an armed gunman attacked the congregants of a Texas church this weekend, all legitmate news accounts agreed that neither race nor religion appeared to play a role.  But a barrage of bots immediately started spreading rumors that the shooter had recently converted to Islam or was a member of Antifa.   According to a simple random sample of 1,500 political propaganda Twitter bots the students posted on their site, #texaschurchmassacre was the bot world’s third favorite hashtag on Monday, after #maga and #antifa.

Students learn to think like hackers for 'cyberwar' course

CS students enrolled in CS 194, an experimental “cyberwar” course led by Prof. Doug Tygar,  have joined forces with the white hat hackers at HackerOne, a vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform.  This is the first time that HackerOne--which connects hackers with tech companies, private businesses and federal agencies to hunt for vulnerabilities--has partnered with a university.  Students are gaining real-world cyberwar experience. “Unless students can learn to ‘think like a hacker,’ they will not be able to effectively defend systems” says Tygar.

BRETT training with VR

EECS-affiliated startup uses virtual reality to show robots how to perform

The start-up Embodied Intelligence and its founders, Prof. Pieter Abbeel and grad students Peter Chen, Rocky Duan, and Tianhao Zhang, are the focus of two news articles: one from the New York Times titled "A.I. Researchers Leave Elon Musk Lab to Begin Robotics Start-Up," and one from Berkeley News titled "Berkeley startup to train robots like puppets."  The start-up is backed by $7 million in funding from Amplify Partners and other investors and will specialize in complex algorithms that allow machines to learn new tasks on their own through extreme trial and error.  The researchers are augmenting the algorithms with a wide range of techniques, like using virtual reality tools to show a robot how to perform a task--translating the movements into digital data.  “With our advances in machine learning, we can write a piece of software once — machine learning code that enables the robot to learn — and then when the robot needs to be equipped with a new skill, we simply provide new data.” Abbeel explains.

Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte (James Tensuan)

Rohan Phadte and Ash Bhat are doing what Twitter won't

EECS undergraduate Rohan Phadte and Interdisciplinary Studies major Ash Bhat are the subjects of a Wired article titled "The College Kids Doing What Twitter Won't," about their creation of a Google Chrome browser extension that checks whether Twitter profiles are bots.  It describes the genesis of their partnership, which they call RoBhat Labs, and their efforts to stop the proliferation of fake Twitter accounts from flooding the internet with propaganda. It also highlights the roles played by CS Assistant Prof. Joseph Gonzalez and the class Data Science 100.

(photo Tiberio Uricchio)

Caffe team wins Everingham Prize at ICCV 2017

The Caffe team researchers ('13 alumnus and current GSR Yangqing Jia, grad student Evan Shelhamer,  '17 alumnus Jeff Donahue, '15 alumnus Sergey Karayev, grad student Jonathan Long, former postdocs Ross Girshick and Sergio Guadarrama, and Prof. in Residence Trevor Darrell) have been awarded the Mark Everingham Prize at the International Conference on Computer Vision (ICCV) 2017.  Caffe is a deep learning framework made with expression, speed, and modularity in mind,  developed by Berkeley AI Research (BAIR) and by community contributors. The Everingham Prize is bestowed by the IEEE technical committee on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (PAMI) and is given to individuals or groups "who have made a selfless contribution of significant benefit to other members of the computer vision community."  The Caffe team won "for providing an open-source deep learning framework that enabled the community to use, train and share deep convolutional neural networks. Caffe has had a huge impact, both academic and commercial. "
Dan Garcia
Dan Garcia

Dan Garcia weighs in on necessary skills for coders

Teaching Prof. Dan Garcia is featured in an EdSurge article titled "Engineers, Recruiters and Professors Weigh In: Future Programmers Need Writing Skills, Too," in which he discusses how career goals should shape a student's skill set.  Although not all successful coders need to be proficient writers, flexibility is important.  “There are careers where someone doesn't need [to write]… but we want students to be able to go to any position. Maybe they want to just be a coder [at first], but later they decide to be an academic or on the documentation side or in management,” says Garcia. “My point is you never know when you need to write.”

In a somewhat related Daily Cal article, undergrad Sanil Rajput ponders the correlation between copy editing and computer science, putting forth a theory that "Copy editors make excellent coders."

Musa and Liu (photo: Mujahid Zaman)

Jimmy Liu and Zuhayeer Musa build the future

CS majors Jimmy Liu and Zuhayeer Musa are featured in a Berkeley News article titled "In undergrad startup class, students learn to build the future."  Liu and Musa co-founded a startup called Bash while still in high school.  When they came to Cal, they partnered with CS Prof. Scott Shenker to launch a student-run DeCal class on Berkeley's startup ecosystem last spring, called "How to Build the Future."  The course gives students direct experience with world-renowned entrepreneurs and faculty founders.

Brett and Chelsea Finn

The education of Brett the robot

CS Prof. Pieter Abbeel, graduate student Chelsea Finn, and Brett the robot are featured in a Wired article titled "The Education of Brett the Robot" which delves into some of the nuts and bolts of machine learning.  Brett (short for Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks) is using a reinforcement learning algorithm to allow it to learn from its mistakes.  Abbeel will speak on "Deep Learning-to-Learn Robotic Control" at the EECS Colloquium on October 11th.