The legacy of Margo Seltzer

CS alumna Margo I. Seltzer (Ph.D. '92, advisor: Michael Stonebraker) is the subject of a Harvard Crimson article celebrating her contributions to that institution.  Seltzer, who until this year had been a professor at Harvard and the director of the Center for Research on Computation and Society, is also the president of USENIX and an architect at Oracle.  She is moving to Vancouver to take part in Canada 150, a multi-million dollar federal research program at the University of British Columbia.  Seltzer founded a startup called Sleepycat Software in 1996 to develop and support “Berkeley DB,”  a high-performance software used to generate databases.  Across the arc of her career, Seltzer balanced teaching commitments with founding and running a startup, broke gender barriers while pushing for gender parity, and helped shape the rise of Harvard Computer Science. She was the first woman to serve as conductor of the Harvard University band and the second woman in Harvard history to earn tenure in the CS department.

Raluca Ada Popa and Sanjam Garg awarded Hellman Fellowships

CS Assistant Professors Raluca Ada Popa and Sanjam Garg have been selected to receive Hellman Fellowships.  The Hellman Fellows Fund substantially supports "research of promising assistant professors who show capacity for great distinction in their research." Popa's interests include security, systems, and applied cryptography.  She has developed practical systems that protect data confidentiality by computing over encrypted data, as well as designed new encryption schemes that underlie these systems.  Garg's research interests are in cryptography and security, and more broadly in theoretical computer science.  His work on multilinear maps and obfuscation has found extensive applications in cryptography. Other recent EECS faculty recipients of this award include Thomas Courtade, Tapan Parikh, Michael Lustig, and Pieter Abbeel.

Explainable AI could reduce the impact of biased algorithms

CS Assistant Prof. Joseph Gonzalez is quoted in an article for VentureBeat titled "Explainable AI could reduce the impact of biased algorithms."   The article discusses the ways human bias could potentially be introduced into machine learning-enabled systems and how General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might help. Collecting data from the past is a common starting point for data science projects — but historical “data is often biased in ways that we don’t want to transfer to the future,” said Gonzalez.  “It is an incredibly hard problem...but by getting very smart people thinking about this problem and trying to codify a better approach or at least state what the approach is, I think that will help make progress.”

Microsoft acquires Semantic Machines

Semantic Machines, an artificial intelligence startup co-founded by Prof. Dan Klein and staffed by a number of EECS alumni, has been acquired by Microsoft to help Cortana hold more natural dialog with users.  The team has built a number of machine learning components which work together for a smarter AI, and move beyond the more basic back-and-forth currently supported by the Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa.

In addition to Klein, the team includes Percy Liang (Ph.D. '11), David Hall (Ph.D. '12), Adam Pauls (Ph.D. '12), David Burkett (Ph.D. '12), Jason Wolfe (Ph.D. '11 adviser: Stuart Russell), Yuchen Zhang (Ph.D. '16), Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick (B.A. '08/Ph.D. '15), Greg Durrett (Ph.D. '16), Alex Nisnevich (M.S. '14), current grad student Jacob Andreas, Charles Chen (B.A. CS/Math '11), Andrew Nguyen (B.A. CS/Linguistics '12), Chuck Wooters (Ph.D. Speech Recognition '93), and consultant Prof. Michael Jordan.

Kevin Wang tackles technology with TEALS program

Alumnus Kevin Wang (B.S. '02) is mentioned in an Observer Reporter article titled "Trinity tackles technology with TEALS program."  Wang, who went on to earn an M.Ed. in Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) from Harvard, created a Microsoft Philanthropies program called Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) to showcase technology's influence to students .  TEALS is a grassroots program designed to help high schools teach computer science by recruiting, training, and mentoring teams of high tech professionals who partner with classroom teachers.  It is currently being implemented at Trinity High School in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Aviad Rubinstein wins 2017 ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award

CS alumnus Aviad Rubinstein (Ph.D. ' 17, advisor: Christos Papadimitriou) is the recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) 2017 Doctoral Dissertation Award for his dissertation “Hardness of Approximation Between P and NP.”  In his thesis, Rubinstein established the intractability of the approximate Nash equilibrium problem and several other important problems between P and NP-completeness—an enduring problem in theoretical computer science.  His work was featured in a Quanta Magazine article titled "In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium" in July. After graduating, Rubinstein became a Rabin Postdoc at Harvard and will join Stanford as an Assistant Professor in the fall.

Luke Strgar thinks that Blockchain can be used to track gun sales in America

Graduating CS senior Luke Strgar thinks he might have a solution for the fraught issue of guns in America: Use blockchain to track gun sales.  Strgar thinks that Blockchain offers the perfect balance between security, anonymity and scale that could please people on all sides of the gun-control debate.  He spent two days in Washington, D.C. this month pitching the idea of a centralized, ultra-secure, online gun-sale database to legislative aides and think-tank analysts.  A database like this could be monitored by everyone and could not be abused by the government.  “The goal here is to find a solution that both parties can agree on,” Strgar said. “I am not interested in developing something for one side of the discussion, that people try to force down the throat of parties coming from the other side. One of the nice things about technology is that you can develop systems that work for people.”

SiFive receives $50.6M in series C funding

SiFive, a fabless provider of customized semiconductors built on research by alumnus Yunsup Lee (MS '11/Ph.D. '16), alumnus Andrew Waterman (M.S. '11/Ph.D. '16), and Prof. Krste Asanović, received $50.6M in series C funding in April.  Lee is Chief Technology Officer,  Waterman is Chief Engineer, and Asanović is Chief Architect at SiFive. The funding round was co-led by Osage University Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures, Spark Capital, and Intel Capital.  SiFive's semiconductors are built on Risc-V, an instruction set architecture (ISA), which acts as the conduit between a computer's software and hardware.  The series C round is being used to commercialize additional products based on Risc-V.  The company has raised $64.1M in funding to date.

Tony DeRose to speak at Blk Shp STEAM event

CS alumnus Tony DeRose (Ph.D. '85), currently a senior scientist and lead researcher at Pixar, will speak at Indiana University on Saturday for a STEAM event sponsored by Blk Shp, a "loose guild" of socially conscious innovators.  DeRose works with a Young Makers Program that supports youth in "building ambitious, hand-on projects" and is also involved with “Pixar in a Box,” a collaboration with Khan Academy designed to show students how creative challenges at Pixar are addressed using concepts they are learning in classrooms.  DeRose received the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award in 1999 and won a Scientific and Technical Academy Award for his work on surface representations in 2006.

Nick Carlini embeds hidden commands to Alexa and Siri in recordings of music and spoken text

CS graduate student Nicholas Carlini  is featured in a New York Times article titled "Alexa and Siri Can Hear This Hidden Command. You Can’t." He and his advisor, David Wagner, have published a paper showing they can embed audio instructions, undectable by human beings, directly into recordings of music or spoken text. They can secretly activate the artificial intelligence systems on smartphones and smart speakers, making them dial phone numbers or open websites. In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online — simply with music playing over the radio.  “We want to demonstrate that it’s possible,” he said, “and then hope that other people will say, ‘O.K. this is possible, now let’s try and fix it.’ ”  Carlini was among a group of researchers who showed in 2016 that they could hide commands in white noise played over loudspeakers and through YouTube videos to get smart devices to turn on airplane mode or open a website.