Erik Winfree, Professor of Computer Science, Computation and Neural Systems, and Bioengineering, and colleagues have designed DNA molecules that can carry out reprogrammable computations, for the first time creating so-called algorithmic self-assembly in which the same "hardware" can be configured to run different "software." Although DNA computers have the potential to perform more complex computations than the ones featured in the Nature paper, Professor Winfree cautions that one should not expect them to start replacing the standard silicon microchip computers. That is not the point of this research. "These are rudimentary computations, but they have the power to teach us more about how simple molecular processes like self-assembly can encode information and carry out algorithms. Biology is proof that chemistry is inherently information-based and can store information that can direct algorithmic behavior at the molecular level," he says. [Caltech story]
Caltech has recognized alumnus William Dally (PhD ’86, Computer Science) with the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor regularly bestowed by the Institute. Dally was recognized “for his significant contributions to the architecture of interconnection networks. He developed much of the technology found in modern interconnection networks including wormhole routing, virtual-channel flow control, global adaptive routing, modern network topology, deadlock analysis, performance analysis, fault-tolerance methods, and equalized high-speed signaling.” [Caltech story] [Distinguished Lecture at Caltech]
The Amazon Fellows program is the result of a partnership between Caltech and Amazon AWS around Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The 2018 Amazon fellows are Ehsan Abbasi, Gautam Goel, Jonathan Kenny, Palma London, and Xiaobin Xiong. Abbasi is interest in contributing to a deeper understanding of convex and non-convex learning methods in AI and is an Electrical Engineering graduate student working with Professor Babak Hassibi. Goel’s research interest is at the interface of the theory and practice of machine learning and is advised by Professor Adam Wierman. London is also working with Professor Wierman. She is developing efficient algorithms for solving extremely large optimization problems. The methods are applicable to distributed and parallel optimization. For example in a distributed data center setting, the algorithms are robust to unreliable data transfer between data centers and take into account privacy concerns. Kenny is a Computation & Neural Systems graduate student working with Professor Thanos Siapas on deep neural networks to identify and classify brain states. Xiong is a mechanical engineering graduate student who enjoys working on real physical robots, to make them walk, jump, and run in real life. He is advised by Professor Aaron Ames and their research is focused on robotic bipedal locomotion
Professor Animashree (Anima) Anandkumar has been recognized by the New York Times “good tech” awards as a leading Artificial intelligence (A.I.) researchers who uses “ technology to help others in real, tangible ways.” The New York Times article states, “Artificial intelligence will be one of the most important areas of computer science in the coming years. It’s also one of the least diverse. Just 12 percent of A.I. researchers are women, and the number of black and Latino executives in the field is vanishingly small… Anandkumar, Nvidia’s director of machine learning research and a professor at Caltech, saw that the name of the A.I. field’s marquee annual event — the Neural Information Processing Systems conference, or NIPS — had been used as fodder for sexist jokes. So she started a #ProtestNIPS campaign to change the name, and drew up a petition that gathered more than 2,000 signatures. Eventually, the conference’s board relented, and the event is now abbreviated as “NeurIPS.” It was a small gesture of inclusion that could go a long way toward making women feel more welcome in the field for years to come.” [NYTimes article] [Tensorial-Professor Anima on AI]
In a recent Techer interview Electrical Engineering alumna Fei-Fei Li (PhD ’05) explains, “As we see artificial intelligence impacting the real world, it’s no longer a niche computer science, technical field. Policymakers, business leaders, educators, social scientists—they all need to take part and guide the future of A.I.” [Check out the full interview]
Thanks to Professor Pietro Perona and his graduate students including Grant Van Horn and Sara Beery, the next wildlife photo you snap might set you on a path to helping map life on Earth. “The whole web, this huge repository of wonderful information, is indexed by words,” Perona says. “But when we have an image—a visual query—we don’t know what to do unless there is an expert next to us. We’ve gotten so numb to the idea that we’ll never find the answer out.” [Breakthrough story]
In a letter to the Caltech community during National Postdoc Appreciation Week, the Caltech President emphasizes the role this key group plays at the Institute. He stated, “Caltech's mission of world-leading research and education depends crucially on our postdoctoral scholars. Although their time at Caltech may be short, they quickly become vital parts of the Institute's intellectual fabric.” [President’s Letter] [EAS Postdoc Resource Page]
Carver Mead, one of the fathers of modern computing, combines memoir and instruction in new video series. "My feeling is that these days, if it's not on the web, it doesn't exist," Professor Mead says of the decision to launch the new video channel. The video series is available for free on YouTube, and aims to provide a better understanding of the birth and evolution of modern computing, as told by one of its key participants and witnesses. [Caltech story]
Graduate student Grant Van Horn and postdoctoral scholars Oisin Mac Aodha, working with Professor Pietro Perona, started the iNaturalist Challenge last year, to see how much they could push machine-learning technology. The competition is now in its second year and the dataset contains over 8,000 species, with a combined training and validation set of 450,000 images that have been collected and verified by multiple users from iNaturalist. This year's competition promise to be much more challenging because there are more species and less examples for the computer to learn from. The top submissions will be invited to give talks at CVPR, which is the premier annual computer vision event. [Enter the competition]
Four graduate students from the Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS) Department and one from the Electrical Engineering (EE) Department have been selected as 2017 Amazon Fellows. This fellows program is the result of a partnership between Caltech and Amazon AWS around Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The EE fellow is Srikanth Tenneti who is exploring the potential of deep learning for Direction of Arrival applications, and extending Ramanujan Sums based techniques for multi-dimensional periodicity extraction. CMS graduate student Navid Azizan Ruhi is researching faster optimization algorithms for machine learning. He is looking forward to visiting Amazon AI as a fellow and exchanging ideas with their researchers. Computer science graduate student Hoang Le is developing methods for efficient and intelligent sequential decision making in realistic systems. Florian Schaefer, whose focus is applied and computational mathematics, is researching the interface of statistical estimation and the design of fast algorithms. Control and dynamical systems graduate student Ellen Feldman, working with Professor Joel Burdick, has used part of the funding to present her research at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting and looking forward to other future opportunities to share her research.
IST Meeting of the Minds
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