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  • CSE Neuroengineer Tackles Consciousness, Neuromorphic Engineering and Machine Learning

    Computer scientists are not often invited to present their research at The Science of Consciousness annual conference, but University of California San Diego development engineer Stephen Deiss did just that. He spoke to the meeting in Tucson, AZ, in late April on the subject of "Romancing the Oxymoron: The 'Hardware Problem' of Machine Consciousness."

    "I presented my view that our preconceptions – about causality and mechanisms – bias us against accepting the possibility that machines can be conscious," said Deiss (at left), who earned his M.S. in computer science at Purdue University. "It leaves us believing that there is something spooky and unnatural about our own awareness, but I argue that consciousness is fundamental and scale-free in nature."

    Supported by CSE since 2013, Deiss first worked with the Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory of CSE Prof. Steven Swanson, but now splits his time between the Integrated Systems Neuroengineering Lab of Bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs, and the new Pattern Recognition Laboratory of the Qualcomm Institute (both with CSE support). "We are focused on neurally-inspired or otherwise non-von Neumann computing paradigms," said Deiss, referring to new architectures that, unlike most of today’s computers, are not based on executing instructions sequentially. The scientist is looking particularly for neural applications to neuromorphic engineering and machine learning.

    In his presentation, Deiss noted that the "presumption that engineers cannot give [qualitative sensory and cognitive] sensations to machines is a reason many refuse to entertain the possibility of machine consciousness." He added that theories of consciousness have grown more sophisticated and quantitative. "I have maintained for over a decade that the crux of the problem is the assumption that there are laws operating on nature from a higher mathematical or divine realm," explained Deiss. "If one is able to abandon this view for a radically secular view of nature, the question becomes how natural systems do what they do from intrinsic principles and constraints rather than as externally directed."

    The computer scientist argues that neuromorphic engineering, deep learning and other methods, as well as models based on free-energy theory and Bayesian inference, inevitably lead to the engineering of machines that can do more than we can. "I argue that all manner of systems, from atoms to brains and beyond, are conscious, with highly variable perceptual skills and a spectrum of self-reference," said Deiss. "Natural systems sense, detect and interpret when they interact and thereby assign meaning, but that is the same process that goes on in our predictive brains. I also argue that causal modeling is a heuristic that works, but it leads us astray in thinking about consciousness."

    Deiss's ruminations on machine (and human) consciousness have deep roots, starting with dual undergraduate majors in psychology and philosophy at the University of Michigan. His first job out of graduate school involved applications of artificial intelligence, cognitive and computer science to computer-aided instruction. He went on to do hardware and software engineering in satellite communications, then high-energy physics, before beginning a 16-year career designing platforms for artificial neural networking. Ultimately, he gravitated to neuromorphic engineering (he calls himself a neuroengineer), and Deiss admits that his viewpoint on consciousness is a radical one: "A paradigm shift regarding consciousness is ultimately required -- and it's on the way."

    Read the abstract for Stephen Deiss's presentation at The Science of Consciousness 2016.

  • Interested in UX Design? CSE's Klemmer Has Two of the Top Three MOOCs in New List

    According to a feature article in the British online publication Digital Arts, an online course developed and taught by CSE (and Cognitive Science) Prof. Scott Klemmer is one of the best in the world for learning user experience (UX) design.

    The survey noted that "UX design is all about improving the user experience through creating easy-to-use products that are a pleasure to use, and customizing a product or service to take into account exactly how the user interacts with" that product. The article breaks down available UX design courses between massive open online courses (MOOCs), and at-your-own-pace software packages from the likes of (owned by LinkedIn), Udemy, Treehouse, Pluralsight and Skillshare (where you can choose to be either a teacher or a student).

    The Digital Arts review focuses on Coursera as the primary MOOC platform for both paid and free online courses. At the top of the list was the popular Interaction Design Specialization, a series of seven courses taught by Klemmer and a capstone design project that, taken together, promise to help students "learn how to design great user experiences." "These courses are a brilliant overview on a wide range of UX aspects, and include quizzes and assignments to keep you engaged, as well as great teachers such as Scott Klemmer," writes Mimi Launder in "The 11 Best Paid and Free UX Design Courses". "These are resource-rich, tough courses that -- if you complete them -- you will gain a lot from." The article also singles out Klemmer's Human-Computer Interaction course on Coursera as one of the best free online UX courses. Klemmer's former employer, Stanford, still offers his original MOOC on Coursera free of charge. According to the reviewer, "it may not look quite as sleek as the paid course [from UC San Diego], but, well, it is free. And it offers brilliant video lectures, though none of the assignments or quizzes, unlike the paid version" available on Coursera from UC San Diego.

  • Graduate Student Community Awards to CSE Support Staff and Community Leader

    Jessica Gross is the TA and Graduate Admissions Coordinator in the CSE Student Affairs, and she is one of two winners for the department at the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Community Awards. Meanwhile, Ph.D. candidate Dustin Richmond -- who expects to graduate this June -- was also singled out for an award: the GSA Community Award for Outstanding Community Leader.

    Gross (at right) won the Community Award for Graduate Student Support Staff. She oversees the TA and tutor programs in CSE as well as graduate admissions and recruitment for the Ph.D. program. The Support Staff Award honors UC San Diego staff who go "above and beyond" their job requirements in assisting graduate students. According to CSE Prof. Sorin Lerner, Gross works "tirelessly on TA-assignments, Ph.D. admission and Ph.D. Visit Day, this year organizing the visit of over 40 prospective Ph.D. students, including assisting them with travel and accommodations," said CSE Prof. Sorin Lerner. She was also involved with the renovation of the graduate student lounge (Chez Bob) and regularly helps with Social Hour. Gross also attends and contributes to many meetings of the Graduate Community Council, a department group dedicated to improving graduate community in the CSE department. Gross is a UC San Diego alumna, having received her B.A. in Linguistics in 2012. She began working as a graduate program assistant in CSE while still an undergraduates, and began working as an intake advisor in Student Affairs, also in the CSE department.

    In awarding the Outstanding Community Leader honor to Dustin Richmond (at left), the GSA cited his role for several years in a row in leading graduate-student volunteers for Visit Day. In 2015-16, he also led the student-faculty candidate meetings and evaluations, which resulted in very thoughtful and well-organized comments. Richmond was the key instigator for the re-do of the Chez Bob graduate lounge and he played a huge leadership role in making those renovations happen. As the recipient of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2012, Richmond was also cited for having taken upon himself the responsibility of organizing several workshops to help fellow CSE graduate students learn how to apply successfully for NSF fellowships. He has been pursuing his Ph.D. in CSE since 2012, prior to which he did simultaneous undergraduate degrees in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. Under his advisor, CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner, Richmond is designing an ultra-high-speed image processing pipeline for active 3D scanners using compressive-sensing techniques. He is also the lead designer for an FPGA system to decompress and process 20,000-plus images per second.

  • CSE Sophomores Take VR Skills to Santa Barbara Hackathon

    UC San Diego computer science sophomores Connor Smith, Kristin Agcaoili and Anish Kannan were on hand April 22-24 when UC Santa Barbara hosted the second annual Santa Barbara Hackathon. The campus group SB Hacks hosted the 36-hour marathon coding competition, which was open to college students from around California, including community college students.

    CSE was represented by (pictured l-r) Smith, Agcaoili and Kannan, all members of the Virtual Reality Club at UC San Diego. The team created Chemistry Lab VR, an educational virtual-reality experience that teaches students lab procedure and safety. It could be used in chemistry classrooms to simulate real-life lab procedures to reduce the risks of working with potentially harmful chemicals. This was not the first time that the VR Club team developed a program to improve scientific instruction: at the HackingEDU hackathon in October 2015, Smith, Agcaoili and Kannan successfully coded a Cell VR program to teach cell biology and interact with a virtual human cell. They finished in third place at HackingEDU. The same team of three students also competed in November 2015 at HackSC in Los Angeles, where their application Diver -- to spread awareness about ocean pollution -- was awarded the Best VR/Game Hack of the USC-organized hackathon.

    As Smith told the UC Santa Barbara campus newspaper in an interview, the team traveled from San Diego to make a statement. "There are prizes, but we don't really do it competitively," he said. "We're just trying to do something that has impact beyond this space." The team arrived at UCSB with an HTC Vive system that Smith described as a "new, room-scale virtual reality, where you can actually walk, move and duck, all within the given boundaries."  Vive users are outfitted with a headset, headphones and two handheld controllers, and they interact with a programmable interface that allows "free movement between two lighthouse motion trackers that define a 16-square-foot space." (In 2015, Smith was an HTC Brand Ambassador, which paid him to demonstrate the VR system to fellow students.)

    Smith told the campus newspaper that he couldn't have asked for more support from hackathon organizers. "It's just a really supportive environment," he noted. "There are mentors, there's free food, great energy and just a lot of people working on something really cool. These events output so many cool projects as well, things that maybe people wouldn't have time to do otherwise.

  • Andrew Kahng's Best Paper at CDNLive Silicon Valley and Megatrends at Cadence Distinguished Speakers Series

    For the very first time, CDNLive Silicon Valley ran an academic track during its 2016 meeting, with a UC San Diego professor taking top honors. CDNLive is the Cadence User Conference, which attracts experts as well as users and developers of Cadence technologies and techniques for designing advanced silicon, systems, and systems-on-chip. The April 5-6 event took place in Santa Clara, CA, and drew a standing-room-only audience. According to a conference rapporteur, CSE and ECE Prof. Andrew Kahng "stole the show" with his talk on bridging the gap between academic research and commercial Electronic Design Automation (EDA)."  To noone's surprise, the presentation, "Toward New Synergies Between Academic Research and Commercial EDA",  received the Best Paper award for the Academic track, which included presentations by faculty from six other universities: USC, Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Texas A&M, and the University of Calgary.

    On the day after he spoke at CDNLive, Kahng (at right) presented as part of Cadence's internal Distinguished Speakers Series. His talk focused on "PPAC Scaling at 7nm and Below."  PPAC stands for power-performance-area-cost. The industry has talked about PPA for a long time, with the A for area also being a surrogate for cost. But with different process choices, multiple patterning vs. EUV someday and other options, area alone is not the only parameter that feeds into cost. According to a review of Kahng's talk by Cadence's Paul McLellan, the UC San Diego professor sees two megatrends that are driving "all the issues" in this area. The first is the "race to the end of the roadmap", i.e., taking Moore's Law as far as possible on existing or foreseeable knowledge, which is expected to result in volume production of 7nm technology in 2018. The second megatrend involves keeping power under control by adopting more extreme approaches after having "done a lot of the easy stuff in previous process generations" to enable low power for markets ranging from mobile to big data to cloud. Kahng's final call to arms in his Cadence talk was for a massive "moonshot" to predict tool outcomes, find the sweet spot for different tools and flows, and thus design in specific tool and flow knobs to the overall methodology. The end-result: a fully predictive, one-pass flow with optimal tool usage. With modern massively parallel, big-data architectures, argued Kahng, who is a former member of the Cadence Technology Advisory Board, it is not unreasonable to use tens of thousands of machines if it could "get us to the moon" of a non-iterative flow.

  • Former M.S. Student Seals $3 Million Deal for Drone Security Venture

    Grant Jordan was a student in the CSE Master's program because he wanted to focus on computer security and its potential, after earning his undergraduate degree in computer science at MIT and testing anti-drone technology at the Air Force Research Lab. While at UC San Diego, he and fellow student Paul Wicks (M.S. '14), both working in the security group of CSE Prof. Stefan Savage, co-founded an IT-security consulting firm called Somerset Recon. Then in 2015, Jordan and Wicks co-created a second, security-related startup: SkySafe. As CEO of SkySafe, Jordan made headlines on April 19 when one of the top venture-capital firms in Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz, agreed to lead a $3 million investment in the fledgling company.

    "I think security is one of the most exciting and diverse areas of computer science," said Jordan in the wake of the announcement. "It cuts across all other research areas and every project is new. What other area lets you work on such diverse subjects as spam, underground economies, Bitcoin, Internet of Things devices, and drones, all in the course of just a few years?"

    In a nutshell, SkySafe has developed technology that will allow institutional users to disable drones flying in areas that are off-limits, or in areas that may be accessible but which are threatened by drones flying dangerously. The technology leverages radio waves to override the instructions from a drone owner's remote control unit, thus taking control of the airborne device.

    In an article posted on LinkedIn April 20, Jordan (at left) noted that there have been no effective tools to control airspace and protect people and places from drone threats. "Our goal is to help drones be a positive change in society by improving safety, management and coordination," said Jordan. "We're building the tools to let facilities properly control and protect their airspace. Our system detects, identifies, tracks and takes action when needed... to secure the area, allowing the safe operation of authorized drones and stopping dangerous ones."

    In an interview with TechCrunch, Jordan also noted that, "Between that security work and [my] drone work, we saw a growing threat in the drone space." He added that SkySafe is initially targeting organizations such as "airports, prisons, stadiums, other event venues, border proection, critical infrastructure."

    Added the SkySafe CEO: "The number of places that have seen incidents in the past year has grown tremendously."

    According to Jordan, being part of Stefan Savage's security research group was an important stepping stone to SkySafe. "Stefan Savage made an incredible impact on my interest in cyber security," he noted. "He's such an incredibly engaging, insightful, and creative thinker. I was incredibly lucky that he took an interest in me and invited me to work on his team; I couldn't have found a more awesome research group."

    SkySafe is currently inviting partnerships or test deployments of the drone security system, and the company has plans to launch SkySafe in the second half of 2016, initially to qualified public-safety customers.

    Visit the SkySafe website.

  • Adjunct CSE Professor Named Interim Dean of Physical Sciences

    A professor of mathematics at UC San Diego who is also an adjunct professor in Computer Science and Engineering will take over on July 1 as the Interim Dean of Physical Sciences. Professor Jeffrey Remmel, who is currently the Associate Dean of the division, will take over temporarily for the outgoing Dean, Mark Thiemens. The campus has begun a national search for Thiemens' permanent successor, but the university tapped Remmel to serve as Interim Dean until his permanent replacement is appointed.

    Remmel is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematics, and he has been on the UC San Diego faculty since 1974. In addition to CSE, he is also adjunct faculty in the Rady School of Management. His current research interests include combinatorics, logic, and theoretical computer science.  He has published over 300 papers in a variety of fields and has personally mentored and graduated 31 Ph.D. students. Remmel has been Associate Dean of Physical Sciences since 2001, and he chaired the Mathematics department from 1998 to 2002. Remmel is also co-director of the newly-created Center for Advancing Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education (CAMSEE), and serves on the UC Executive Committee for the California State Summer School in Mathematics and Science (COSMOS), for which CSE typically hosts at least one thrust for high-school students each summer on the UC San Diego campus.

    Remmel has worked with faculty from across disciplines to establish new programs and encourage interdisciplinary research and scholarship.  He served on the steering committees to establish the Ph.D. and undergraduate major in Bioinformatics, and spearheaded the effort to create new Ph.D. and M.S. programs in Computational Science, Mathematics and Engineering (CSME).

  • Former CSE Professor's Solution to Caching Problem

    Wired magazine published an article this week on the importance of caching for organizing computer memory -- concluding that it is a lot like organizing your closet. The article was excerpted from a book published April 19, "Algorithms to Live By" (Henry Holt & Co., 2016). In it, the writers quote former CSE professor Rik Belew.

    Belew joined the UC San Diego department in 1986, switched to Cognitive Science f in 2002, where he is now an Emeritus Professor following retirement in 2012. (Today he lives in Oakland, CA, where contributes tacultyo open-government and open-access efforts, including the development of interactive data visualization to let citizens explore raw crime and election Belew's research in adaptive knowledge representation and the integration of new insights derived from low-level machine learning techniques with other representations of related human knowledge, relates to multiple applications, including searches through free-text documents. Using home storage as a metaphor, Belew was asked to weigh in on the dilemma of a husband who liked to store his clothes in a pile on the floor next to the bed -- creating a "smaller, faster, closer" form of cache compared to the bedroom closet or basement storage. The husband argued that a pile of clothes can be a highly efficient caching scheme, but his wife disagreed.  In the face of this conundrum, Belew suggested a solution to the marital dispute. Belew, "who studies search engines from a cognitive perspective, recommended the use of a valet stand," according to the excerpt in Wired. "A valet stand is essentially a one-outfit closet, a compound hanger for jacket, tie and slacks -- the perfect piece of hardware for your domestic caching needs." The magazine goes on to say that Belew's solution "just goes to show that computer scientists won't only save you time; they might also save your marriage." 

  • CSE Building Additions and Renovations Shift into High Gear

    After more than a year of planning and preparation, and the start in late March of renovations to create the Master's Commons working area for M.S. students on the second floor, the campus has announced that additions and renovations to the first floor and basement of the Computer Science and Engineering building will get underway on Friday, April 22. The construction will involve adding 4,500 square feet of new meeting-room spaces.

    Campus architect and assistant vice chancellor for Facilities Design and Construction, Wm. Joel King, AIA, made the announced on April 19, setting an expected completion date for the work next January 4, 2017. "Work will include a small addition, a trellis structure, and interior and exterior renovations," King wrote in an April 19 campus-wide announcement. "Renovations will include demolition and reconstruction of interior partitions and finishes on the first floor and in the basement... [while] exterior renovations will include the removal of the existing skylight and surrounding paving, and the installation of new presentation and conference space along the west side. It will also include minor work on the south side of the building, which includes an enlarged bicycle parking pad, a new access stair and signage."

    The contractor will be locating a large trash dumpster and storage units in the dock area between Atkinson Hall and the CSE building (from which the CUPS cafe has moved for the duration to across the courtyard in front of Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall). As a result, access through the dock area will be limited to the construction team and trash pick-up crews, and the west side of Voigt Drive will be used for the installation and removal of the recycling dumpsters and delivery of fencing and construction materials. Detours and signage (e.g., illustrating alternate paths) will direct vehicles and pedestrians around the impacted areas (see map above), and pedestrians and bicyclists will also experience interruptions due to construction on Warren Walk and along Voigt Drive across from Warren College Housing.

    Flaggers will also be present to direct traffic.  Updates will continue to be provided throughout the construction period. The department says that work on the Master's Commons area will run simultaneously with the work on lower floors, at least until the work on the second floor is completed in late May.

    Complaints about noise, safety, access and other problems may inconvenience some campus visitors and CSE personnel, but the campus architect has assured the department that access from the courtyard into the basement will be accessible throughout the duration of the project. Comments are welcomed via an online form embedded in the CSE website that offers detailed information about all pending renovation and building projects in and around the building.

  • Student Research Honored as Best CSE Poster at Research Expo 2016

    At the annual Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo, a team of three students advised by CSE Prof. George Porter received the top award out of nearly 30 posters (see story below) presented by graduate students from the Computer Science and Engineering department. The award went to the team of primary researcher Ashish Kashinath, with student collaborators Debjit Roy and Justin Tee, all of them students in CSE (pictured from left to right below; photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications).

    Their poster focused on "Fibbing to Alleviate Congestion in WAN and Data Center Networks." The 'fibbing' technique injects fake nodes and links into hybrid networks so that both OpenFlow and legacy routers compute forwarding tables based on augmented topologies. According to Kashinath and his colleagues, their solution to relieving congestion in data centers and wide-area networks (WANs) is a hybrid, centralized software-defined networking (SDN)/distributed approach that leverages fibbing. "Fibbing can be a readily deployable and effective solution to congestion relief," noted Kashinath, adding that in simulating congestion, the researchers that fibbing increased throughput of flows compared to ordinary TCP (or even ECN-enabled TCP). The poster also spelled out a routing table with metrics for times when congestion-triggered fibbing can be most effective. In the abstract accompanying their poster, Kashinath, Roy and Tee concluded that the "fibbing technique is a viable and effective solution to congestion relief in data centers and WAN that is readily deployable in hybrid networks."

    Prof. Porter, the students' advisor, put their award-winning project into the broader perspective. "Networks are undergoing a fundamental transformation to become significantly more programmable, letting operators and even users tailor the network to organizational needs," said Porter. "In this poster, Tee, Roy, and Kashinath explore the applicability of providing artificial input signals to network switches and routers to cause them to react to traffic in non-standard ways, yet end up providing better performance compared to their in-built programming.  What is exciting about their work is that they demonstrate the applicability of this technique to both globe-spanning wide-area networks, as well as single-building data centers which underpin massive sites like Google, Facebook, and Amazon."