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Yin Tat Lee to join the UW CSE faculty

Yin Tat LeeWe are thrilled to announce that Yin Tat Lee, who works in algorithms and optimization, will join the UW CSE faculty.

Lee’s research focuses on the design of fast algorithms for fundamental optimization problems. Leaders in convex optimization acknowledge that his work has yielded the most important breakthroughs in interior point methods in the past two decades. Together with his co-authors, Lee has developed the fastest known algorithms for linear programming, submodular function minimization, and the maximum flow problem. He has been the recipient of a variety of Best Paper and Best Student Paper awards from flagship theory conferences, including FOCS and SODA.

After finishing his Ph.D. at MIT, Lee will spend a one-year postdoc at Microsoft Research in Redmond  before starting at UW CSE. He joins Shayan Oveis Gharan and Thomas Rothvoss as rising stars in theory who have chosen UW CSE in recent years.

Welcome, Yin Tat!

May 24, 2016

UW CSE’s Dan Weld on “the real AI threat”

Dan WeldUW CSE professor Dan Weld wrote a thought-provoking column for GeekWire on “the real AI threat,” just in time for the White House-sponsored workshop on AI law and policy taking place on the University of Washington campus today.

Casting aside the sensational imaginings of Hollywood directors, Weld insists that we need not fear the day that AI systems willfully turn against humanity, as “computers have no hidden goals or secret motivations.” Instead, it is the action of human beings in control of the AI that we have to worry about.

But some bad actor at a keyboard is not what keeps Weld up at night. The greatest threat, he asserts, stems not from humans’ actions, but rather from our inaction. According to Weld, we ignore at our peril the potential for significant social upheaval stemming from mass job displacement, as computers perform more and more tasks that used to be the preserve of people.

From the article:

“The real AI threat stems not from nefarious actions, but rather from the opposite direction. As AI systems become more capable and more common, they will displace innumerable workers. Robots and intelligent software are outperforming humans at an increasing number of jobs. Mid-career education and retraining may slow this displacement, but digital innovation accelerates exponentially, virtually guaranteeing that social disruption will be faster and more extensive than ever before in history.

“We are already living the contradiction of automation increasing prosperity and economic output, on the one hand, and inequality, on the other. Political conservatives lament the laziness of today’s welfare recipients, but what should a population do when jobs disappear en mass? How will society respond when jobs disappear en mass? Is capitalism sustainable when labor becomes unnecessary?”

It’s a fascinating piece, which you can read in full here. Find out more about today’s AI workshop here, part of a series of workshops announced by the White House earlier this month to assess the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence.

May 24, 2016

UW CSE’s celebration of “Inspirational Teachers”

CSE 2016 Inspirational Teacher DinnerEvery year, we in Computer Science & Engineering invite our new majors to identify their most inspirational high school or community college teacher – the teacher (each of us had one!) who changed their perception of what they should aspire to. We host these teachers, their partners, and the students who nominated them for dinner in the Allen Center (plus a bit of propaganda designed to encourage the teachers to send us more great students!).

From early learning through graduate school, all educators are in the same business. Parents entrust us with their most precious asset – their children. We do our best to help these kids achieve their potential. When they excel – which is almost always, given the amazing raw material with which we are entrusted – we take pleasure in the fact that we’ve played at least some small role in that success.

Congratulations and thanks to UW CSE’s 2015-16 Inspirational Teachers – nominated by our students for the difference you’ve made in their lives.

May 23, 2016

UW CSE ACM Student Chapter spring picnic

Perfect weather on Friday for the UW CSE ACM Student Chapter spring picnic! (As usual, faculty pie-throwing was the highlight …)


Zorah Fung and Adam Blank – looks like a draw!

May 21, 2016

Workforce gaps in Washington State: It’s all Computer Science

Cover with borderThe latest update of the authoritative Washington State workforce gap analysis was released in April by the Washington Student Achievement Council, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.

The report – A Skilled and Educated Workforce: 2015 Update – examines supply and demand in roughly 500 occupations divided into a dozen major categories.

At the Bachelors level, four fields are identified as having significant gaps between annual completors entering the workforce and total annual job openings. Computer Science leads the way, with a gap nearly four times as large as the gap in the next field.

When Bachelors and Graduate degree levels are combined, seven fields are identified as having significant gaps. Computer Science again leads the way, with a gap nearly three times as great as the gap in the next field.


Of course, it’s not just Washington’s software industry that’s responsible for this. We recently reported on the dominance of computing professionals in our region’s aerospace industry.

And it’s not just a regional phenomenon. We recently reported on the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics decadal workforce projections.

May 21, 2016

UW CSE team wins Best Robotic Manipulation Paper Award at ICRA 2016

UW CSE's dexterous robot handUW CSE Ph.D. student Vikash Kumar and professors Emo Todorov and Sergey Levine captured the Best Robotic Manipulation Paper Award at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2016) in Stockholm, Sweden this week. Their submission, “Optimal Control with Learned Local Models: Application to Dexterous Manipulation,” presents the results of their work on a dexterous robot hand that learns from experience. The paper details how the researchers achieved local learning, demonstrating the ability of the robot hand to improve its performance of a specific manipulation task through repetition—and without any human intervention.

This is the second year in a row that Levine has won a Best Paper Award in the robotic manipulation category at ICRA. He won last year for a paper he co-authored as a postdoc at UC Berkeley titled “Learning Contact-Rich Manipulation Skills with Guided Policy Search.”

Read more about UW CSE’s robot hand project in our previous blog post here and the UW News release here.

Go team!

May 19, 2016

UW CSE’s Irene Zhang, Richard Ladner @ 2016 NCWIT Summit


UW CSE’s Irene Zhang flanked by VPs from HP and Qualcomm

At this week’s 2016 Summit of NCWIT – the National Center for Women & Information Technology – UW CSE Ph.D. student Irene Zhang was recognized as a Runner Up for the 2016 NCWIT Collegiate Award (honoring the outstanding technical accomplishments of collegiate women at all levels), and UW CSE professor Richard Ladner spoke on including people with disabilities.

UW CSE is an NCWIT Pacesetter School, and in 2015 received the inaugural NCWIT Award for Excellence in Promoting Women in Undergraduate Computing. UW CSE’s Ed Lazowska serves on the NCWIT Executive Advisory Council.





UW CSE’s Richard Ladner

May 17, 2016

UW CSE’s Paris Koutris, Alvin Cheung recognized by ACM SIGMOD

Paris KoutrisThe Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on the Management of Data (SIGMOD) announced that UW CSE Ph.D. alum Paris Koutris is the recipient of this year’s Jim Gray Doctoral Dissertation Award. UW CSE professor Alvin Cheung’s MIT Ph.D. dissertation was recognized with an Honorable Mention. The award recognizes outstanding Ph.D. dissertations in the data management field.

Koutris, who completed his Ph.D. working with professor Dan Suciu in the UW Database Group before joining the faculty of University of Wisconsin-Madison last fall, received the award for his dissertation titled “Query Processing for Massively Parallel Systems.” In the dissertation, Koutris explores the fundamental problem of query processing for modern massively parallel architectures—a critical issue in the age of big data—and proposes a theoretical framework, the Massively Parallel Computation model or MPC, to analyze the performance of parallel algorithms for query processing. Using the MPC model, Koutris illustrates a method for designing novel algorithms and techniques for query processing and for proving their optimality.

Alvin CheungAs SIGMOD noted in its award citation, “The work stands out by the elegance of its models, applicable to numerous contemporary large-scale data processing platforms, and for its fundamental results related to the complexity of parallel processing in this setting. It will help advance our community’s understanding of the challenges and opportunities raised by large-scale distributed data management.”

Cheung earned an Honorable Mention for his MIT dissertation “Rethinking the Application-Database Interface,” in which he demonstrated how to improve the performance of database applications by multiple orders of magnitude by considering the programming system and database management system in tandem and by applying a combination of declarative database optimization and modern program analysis and synthesis techniques. MIT previously recognized Cheung’s work with its George M. Sprowls Award for the outstanding dissertation in computer science.

We can’t resist noting that Dan Suciu’s student Chris Re (now on the faculty at Stanford, and formerly on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin) received the 2010 Jim Gray Award, and that his student Gerome Miklau (now on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst) received the 2006 Jim Gray Award. Oh – and his student Nilesh Dalvi (founder of Troo.ly, previously Facebook and Yahoo! Research) received an Honorable Mention in 2008.

Way to go, Paris and Alvin – and Dan!

May 17, 2016

Karin Strauss: One of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business”

karin-strauss_mg_8684-n5mw5bKarin Strauss – Microsoft researcher and UW CSE affiliate professor – is featured in Fast Company‘s list of “100 Most Creative People in Business,” released today.

“In April 2016, Strauss and a group of computer scientists and molecular biologists unveiled an experimental DNA data storage system … Practical applications for the technology might include deep-storing video archives or recording genomic data, which requires vast amounts of memory.”

Read the Fast Company profile here. Learn more about the Microsoft/UW DNA storage project here.

May 16, 2016

UW CSE’s Oren Etzioni on all things AI …

oren-1-2-630x418Oren Etzioni – long-time UW CSE faculty member and CEO of Paul G. Allen’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has become a GeekWire regular on all things AI.

Most recently, Oren on Georgia Tech’s surreptitious replacement of human teaching assistants with IBM’s Watson. (Can TA unionization be far behind at Georgia Tech?)

In April, Oren on the future of robots and humanity. (No sense in piddling around with small topics.)

A few days before that, Oren on the AI utopia he envisions. (Presumably it includes robot TAs …)

May 15, 2016

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