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UW CSE’s Oren Etzioni: We need “AI guardians” that adhere to human law and values

Human-robot handshakeIn a thought-provoking new piece published in the Communications of the ACM, UW CSE professor and Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence CEO Oren Etzioni and sociologist Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University make the case for development of “AI guardians” to provide oversight for increasingly autonomous AI systems. (Aside: How cool is it to publish papers with your parent?!?!) The guardians, they argue, would ensure that operational AI adheres to our laws and ethical norms. They write:

“All societies throughout history have had oversight systems. Workers have supervisors; businesses have accountants; schoolteachers have principals. That is, all these systems have hierarchies in the sense that the first line operators are subject to oversight by a second layer and are expected to respond to corrective signals from the overseers….

“AI systems not only need some kind of oversight, but this oversight must be provided—at least in part—not by mortals, but by a new kind of AI system, the oversight ones. AI needs to be guided by AI.”

The duo offer three reasons why such oversight is needed: AI systems are learning systems, and therefore have the potential to stray from the initial guidelines given to them by their programmers; they are becoming more opaque to humans—either intentionally, or due to public incomprehension or sheer scale of the application; and these systems increasingly function autonomously, empowered by complex algorithms to make decisions independently of human input. Likening their proposed guardians to a home’s electrical circuit breaker—a system considerably less sophisticated than the electrical system it is designed to monitor and intervene when something goes awry—they suggest that the guardians don’t need to be more intelligent than the systems they oversee; just sufficiently intelligent to avoid being outwitted or short-circuited by those systems. The authors go on to examine the various forms such oversight might take when it comes to AI systems, from auditors and monitors, to enforcers and ethics bots.

In the case of both the operational and the oversight systems, they conclude, “humans should have the ultimate say.”

Read the full article here.

For more on the topic of AI and society from UW CSE researchers, see professor Dan Weld‘s column, The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence, published in GeekWire earlier this year, and professor Pedro Domingos’ book, The Master Algorithm, exploring how machine learning will remake our world.

August 25, 2016

How Seattle became “King of the Cloud” (with help from UW CSE)

Clouds and sun over the Seattle skylineGeekWire’s Dan Richman published an excellent article today examining the Seattle region’s dominance in cloud computing and how our region is poised, once again, to transform technology.

“The rise of Amazon Web Services — along with the growth of Microsoft Azure, a burgeoning cloud startup scene, and a vibrant cloud and IT developer community — has turned the Seattle region into the epicenter of cloud technology, in the view of many tech and business leaders,” Richman writes.

“Silicon Valley is the undisputed king of the tech world, but Seattle increasingly rules the cloud…The Bay Area is more likely to churn out the next hot messaging app or social network, but Seattle ‘deals with the plumbing’ — the real and lasting infrastructure that provides the foundation for the new tech economy.

“Forty years ago, ‘technology in Seattle’ meant Boeing airplanes, Fluke digital voltmeters and Physio-Control defibrillators, said Ed Lazowska, a veteran University of Washington computer science professor.

“Then Microsoft essentially created the entire software industry.

“The region spawned desktop publishing, with Aldus; and created streaming media, with Microsoft spin-off RealNetworks. It created modern online retailing, with Amazon, and just about every derivative, from jewelry (Blue Nile) to real estate (Redfin and Zillow) to groceries (HomeGrocer and Amazon Fresh) to travel (Expedia).

“‘Today,’ Lazowska said, ‘we totally ‘own’ the cloud.'”

And one of the drivers is UW CSE. As real estate broker Dylan Simon put it, “Students come for the professor and the program and they stay for the jobs,” citing UW CSE professor Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, as an example.

Not a region to rest on its laurels, many people see the potential for Seattle to similarly emerge as a center for artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. We have clearly earned the title “King of the Cloud”—perhaps “Emperor of AI” is not far behind.

Read the full article here.

Photo credit: Kevin Lisota via GeekWire

August 24, 2016

UW team captures Best Paper at SIGCOMM 2016 for interscatter

UW interscatter team photo

From left: Bryce Kellogg, Vamsi Talla and Vikram Iyer

A team of UW CSE and EE researchers has won the Best Paper Award at ACM SIGCOMM 2016 for interscatter, the groundbreaking technology that enables implanted devices to communicate using Wi-Fi and has the potential to transform health care as we know it. Interscatter was developed by EE Ph.D. students Vikram Iyer and Bryce Kellogg, CSE postdoc and EE Ph.D. alum Vamsi Talla, CSE professor Shyam Gollakota, and CSE and EE professor Josh Smith. The Best Paper accolades are shared with two other submissions: Eliminating Channel Feedback in Next-Generation Cellular Networks (MIT, CMU), and Don’t Mind the Gap: Bridging Network-wide Objectives and Device Configurations (Princeton, Microsoft Research, UCLA).

Way to go team! And congratulations to all of the winners!

Read our previous blog coverage here.

August 23, 2016

Remembering UW CSE Ph.D. alum Jonathan Ko

Jonathan Ko at graduationJonathan Ko, a UW CSE Ph.D. alum who worked with professor Dieter Fox in the Robotics and State Estimation Lab, passed away earlier this month after a courageous five-year battle with cancer.

During his early Ph.D. research, Jonathan was a member of UW CSE’s Centibots research team working on DARPA’s Software for Distributed Robotics (SDR) project. The Centibots framework enabled large teams of robots to explore, plan and collaborate on search and surveillance tasks in previously unknown environments. He then turned to the application of machine learning techniques to robotics, where his work on GP-BayesFilters has received a lot of attention in the robotics community.

After graduating from UW CSE in 2011, Jonathan joined Google as a software engineer. That also was the year he was diagnosed with cancer.

Fellow UW CSE alum Yaw Anokwa—who became a lifelong friend after Jonathan hosted him as a prospective graduate student—recalled that he loved motorcycles. Yaw pointed us to a touching tribute on Cycle World, “A Reminder to Live While You’re Alive,” about Jonathan’s quest to ride every MotoGP track in the world in the time he had left, and how the cycle community rallied to his cause. Ultimately, Jonathan only got to ride five of the 15 tracks, but his determination inspired countless numbers of fellow riders around the world.

Jonathan Ko with a motorcycle at track dayJonathan is remembered for making “a deep impression on all who had the honor of knowing him, with his intellect, openness, energy, and kindness.” Our hearts go out to Jonathan’s family, friends and colleagues, especially his loving mother Jackie, siblings Clara and Paul, niece Abigail, and nephew Alexander.

Read Jonathan’s obituary here. Donations can be made in his memory to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance here.

August 22, 2016

UW CSE’s Richard Ladner recognized by SIGACCESS for outstanding contributions in accessible computing

Richard LadnerUW CSE professor Richard Ladner has been selected the 2016 winner of the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computing and Accessibility by the Special Interest Group in Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS). In announcing the honor, SIGACCESS cited Ladner’s 30+ years of research, advocacy and leadership in the field of accessible computing.

From the award citation:

“Richard’s steadfast support and advocacy for people with disabilities have tangibly increased their participation in STEM fields….Richard was one of the first people to address the concept of accessibility in the HCI field in his 1987 CHI paper ‘A User Interface for Deaf-Blind People.’ Since then, his research has substantially advanced the state-of-the-art in access technology, resulting in products and services that are not merely academic curiosities, but have actually been adopted and used by people with and without disabilities. Examples include ASL-STEM Forum, MobileASL, ClassInFocus, Tactile Graphics and V-Braille.

“Richard has supervised nine PhD students who focused their dissertation research on accessibility related topics. Some of those students have disabilities themselves. All have been so inspired by Richard that they have gone on to pursue their own careers in accessibility research in academia or industry.”

Read the full citation here. SIGACCESS will present the award at its ASSETS 2016 conference in October.

This is the latest in a long list of honors Richard has earned for his efforts to make technology accessible to all, including the 2014 ACM CHI Social Impact Award, the CMD-IT 2015 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award, and the 2015 Broadening Participation in Computing Community Award.

Congratulations, Richard!

August 18, 2016

UW’s interscatter enables implanted devices to communicate using Wi-Fi

Interscatter prototypesA team of UW CSE and Electrical Engineering researchers have developed a novel communication system called interscatter that enables smart contact lenses, medical implants and credit cards to “talk” to smartphones and smartwatches using Wi-Fi. This groundbreaking technology, which was developed by students and faculty in the UW’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab led by CSE professor Shyam Gollakota and the Sensor Systems Lab led by CSE and EE professor Josh Smith, has the potential to transform health care and usher in a new era of truly ubiquitous connectivity for a variety of devices.

From the UW News release:

“The team of UW electrical engineers and computer scientists has demonstrated for the first time that these types of power-limited devices can ‘talk’ to others using standard Wi-Fi communication. Their system requires no specialized equipment, relying solely on mobile devices commonly found with users to generate Wi-Fi signals using 10,000 times less energy than conventional methods.

“‘Instead of generating Wi-Fi signals on your own, our technology creates Wi-Fi by using Bluetooth transmissions from nearby mobile devices such as smartwatches,’ said co-author Vamsi Talla, a recent UW doctoral graduate in Electrical Engineering who is now a research associate in Computer Science & Engineering.

“The team’s process relies on a communication technique called backscatter, which allows devices to exchange information simply by reflecting existing signals. Because the new technique enables inter-technology communication by using Bluetooth signals to create Wi-Fi transmissions, the team calls it ‘interscattering.'”

The team, which also includes EE Ph.D. students Vikram Iyer and Bryce Kellogg, built prototypes of three technologies that are made possible by the development of interscatter: a smart contact lens that can monitor and send medical information to a smartphone, an implantable neural recording device, and credit cards that can communicate directly with one another.

“‘Providing the ability for these everyday objects like credit cards – in addition to implanted devices – to communicate with mobile devices can unleash the power of ubiquitous connectivity,’ Gollakota said.

The researchers will present interscatter at the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGCOMM 2016 conference next week in Florianópolis, Brazil.

Read the full news release here and the research paper here. Learn more by visiting the project web page here. Watch the interscatter team’s video demo here, and check out coverage by MIT Technology ReviewGeekWire, TechCrunch, ComputerWorld, Seattle Times, Puget Sound Business JournalInverse, Digital Trends, Live Science, Daily Mail, The Sun, Fusion, New Atlas, Forbes, and Engineering & Technology magazine.

Photo credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

August 17, 2016


UW @ ISAT33 members of the DARPA ISAT (Information Science And Technology) study group are working at Woods Hole this week – 7 with strong UW CSE connections: Tom Daniel (adjunct faculty), Franzi Roesner (faculty), Ras Bodik (faculty), Hakim Weatherspoon (Bachelors alum, Cornell faculty), Brandon Lucia (Ph.D. alum, CMU faculty), Ed Lazowska (faculty), Luis Ceze (faculty). Missing: Roxana Geambasu (Ph.D. alum, Columbia faculty).

August 16, 2016

UW CSE’s Ed Lazowska named 2016 Tech Impact Champion by Seattle Business magazine

Ed LazowskaSeattle Business magazine announced that it has named UW CSE professor Ed Lazowska its Tech Impact Champion for 2016. In selecting Lazowska for the award, the magazine’s editors and judges cited his lifetime of work building UW CSE into one of the top 10 programs in the nation, his leadership in establishing the eScience Institute and advancing our region’s position at the forefront of data analytics, and his tireless promotion of the local tech industry.

From the announcement:

“When Lazowska arrived in Seattle 39 years ago as an assistant professor, both the University of Washington and the region were very different places. In computer science, he was the newest of only 13 faculty members. The region’s tech industry largely consisted of Boeing, Fluke and Physio-Control. Microsoft at the time was still a dozen people in Albuquerque.

“Today, the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering Department rivals Stanford’s and Carnegie Mellon’s for attracting tech talent and major research — accomplishments that Lazowska helped bring about….A decade after leading fundraising to build the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, he is doing so again to build a new CSE facility that will help double the center’s capacity.”

The magazine goes on to note that, in his role as “educator, researcher, adviser and booster,” Lazowska has helped lead the greater Seattle region’s transformation into a global center of innovation. It also celebrates his commitment to promoting gender diversity in computing and for providing greater opportunities to the region’s K-12 students.

Lazowska joins an impressive list of local tech titans previously honored for their lifetime contributions to the industry and region, including serial entrepreneur and UW CSE alum Jeremy Jaech (2013), former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (2014), and Madrona Venture Group co-founder Tom Alberg (2015). He will receive the award at Seattle Business’ annual Tech Impact Awards bash on September 21st.

Read the full announcement here.

Congratulations, Ed!

August 15, 2016

UW CSE researchers tap their inner Indiana Jones to unearth the history of web tracking

UW CSE web tracking study diagrams

Researchers in UW CSE’s Security & Privacy Research Lab turned archaeologists to deliver the first comprehensive study of third-party web tracking based on a new tool, TrackingExcavator, that detects and analyzes third-party tracking behavior. UW CSE Ph.D. student Adam Lerner presented the results of the study, which examines tracking on the most popular online destinations dating back to 1996, at the USENIX Security Conference in Austin, Texas last week.

“Third-party tracking started quite early in the history of the web,” Lerner noted in a UW News release. “People are becoming more concerned about the potential impact of third-party web tracking, but we lacked a comprehensive history of how trackers — and the types of information they collect — have evolved over time.”

The team, which in addition to Lerner includes CSE Ph.D. student Anna Kornfeld Simpson and CSE professors Franzi Roesner and Yoshi Kohno, set out to build that history by reconstructing tracking data for the top 500 websites using web pages archived in the Wayback Machine. The task was made more complicated by the fact that no one anticipated, when putting together those early websites, that we would want or need to trace the evolution of third-party tracking decades later.

“Reconstructing tracking behavior from the Wayback Machine is difficult because it was designed to archive web content, not tracking techniques,” Kornfeld Simpson told UW News. “We had to develop techniques to extract tracking information from the archive. For example, we collected tracking cookies from archived HTTP headers and Javascript and then simulated the browser’s cookie storage behaviors to detect tracking behavior.”

They found that activity on popular websites by third-party trackers—such as advertisers, analytics engines and social media widgets—has increased four-fold over the past two decades. Tracking has also become more complex, evolving from simple cookies and pop-up windows to more sophisticated methods.

According to the news release,

“Today, the average top website has an average of at least four third-party trackers looking at user activity. The team stresses that these numbers are likely underestimates, since not all websites are fully archived.

“They also found that today individual trackers cover a much larger fraction of the web.…These findings are important to understanding the effects of tracking on privacy, since tracking users on more sites allows trackers to develop a more detailed and intimate picture of their behavior.

“This 20-year historical perspective paints a clear picture of how third-party tracking has evolved with the rise and fall of different techniques, advances in technology, and our increasing reliance on the web in our lives. In general, third parties are watching and collecting information. How we may feel about that remains to be seen.”

Read the complete UW News release here, and the research paper here. Learn more and gain access to the team’s data on the TrackingExcavator website here. Read coverage of the study in TechCrunchUSA TodayFortune and IEEE Spectrum, and watch video from NBC Today and KOMO News.

The project is the latest example of UW CSE’s leadership in web privacy research, including previous work by Roesner, Kohno, and then-CSE professor David Weatherall to analyze and classify web-tracker behavior and to empower users with tools such as ShareMeNot, which was subsequently incorporated into the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Privacy Badger.

August 15, 2016

eScience Institute’s Sarah Stone and Micaela Parker featured in Oceanography magazine

Sarah Stone

Sarah Stone


Micaela Parker

The careers of Micaela Parker and Sarah Stone, program managers at the UW eScience Institute, are the subject of an article in the latest issue of Oceanography, the quarterly magazine of The Oceanography Society. In it, Micaela and Sara talk about what inspired them to jointly apply to the program manager position, in which they share responsibility for day-to-day operations of the institute and serve as the primary point of contact for campus and external partners and the public.

“The eScience Institute’s mission is to engage researchers across disciplines in developing and applying advanced computational methods and tools to real world problems in data-driven science and research,” they explain. “This interdisciplinary mission attracted us to the program manager position.”

Micaela and Sarah proposed a job-sharing arrangement—backed up by data, of course!—that would allow them to balance a career in academia with their roles as caregivers. The arrangement has worked out well for all parties, as it has enabled the faculty, staff and students that work with the institute to benefit from both women’s skills and experience.

“We enjoy helping scientists create and utilize tools that enable novel research questions and empower others,” Micaela and Sarah tell Oceanography. “The eScience Institute is an exciting, cross-disciplinary environment that allows us to work with scientists doing cutting-edge research.”

They credit the institute’s leadership, including UW CSE professor Ed Lazowska and iSchool professor and CSE adjunct professor Bill Howe, plus Chris Cunnington and the rest of the UW CSE staff, for supporting their job-share. They offer advice to other women in academia similarly striving for work-life balance, urging them to not be afraid seek flexibility but also to embrace “opportunities to explore outside of your comfort zone.”

Read a PDF of the article here.

August 12, 2016

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