News

Shankar Raman named 2018 MIT MacVicar Fellow

Alumnus Shankar Raman (EE M.S. '88), now a professor of literature at MIT, has been named a 2018 MacVicar Fellow.  The MIT MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program recognizes professors who are champions of teaching and advising, and who engage with students to advance the mission of the Institute.  After obtaining his B.S. in electrical engineering from MIT and master's from Berkeley, Raman changed fields and received a master's and Ph.D. in English literature from Stanford.  His research ranges from Renaissance and late-Medieval literature and culture to post-colonialism and literary theory.  His unconventional career path has proven particularly beneficial to his students. “One of the most unique and helpful aspects of Prof. Raman’s advising,” one former student wrote, “was his ability to leverage his own unique life trajectory, which enables him to connect with MIT students on their own technically-minded terms better than most.”

How Flight Simulation Tech Can Help Turn Robots Into Surgeons

Robotics researchers from Berkeley's AUTOLab, led by IEOR and EECS professor Ken Goldberg, have built a heaving robotic platform — mimicking the motion of a breathing, heart-beating human patient — to help develop algorithms that robotic surgical assistants can use to guide their cutting.  This research is the subject of an article in Wired magazine titled "How Flight Simulation Tech Can Help Turn Robots Into Surgeons."  During surgery, when the chest heaves or blood pumps, the surgeon has to compensate for that movement.  The researchers took the data from watching the surgeon's movements and developed algorithms that could mimic his strategy for cutting along a line. This new robot, which is a kind of a Stewart platform, mimics that movement.  Stewart platforms are normally hefty pneumatic devices that power things like immersive flight simulators. But for this study, the researchers took the concept and shrunk it down to a 6-inch-wide device, opting for servo motors instead of pneumatic power. The machine costs just $250.

Retraining the brain’s vision center to take action

Neuroscience researchers, including Prof. Jose Carmena, have demonstrated the astounding flexibility of the brain by training neurons that normally process input from the eyes to develop new skills, in this case, to control a computer-generated tone.  Carmena, the senior author of a paper about the development that appeared in the journal Neuron, explains that “to gain a reward, the rats learned to produce arbitrary patterns of neural activity unrelated to visual input in order to control a BMI, highlighting the power of neuroplasticity and the flexibility of the brain.”   “These findings suggest that the striatum has a broader role in shaping cortical activity based on ongoing experience and behavioral outcomes than previously acknowledged, and have wide implications for the neuroscience of thought and action and brain-machine interfaces,” said Carmena.

RISELab's AI research wins $10M NSF award

The RISELab, led by Prof. Ion Stoica, has received an Expeditions in Computing award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), providing $10 million in funding over five years to enable game-changing advances in real-time decision making technologies.  The award is presented to research teams pursuing large-scale, far-reaching and potentially transformative research in computer and information science and engineering.   RISELab’s award will be used to develop technology for an era in which AI systems will make decisions that will play an increasingly central role in people’s lives in areas such as healthcare, transportation and business.

Richard Nixon (photo: Lotfi Zadeh)

Subjects natural, rational, and transcendental: the photos of Lotfi Zadeh

Prof. Lotfi Zadeh, who passed away in 2017, was an avid photographer who grew up in a multicultural environment, surrounded himself with a cosmopolitan crowd, and always kept his mind open to new ideas.   In the 1960s and 70s, he enjoyed capturing the people around him in a series of black and white portraits.  His burgeoning career gave him access to a number of artists, academics, and dignitaries who, along with his colleagues, friends, and family, proved a great source of inspiration for him.   Some of Zadeh's portraits can be viewed in the EECS Newsletter courtesy of Prof. David Attwood.

Ling-Qi Yan helps to improve computer rendering of animal fur

CS graduate student Ling-Qi Yan (advisors: Ravi Ramamoorthi/Ren Ng) and researchers at U.C. San Diego are the subject of an article in TechXplore titled "Scientists improve computer rendering of animal fur."  He is part of a team that developed a method for dramatically improving the way computers simulate fur, and more specifically, the way light bounces within an animal's pelt.  The researchers are using a neural network to apply the properties of a concept called subsurface scattering to quickly approximate how light bounces around fur fibers.  The neural network only needs to be trained with one scene before it can apply subsurface scattering to all the different scenes with which it is presented. This results in simulations running 10 times faster than current state of the art.  "We are converting the properties of subsurface scattering to fur fibers," said Yan. "There is no explicit physical or mathematical way to make this conversion. So we needed to use a neural network to connect these two different worlds."  The researchers recently presented their findings at the SIGGRAPH Asia conference in Thailand.

Dan Wallach to testify about election security and voting machines in Texas

EECS alumnus Dan Wallach (B.S. '93) will testify before the Texas Senate Select Committee on Election Security at a hearing about recent election irregularities in Texas, a review of voting security protocols and the responsibilities and duties of members of the Electoral College.  Specifically, the hearing will examine the use of electronic voting machines and paper ballots, voting fraud and disenfranchisement occurring inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities, outside interference and manipulation of elections, and the voting requirements of presidential electors.  Wallach is widely regarded as an expert on voting machine security.  He is currently an EECS professor at Rice University and a scholar at Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy. 

Steve Wozniak emphasizes people over technology

CS alumnus Steve Wozniak (B.A.'86) was the inaugural speaker in the Business Thought Leader series at the University of South Florida College of Business.  He answered pre-submitted questions that asked for his best advice for college students and what he might tell his younger self.  He shared his "smiles minus frowns" happiness equation and said that how one feels is paramount to success.  While passion and vision are key, he stressed the importance of always choosing people over technology and cautioned students that ”the purpose [of your work] should never be, this is how I’m going to make a lot of money.”  Instead, if you think about how you can make the world a better place you will never regret the outcome.  He said that he was so famous when he came back to study at Berkeley, after taking time off to found Apple Computers, that he went by the pseudonym Rocky Raccoon Clark.

UC Berkeley wins 2018 Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship

For the second year running, UC Berkeley has won the Fiesta Bowl Overwatch Collegiate National Championship, sweeping UC Irvine 3-0.  CS majors Kevin "SlurpeeThief" Royston and Gandira “Syeikh” Prahandika were on the Berkeley team, which battled in front of a sold-out crowd at the game in Tempe, Arizona, the first partnership between a collegiate bowl game and eSports tournament.  Royston, who was profiled in on Overwatch Wire article before the tournament, is in the top 1% of all players worldwide, has had a peak skill rating of 4626, and was on the winning team last year.  He notes that the balance between esports and school has been a tough road.  “It’s definitely rough, this week is the first time I had a homework assignment slip because of Overwatch. (Laughs) Hear me out! It’s for Machine Learning which is the hardest class at Berkeley. We had to travel (for the Fiesta Bowl) and I worked sixteen hours on an assignment and didn’t even get halfway through it.”  Overwatch is a team-based shooter game that was created by Blizzard Entertainment and released in 2016.  Teams are made up of six players, who select different characters, known in the game as “heroes,” to complete different objectives. The Berkeley team won $42,000 of the $100,000 total in scholarships and other prizes.

Security for data analytics – gaining a grip on the two-edged sword

Prof. Dawn Song and graduate student Noah Johnson are taking a new approach to enable organizations to follow tight data security and privacy policies while enabling flexible data analysis, as well as machine learning for analysts.  Working with Uber, they tested their system using a dataset of 8 million queries written by the company’s data analysts. The system is currently being integrated into Uber’s internal data analytics platform.  With help from the Signatures Innovation Fellows program, they are advancing the system to provide the same level of security and flexibility for a broad range of data analysis and machine learning, whether needed in basic and medical research or business analytics.