How Mary Ann Horton invented the email attachment, then revolutionized trans rights

CS alumna Mary Ann Horton (Ph.D. '81) is the subject of a Daily Beast article titled "How Mary Ann Horton Invented the Email Attachment, Then Revolutionized Trans Rights."  As a student, Horton contributed to Berkeley UNIX (BSD), including the vi editor and terminfo database, and created the first email attachment tool, uuencode.  She then became a pioneering transgender activist who, in the 1990s and 2000s, played a key role in encouraging American companies to add the categories of gender identity and gender expression to their non-discrimination policies—and to provide transgender health benefits.  It began when she encouraged her employer, Lucent, to become the first large company in the United States to include gender identity or expression in its non-discrimination policy.  “Getting Lucent to do it was all about me, but once Lucent did it, I thought, this could be for everybody,” Horton remembers. “My vision was to push the snowball, and build up that snowball, and get it bigger and bigger until it would roll down the hill by itself—until I didn’t have to push it any more.”

Umesh Vazirani and Sanjeev Arora elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Prof. and alumnus Umesh Vazirani (Ph.D. '86) and alumnus Sanjeev Arora (Ph.D. '94) have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  Membership is awarded in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original scientific research.  Vazirani is the Roger A. Strauch Professor of EECS and the co-director of the Berkeley Quantum Computation Center (BQIC). His research interests lie primarily in quantum computing.  Arora, whose interests include uses of randomness in complexity theory and algorithms,  efficient algorithms for finding approximate solutions to NP-hard problems (or proving that they don't exist), and cryptography, is now the Charles C. Fitzmorris Prof. of Computer Science at Princeton University.

How David Chaum’s eCash Spawned a Cypherpunk Dream

Alumnus David Chaum (Ph.D. CS/Business Administration '82) is the subject of a Bitcoin Magazine article titled "The Genesis Files: How David Chaum’s eCash Spawned a Cypherpunk Dream." Before most people had heard of the internet, and most homes had personal computers, Chaum was concerned with the future of online privacy.  His 1981 paper, “Untraceable Electronic Mail, Return Addresses, and Digital Pseudonyms” laid the groundwork for research into encrypted communication over the internet.   He designed an anonymous payment system for the internet which he outlined in a 1982 paper titled “Blind signatures for untraceable payments.”   The magazine article focuses on the trajectory of Chaum's subsequent creation of a digital money system called eCash and how his work remains relevant today.

Andrea Goldsmith named ACM Athena Lecturer

2018 EE Distinguished Alumna Andrea Goldsmith (B.A. ’86/M.S. ’91/Ph.D. ’94) has been named the 2018-19 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Athena Lecturer for contributions to the theory and practice of adaptive wireless communications, and for the successful transfer of research to commercial technology.  Goldsmith, who is currently the Stephen Harris Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford,  introduced innovative approaches to the design, analysis and fundamental performance limits of wireless systems and networks. The Athena Lecturer Award, which was initiated by the ACM Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W), celebrates women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to computer science. The award carries a cash prize of $25,000, with financial support provided by Google.

Lea Kissner leads Google's internal privacy strike force

EECS alumna Lea Kissner (B.S. '02) is the subject of a Gizmodo article describing her visit to a class at Berkeley this week where she discussed her job as a Principal Engineer at Google leading the security and privacy teams for infrastructure and social products.  One team of 90 employees with different backgrounds and skill sets, called NightWatch, reviews almost all of the products that Google launches for potential privacy flaws.  The article also covers some of the obstacles she has faced and her involvement chairing a discussion topic on Practical Privacy Protection at the OURSA conference in San Francisco today. “I want to tell people things we’ve learned. I want to build the world I want to live in, and the world I want to live in includes things like products being designed respectfully of users and systems being designed respectfully for users. I don’t think everybody has to learn everything the hard way,” Kissner tells me later. Then, the mathematician in her kicks in and she adds, “It’s very inefficient if nothing else.”

John Kubiatowicz and Group's (Circa 2000) Paper Named Most Influential at ASPLOS 2018

At the ASPLOS conference in late March, John Kubitowicz and his group from 2000 were celebrated for their paper, "OceanStore: an architecture for global-scale persistent storage." The paper was named Most Influential Paper 2018, and the authors receiving the award included David Bindel, Yan Chen, Steven Czerwinski, Patrick Eaton, Dennis Geels, Ramakrishna Gummadi, Sean Rhea, Hakim Weatherspoon, Chris Wells, and Ben Zhao, as well as Kubi, a long-time Berkeley CS faculty member. The paper was originally published in the Proceedings of the ninth international conference on Architectural support for programming languages and operating systems (ASPLOS IX). 

Barbara Simons proves how easy it is to hack elections—and how it can be stopped

College of Engineering Distinguished Alumna Barbara Simons (Ph.D. '81) is the subject of an article in the Dail Kos titled "Computer scientist Barbara Simons proves how easy it is to hack elections—and how it can be stopped."  Simons,  who runs Verified Voting, has been a longtime advocate for bringing paper ballots back to all states and exposing the perils of electronic paperless ballots.  Last summer, she ran an experiment at the Def Con Hacker Conference in Las Vegas in which she secured 4 voting machines and had two teams of hackers successfully compromise them. “Anything that’s happening in here, you can be sure [it’s something] that those intent on undermining the integrity of our election systems have already done,” she said.  Simons will be a keynote speaker at the WiCSE 40th Reunion on Saturday.

Carlini (photo: Kore Chan/Daily Cal)

AI training may leak secrets to canny thieves

A paper released on arXiv last week by a team of researchers including Prof. Dawn Song and Ph.D. student Nicholas Carlini (B.A. CS/Math '13), reveals just how vulnerable deep learning is to information leakage.  The researchers labelled the problem “unintended memorization” and explained it happens if miscreants can access to the model’s code and apply a variety of search algorithms. That's not an unrealistic scenario considering the code for many models are available online, and it means that text messages, location histories, emails or medical data can be leaked.  The team doesn't “really know why neural networks memorize these secrets right now, ” Carlini says.  “At least in part, it is a direct response to the fact that we train neural networks by repeatedly showing them the same training inputs over and over and asking them to remember these facts."   The best way to avoid all problems is to never feed secrets as training data. But if it’s unavoidable then developers will have to apply differentially private learning mechanisms, to bolster security, Carlini concluded.

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.”

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.