John DeNero wins 2018 UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award

Assistant Teaching Prof. John DeNero has won the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award.   The award, presented by the Academic Senate, recognizes U.C. Berkeley's brightest teaching stars for their inspiring and transformational teaching.  DeNero says his teaching goal is not necessarily to make students happy but to help them learn how to solve problems that they thought they couldn't solve.  He has a knack for grabbing attention, exciting students, and in many ways, serving as a pioneer.  He teaches his introductory course for computer science majors, CS 61A, to nearly 1,600 students in 47 sections with the help of a course staff of 95 undergraduates. Distinguished Teaching Award winners are frequently called upon by the campus to provide a voice on issues related to teaching. They serve on forums, panels, and committees involving teaching issues, and they are advocates for excellence in teaching at Berkeley.

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.

Michael Jordan named Plenary Lecturer at the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM)

Prof. Michael Jordan has been named a Plenary Lecturer at the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.  ICM is considered the world’s premier forum for presenting and discussing new mathematical discoveries.  Plenary speakers are invited from around the world to present one-hour lectures which are held without other parallel activities--an honor that has been bestowed on only a small handful of computer scientists over the 121 year history of the ICM.

Ashokavardhanan, Jung, and McConnell

Ashokavardhanan, Jung, and McConnell named KPCB Engineering Fellows

Undergraduate students Ganeshkumar Ashokavardhanan (EECS  + Business M.E.T.),  Naomi Jung (CS BA), and Louie McConnell (EECS + Business M.E.T.) have been selected to participate in the 2018 KPCB Engineering Fellows Program, named one of the top 5 internship programs by Vault.  Over the course of a summer, KPCB Engineering Fellows join portfolio companies, where they develop their technical skills and are each mentored by an executive within the company. It offers students an opportunity to gain significant work experience at Silicon Valley startups, collaborating on unique and challenging technical problems.

EECS mourns the loss of Angela Waxman

Angela Waxman, the CS Graduate Student Services Staff Advisor, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday night from a stroke.  Angela joined the EECS department in July 2017, and made a positive impact on those lucky enough to have worked or interacted with her.  Her kindness, warmth and positive spirit will be greatly missed. Contact Shirley Salanio ( for details about the funeral service.
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.”

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.