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Kick-off 2011 with IAP

As the new year begins, CSAIL students, professors and staff are invited to kick-off 2011 with a fun twist on MIT's traditional academic and extracurricular offerings, thanks to the Independent Activities Period (IAP). Held each January, this four-week special term allows MIT community members to share a skill with fellow students and colleagues, explore an intriguing new subject and learn in a fun and engaging manner.

At CSAIL the IAP offerings range from competition based programming courses to video projects. Offering a little something for everyone, here are the 2011 CSAIL-sponsored IAP courses:

6.470- MIT Web Programming Competition http://web.mit.edu/6.470

Learning From the Fruit Fly

Diving deep into the functional elements of the fruit fly to grasp a better understanding of human biology may seem like a long shot, but that's exactly what CSAIL Principal Investigator Manolis Kellis and his colleagues have done. In a paper released in the December 24 edition of Science, Kellis and members of the model organism ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements Consortium (modENCODE) publish the integrative analysis of the Drosophila (fruitfly) project, which is funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Creating a Sense of Stability

What if emergency teams had access to the most up-to-date information on road conditions when responding to a natural disaster? What if soldiers in war-torn regions could tap into the latest intelligence briefings to help avoid dangerous situations? For years CSAIL Principal Investigator Nancy Lynch has dedicated her efforts to creating stable access to unstable networks of devices. A paper on her work, which was largely funded by the National Science Foundation, can be found in this month's issue of Distributed Computing.

Triceratops Invades CSAIL

A warning to all those who dare to venture into the Stata Center this week: There is a dinosaur on the loose. Thanks to OrigaMIT, a life-size origami Triceratops skeleton is now on display in front of the Gates Tower elevators. The Triceratops will be on display throughout the week of December 13.

Standing about five-feet high, 11-feet long and four-feet wide, the Triceratops took club members a month to create using 19, five-feet squares of heavy-weight paper. Based upon a design by Master Issei Yoshino, the plans allow for a finished product big enough to display in public, while also allowing paper folders to use separate sheets of paper instead of one giant sheet.

The Future of Computer Architectures Explored

Microsoft Research Technical Fellow Chuck Thacker spoke at CSAIL on Thursday, December 9 as part of the 2010-2011 Dertouzos Lecturer Series. Thacker has worked for 40 years in industrial research labs creating hardware for systems like the Ethernet and Alto, the first networked personal computer. His presentation focused on The Future of Computer Architecture Research, examining the future of computer architectures, the increasing amount of cooperation between hardware and software creators and ways to overcome current performance limits.

CSAIL Brings 'Minority Report' Technology Alive

The futuristic technology of Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, which saw Tom Cruise work with a glove-controlled interface that allowed him to pull, drag and toss images around a computer screen, is now possible thanks to a new graphical interface coming out of CSAIL. Systems Robotics Engineer Garratt Gallagher has released a video where he plucks images from a reel he drags onto the screen, then enlarges, spins and casts the pictures aside a la Minority Report.

Thacker Speaking as Part of Dertouzos Lecturer Series

The Dertouzos Lecturer Series continues this Thursday with a presentation by Chuck Thacker, Technical Fellow at Microsoft Research. Thacker will speak on December 9 from 4:30PM- 5:30PM in the Kirsch Auditorium (room 32-123) at CSAIL on The Future of Computer Architecture Research. Thacker will discuss the obstacles currently posed to the development and improvement of computer architectures and ways to bypass resulting limitations. CSAIL's annual Dertouzos Lecturer Series, named in honor of former lab director Michael Dertouzos, brings some of the greatest minds in computer science and robotics to MIT's Stata Center.

CSAIL Reacts to NASA Press Conference

About 20 CSAIL students, researchers and staff gathered in the Kiva seminar room on Thursday, December 2 to watch NASA's press conference on astrobiology research that NASA believes challenges fundamental concepts about requirements for life on Earth. Researchers think they have discovered a microorganism that can substitute arsenic for phosphorus and still manage to grow and thrive- a discovery NASA says could open the door to the possibility of new life forms on Earth. Critics counter that NASA has not provided significant evidence to support its findings, and that the microorganism appears to be more of a terrestrial extremophile than a form of alien life.

CSAIL students reacted to the NASA announcement with a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment.

Pushing Computer Limits

CSAIL Associate Professor Scott Aaronson is delving into the next frontier of computing: quantum computing. The wild west of the computer world, quantum computing is a new means of expanding the boundaries of information processing.

Bridging the Gap Between Science and Art

Nurturing the relationship between science and art was the goal of a recent workshop hosted by CSAIL Associate Professor Fox Harrell, who splits his time between CSAIL and teaching Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies and Writing and Humanistic Studies programs at MIT. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Harrell brought together 55 intellectual leaders- including university deans, professors, artists and scientists- from the worlds of art, social science and computer research to lay the foundation for collaboration between the two realms.

Aaronson & Kellis Nominated for PECASE Program

The spotlight shone on two CSAIL Principal Investigators earlier this month as President Obama honored Scott Aaronson and Manolis Kellis with Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon up-and-coming science and engineering professionals. The Presidential Awards were created in 1996 by the National Science and Technology Council, under a commission from President Clinton, to help foster growth among scientists and engineers who show the necessary promise and potential to lead America's next generation of scientific innovation. Additionally, the U.S.

Rock Star of Robotics Speaks to MIT Students

Rodney Brooks, introduced by CSAIL Director Victor Zue as the "bad boy of robotics," wowed the crowds with his presentation on Robots Working with People as part of CSAIL's 2010-2011 Dertouzos Lecturer Series on Thursday, November 18. Brooks, the former director of CSAIL and the founder, chairman, and CTO of Heartland Robotics, offered his perspective on the future of robotics from "the point of view of an academic refugee."

Origami Comes Alive

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s a reconfigurable robot! One of the latest inventions coming out of CSAIL is a flat piece of semi-rigid plastic, about a half-millimeter thick, that can transform from an origami boat into a paper airplane, all without the aid of guiding human hands. Developed by researchers from CSAIL and Harvard University, the sheet uses the concepts behind origami and electrical engineering to create a robot that is able to transform into a series of objects when prompted by electronic signals.

Morris Awarded for Efforts in Operating Systems Research

CSAIL Principal Investigator (PI) and MIT Professor Robert Morris has been honored with the 2010 Mark Weiser Award for over 20 years of innovation in the field of operating systems research. The award, presented by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Operating Systems (ACM SIGOPS) and created in honor of computing visionary Mark Weiser, recognizes a researcher who has demonstrated creativity and innovation in the field.

“Robert is internationally known for his many contributions to computer network architectures and computer systems research, including major innovations such as distributed hash tables and wireless mesh networks,” said MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Head Eric Grimson. “The award is very well deserved.”

CSAIL Papers Honored at ACM Conference

CSAIL was awarded top honors at the ACM User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) conference this October in the form of best paper awards for two works created by CSAIL members.

CSAIL PhD student Michael Bernstein was awarded the best student paper award for his work "Soylent: A Word Processor with a Crowd Inside." Soylent is a Microsoft Word application that recruits individuals from Amazon Mechanical Turk to help with tasks such as shortening, proofreading and editing. Bernstein teamed up with CSAIL co-authors Greg Little, Katrina Panovich, David Crowell, David Kager and Rob Miller.

George M. Sprowls Award Recipients Announced

It was recently announced that the following students were named recipients of the George M. Sprowls Award, which is awarded for the best doctoral theses in computer science. The awards will be presented at the EECS awards ceremony in the spring of 2011. Benjamin Rossman was recognized for his work on "Average-Case Complexity of Detecting Cliques" under the supervision of Madhu Sudan. For his work on "Unsupervised Multilingual Learning," Benjamin Snyder, working under the supervision of Regina Barzilay, was recognized.

Improving Max Flow

For years computer scientists approached the maximum-flow (max flow) problem, the greatest amount of data that can be sent across a specific network, using a tried-and-true method: Graphs that depict a network’s maximum capacity. The graphs allowed users to search for the most efficient mode of delivering information and proved useful in a variety of fields, from network analysis to digital image processing, airline scheduling and more.

Faster websites, more reliable data

Today, visiting almost any major website — checking your Facebook news feed, looking for books on Amazon, bidding for merchandise on eBay — involves querying a database. But the databases that these sites maintain are enormous, and searching them anew every time a new user logs on would be painfully time consuming. To serve up data in a timely fashion, most big sites use a technique called caching. Their servers keep local copies of their most frequently accessed data, which they can send to users without searching the database.

Announcing the 10/11 Dertouzos Lecturer Series

It's fall once more, which means it's time for the return of CSAIL's annual Dertouzos Lecturer Series. Named in honor of former lab director Michael Dertouzos, the series brings some of the greatest minds in computer science and robotics to the Stata Center.

This year's lineup is no exception, featuring distinguished speakers from Microsoft, Google, the University of California at Berkeley, and the return of former CSAIL director Rodney Brooks.

Oct. 7
Craig Mundie, Microsoft
"More Like Us: Human-Centric Computing"

Nov. 4
Kathy Yelick, UC Berkeley

Nov. 18
Rodney Brooks, MIT and Heartland Robotics
"Robots Working with People"

Dec. 9
Chuck Thacker, Microsoft Research

Two New PIs Join CSAIL

This fall, CSAIL welcomes two new Principal Investigators to its ranks--Associate Professor D. Fox Harrell and Assistant Professor Dana Moshkovitz.

Harrell's work focuses on the connection between imaginative cognition and computation. He received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for his advances in digital media. Harrell's research at CSAIL will dovetail with work for MIT's Programs in Comparative Media Studies and Writing & Humanistic Studies.

Moshkovitz is an Assistant Professor in the EECS Department. Her focus is on theoretical computer science, probabilistically checkable proofs, and coding theory. She joins CSAIL's Theory of Computation group.

The P vs. NP Debate Heats Up

For decades, it's been the most compelling--and the most seemingly unsolvable--problem in computer science. Does P = NP? In other words, can a problem that can be checked by a computer also be solved by a computer? HP Labs mathematician Vinay Deolalikar claims to have definitively answered the question.

But CSAIL's Scott Aaronson is certain that Deolalikar can't back it up. So certain, in fact, that he's staking $200,000--plus his house--on it. "This is not a problem that’s going to be solved by just combining or pushing around the ideas that we already have," Aaronson said in an interview with MIT News.

CSAIL to Help DARPA Develop New Supercomputer

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched an initiative this week to fast-track the development of next-generation supercomputers. CSAIL is among four organizations tapped by the newly-founded Ubiquitous High Performance Computing (UHPC) program to help build the new system.

A prototype of an exascale, energy-efficient computer is planned for 2018. DARPA is hoping to far outstrip Moore's Law, which predicts a much more gradual rate of computational development. Other organizations involved include Intel, Nvidia, and Sandia National Laboratory. Click here to read more about the project.

See What's New in Playground

While much of the research being done at CSAIL is under wraps, some projects are available to the larger public. You can find the latest on Playground, CSAIL's collection of downloadable, homegrown programs and apps.

Recent additions include Firefox organizational add-on list.it, interactive iPhone app WAMI, and Sikuli, a streamlined visual programming tool. Click here to check out Playground for yourself.

Kaelbling and Micali Named EECS Chairs

Two CSAIL Principal Investigators, Professors Leslie Kaelbling and Silvio Micali, have been named faculty Chairs in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Kaelbling, who co-heads the Learning and Intelligent Systems Group, takes on the Panasonic Chair. The position was created by the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company for leaders at the forefront of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Micali, of the Cryptography and Information Security Group, has been named a Ford Professor of Engineering. The Chair honors Micali for his advances in the field of theoretical computer science.

Articles

Robotic Forklift Put Through the Paces

Last month, the Agile Robotics team demonstrated their autonomous forklift for the U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency at Fort Lee in Virginia. The group, helmed by Professor Seth Teller, has modified a Toyota 8-Series lift truck to drive and manipulate pallets unmanned.

The forklift is programmed to follow vocal commands to transport loads from place to place. It's being developed for eventual use by the military, in areas that are unsafe for human drivers. Check out a video of the truck below, and click here to read Industrial Vehicle Technology International's article on the demonstration.

A Program That Deciphers Ancient Languages

Thanks to a new computer program, the world may be one step closer to deciphering ancient languages that so far have eluded translation. The program is already is able to automatically translate the 3,000-year-old Ugaritic script by comparing its patterns with those of Hebrew text.

Created by Professor Regina Barzilay in collaboration with Ben Snyder and Kevin Knight, the program represents a significant step toward proving that computers are useful as deciphering tools, despite lacking the intuitive intelligence of a human being.

Learning to Perch Like a Bird

Why brake on the ground when you can brake in the air? That's the principal behind the Robot Locomotion Group's perching glider, developed by Russ Tedrake and Rick Cory. Made from flat-plane foam and using minimal controls, the glider has the ability to land on a perch.

Program-Your-Own Droid Apps

Android smartphone users now have the power to create their own apps, thanks to a new do-it-yourself software tool from Google. App Inventor was spearheaded by CSAIL's Harold Abelson, who took a sabbatical from MIT to work on the project with Google.

App Inventor is designed for use by non-programmers, using a simple menu and a drag-and-drop interface. “The goal is to enable people to become creators, not just consumers, in this mobile world,” Abelson explains in a New York Times article about the project. Such an initiative is possible thanks to Android's open architecture.

Seneff Steps Up in EECS

CSAIL's Stephanie Seneff has been promoted to the position of Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. At CSAIL, Seneff is a Principal Investigator in the Spoken Language Systems group.

Seneff has played a major part in the development of spoken language computer interfaces. Her work has contributed significantly to the fields of speech recognition, natural language understanding, discourse and dialogue modeling, natural language generation, and language translation.

Origami That Folds Itself

CSAIL researchers Daniela Rus and Erik Demaine, in partnership with Harvard University's Robert Wood, have developed a small resin-fiberglass sheet programmed to fold itself into three-dimensional shapes.

At this point, the object can only take on two shapes—but it's a major development in the burgeoning field of computational origami. And if you can teach a flat sheet to form itself into a multitude three-dimensional shape, the applications are endless. Read more about the research here, or check out the video below to watch the sheet in action.

Get Ready for CompSust '10

From June 28th to 30th, CSAIL and the Stata Center will play host to the 2nd Annual International Conference on Computational Sustainability (aka CompSust '10). The event looks into ways computation can bring us closer to an environmentally sustainable future.

Co-chaired by CSAIL's Brian Williams, Oregon State University's Thomas Dietterich and Cornell University's Carla Gomes, the conference will feature presentations and workshops from top research institutions and government agencies. Registration is free to members of the CSAIL community, as well as to Massachusetts residents. For more information, click here.

Linked Data: From the Classroom to the Marketplace

If you're aiming to learn about the future of the World Wide Web, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better instructor than the man who invented it—Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He's one of five experts who will teach Linked Data Ventures, a new graduate-level course, next semester at MIT.

The course takes a hands-on approach to teaching students about linked data, an innovative method of organizing and connecting information on the Internet. Students will be encouraged to take what they've learned and apply it directly to the marketplace and new ventures.

Victor Zue on Running CSAIL, Talking to Machines

For CSAIL Lab Director Victor Zue, working with machines has always boiled down to communication. Interaction between humans and computers is imperfect now, but as Zue discusses in this piece from the MIT ILP Institute Insider, he hopes to one day change all that.

In the article, Zue also discusses his philosophy of running the lab, partnering research with industry, and CSAIL's symposium during the university's forthcoming 150th Anniversary celebration. Click here to read more.

Photo Gallery: CSAIL Commencement 2010

A number of CSAILers were among those to receive graduate degrees at last Friday's MIT Commencement. After the ceremony, a reception was held in the Stata Center to toast the lab's newly minted Masters and PhDs. Click here for more photos of the event, and here for the list of graduates. Congratulations to all!

CSAIL Graduates Begin New Chapter

On Friday, June 4th, the Institute will hold its 144th commencement ceremony. We here at CSAIL would like to join the speaker, Raymond S. Stata, in wishing our graduates luck on the next leg of their journey. The CSAIL students matriculating in both Masters and PhD programs are listed below; congratulations, and best wishes for an exciting future!

KarDo Makes It to Finals in MIT $100K

KarDo, a startup venture developed at CSAIL, was one of six finalists in MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. The contest annually awards $100,000 to an outstanding MIT student-generated business plan.

KarDo is the joint work of graduate students Nate Kushman, Branavan, and Hariharan Rahul, and Professors Regina Barzilay and Dina Katabi. The venture offers a way to save time and money in the information technology field by allowing IT support staff to automate repetitive tasks.

A Wealth of Recent Honors for CSAILers

CSAIL researchers and staff have been racking up accolades lately, and these past few weeks have been no exception.

Rodney Brooks, former CSAIL director and the founder of Heartland Robotics and iRobot Corp., has been named an Honorary Member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. It's the Society's highest recognition, awarded in honor of Brooks' unprecedented innovation in the field of robotics. Read more about it here.

Shafi Goldwasser Wins Ben Franklin Medal

Shafi Goldwasser, RSA Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is among 11 awardees of this year's Benjamin Franklin Medal. The award is given in the category of Computer and Cognitive Science, in honor of Goldwasser's contributions to modern cryptography.

Co-head of the Cryptography and Information Security Group at CSAIL, Goldwasser's accomplishments include the zero-knowledge proof, which enables Internet users to gain secure access without revealing private information. Her work has been invaluable to improving security on the Web.

Bill Gates Stops by Stata

Retired Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates paid a visit to CSAIL earlier this week during a visit to campus. Funds donated by Gates helped to make the Stata Center a reality, and the building's Gates Tower bears his name.

Now chiefly a philanthropist, Gates believes that first and foremost, technology should be a force for good in the world. He shared this message Wednesday with MIT students in a talk at Kresge Auditorium called "Giving Back: Finding the Best Way to Make A Difference."

Read more about the presentation, and watch a video, here.

CSAIL Researchers Honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

This week sees the naming of 229 new members to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest independent research societies in the United States. Among them are CSAIL's Edward H. Adelson, Nancy Ann Lynch, Michael Stonebraker, and Madhu Sudan.

Academy fellows come from a wide spectrum of disciplines, leaders in fields ranging from writing and performing to research and industry. Created in 1780 by the Founding Fathers, the academy is almost as old as the nation itself. Other MIT honorees include Ricardo J. Caballero and Barry R. Posen.

Introducing CSAIL to the Class of 2014

Last week, the undergraduate class of 2014 got their first comprehensive look at MIT. During this year's Campus Preview Weekend, incoming freshmen and their families turned out in droves to get the inside scoop on CSAIL.

Following an introduction by Director Victor Zue, a series of Principal Investigators and graduate students discussed their respective fields of research. The lineup included:

- Professor Seth Teller, head of the Robotics, Vision, and Sensor Networks Group

- Associate Professor Rob Miller, head of the User Interface Design Group

- Luca F. Bertuccelli, a Postdoctoral Associate in the Humans and Automation Lab

- Tammy Riklin Raviv, a Postdoctoral Associate in the Medical Vision Group

Summer Courses with CSAIL Faculty

This summer, three CSAIL faculty members are teaching courses as part of MIT's Professional Education program. These Short Programs, which meet for two to five sessions, offer business professionals an opportunity to learn firsthand from top experts in academia.

Courses being offered by CSAIL Principal Investigators include:

Leadership Skills for Engineering and Science Faculty
Charles Leiserson
June 7-8, 2010

Multicore Programming
Charles Leiserson
July 19-23, 2010

Cryptography and Computer Security
Shafi Goldwasser
August 2-6, 2010

Introduction to Network Coding
Dina Katabi
August 2-6, 2010

How Deep Can Data Miners Dig?

Privacy has always been a concern on the World Wide Web, but new findings show that personal information may be even more vulnerable than previously thought. A piece by Steve Lohr in the New York Times' Technology section cites several recent studies and projects about just how protected your protected information really is.

Lohr points out ways that information shared in diffuse areas of the Web can be combined to find out more about a person than he or she intended to reveal. Thanks to data mining, everything from sexual preferences to social security numbers can become public knowledge. In the piece, CSAIL's Harold Abelson explains that "in today’s online world, what your mother told you is true, only more so: people really can judge you by your friends."

Jeffrey Jaffe Named CEO of W3C

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has found a new CEO in Jeffrey Jaffe, an MIT alumnus and tech industry stalwart. Jaffe brings with him past experience in executive roles at IBM, Bell Labs, and most recently Novell.

Founded by Tim Berners-Lee, W3C is a global consortium dedicated to pioneering standards and protocols on the World Wide Web. While Berners-Lee will stay on as Director, Jaffe's role will involve overseeing W3C's global operations and maintaining the organization's presence at the forefront of Web development. Read more about the appointment here.

NSF Opens Door to Information Science Exploration

As it stands, we're pretty ill informed about the science of information. Information systems have developed so rapidly in recent decades, they've outstripped our ability to understand their behavior.

A team of researchers from colleges around the country, led by Purdue University's Wojciech Szpankowski, aim to change all that. Thanks to a new Science and Technology Center award from the National Science Foundation, they're well on their way.

One of five awarded this year out of 247 submissions, the NSF will grant Szpankowski and his affiliates $25 million to create Indiana's first Science and Technology Center. The team includes representatives from eight institutions, including CSAIL's Madhu Sudan, Nancy Lynch, Scott Aaronson, Peter Shor, and Ronald Rivest.

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