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Machines that learn like people

Object-recognition systems are beginning to get pretty good — and in the case of Facebook’s face-recognition algorithms, frighteningly good.But object-recognition systems are typically trained on millions of visual examples, which is a far cry from how humans learn. Show a human two or three pictures of an object, and he or she can usually identify new instances of it.

Deep-learning algorithm predicts photos’ memorability at “near-human” levels

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created an algorithm that can predict how memorable or forgettable an image is almost as accurately as humans — and they plan to turn it into an app that subtly tweaks photos to make them more memorable.For each photo, the “MemNet” algorithm — which you can try out online by uploading your own photos — also creates a heat map that identifies exactly which parts of the image are most memorable.

CSAIL shows off demos to 150 high-schoolers for “Hour of Code”

On Friday, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) hosted 150 local high school students for its second annual “Hour of Code” event, tied to the international initiative focused on getting kids interested in programming.Researchers showed off robots, 3-D-printing technology, and other projects to math and computer science students from schools throughout the greater Boston area, including Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Somerville.The event also included a surprise video message from John Green, author of the bestselling young-adult novels-turned-movies “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Papertowns.” Green commended the students on participating the event and elaborated on why coding is important.

Does Google's quantum computer live up to the hype?

This week, a group of Google researchers released a paper claiming that in their experiments, a quantum algorithm running on their D-Wave machine was 100 million times faster than a comparable classical algorithm.CSAIL researcher and MIT professor Scott Aaronson has been following the D-Wave story for years. MIT News asked him to help make sense of the Google researchers’ new paper.Q: The Google researchers’ paper focused on two algorithms: simulated annealing and quantum annealing. What are they?

Computer drawings fool human judges, pass “visual Turing test”

Researchers at CSAIL, New York University, and the University of Toronto have developed a computer system whose ability to produce a variation of a character in an unfamiliar writing system, on the first try, is indistinguishable from that of humans. That means that the system in some sense discerns what’s essential to the character — its general structure — but also what’s inessential — the minor variations characteristic of any one instance of it.

VIDEO: Turning WiFI into "X-ray vision" (CBS News)

CBS News' "This Morning with Charlie Rose" just profiled CSAIL research that turns wireless signals into "x-ray vision" that can detect people through walls.From the story:"No cell phone, no pendant, no sensor. It's purely based on wireless signals that reflect off our bodies and come back to the device," Katabi said.The researchers came up with this groundbreaking idea based on their work with wireless networks. "The question was, can you use wireless networks or Wi-Fi for purposes other than communications. Can you sense the environment with it?" said Fadel Adib, a student researcher at MIT. "As the research evolved, we realized we could sense a person on the other side of the wall."

Piotr Indyk named ACM fellow

The Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) has named CSAIL researcher Piotr Indyk a 2015 Fellow for “contributions to high-dimensional geometric computing, streaming/sketching algorithms, and the Sparse Fourier Transform.Indyk is among only 1 percent of ACM members to receive the distinction, according to the association’s press release.Chosen from universities, corporations and research labs, ACM fellows are selected for contributions that provide key knowledge to the computing field and generate multiple technology advances in industry, commerce, healthcare, entertainment and education.“We are very proud of Piotr for being selected to be part of such esteemed company,” said CSAIL Director Daniela Rus.

Our top 15 Tweets of 2015

We’ve been active on Twitter this year, sending out more than 600 Tweets about computer science, technology, and research to an audience of more than 14,000 followers that has nearly doubled over the last 12 months. Walk down memory lane with us as we look at our top 15 Tweets of 2015 (as determined by number of Retweets.) Be sure to follow us to stay updated on the latest news from the lab. 1. ARPANET - 459 RTs


Ad-blocking alternative gives back to websites based on your browsing

The vast majority of online content is free to access, which is great for consumers but not so fair to creators. We “pay” via the intimate browsing data we give to content providers and the attention we pay to advertisements - and this gives folks like MIT professor David Karger pause.“I don’t think it’s right that the only options are to subscribe to a specific outlet, to see distracting ads, or to give up our privacy,” says Karger, a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Consumers have come to hate ads, to the point that almost 200 million people around the world actively use ad-blocking software. Is there a better option?

Victor Zue named AAAS Fellow

This week CSAIL principal investigator Victor W. Zue was one of three MIT faculty members to be elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), according to the journal Science.The new fellows are part of a group of 347 AAAS members elected by their peers in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. This year’s fellows will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 13, 2016, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington.

CSAIL founder & computing pioneer Bob Fano turns 98

Today lab members celebrated the 98th birthday of Professor Emeritus Robert “Bob” Fano, who 52 years ago founded MIT’s Project MAC, the predecessor to CSAIL.In 1963 The Italian-born Fano co-founded Project MAC, a project focused on developing time-sharing computers. The project laid the foundation for many of today's software systems and helped the computer evolve from its academic roots as a technology that would be of interest to the wider public. (In 1970 Project MAC was renamed the Laboratory of Computer Science; in 2003 it merged with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to become CSAIL.)

What are your apps hiding?

CSAIL researchers have found that much of the data transferred to and from the 500 most popular free applications for Google Android cellphones make little or no difference to the user’s experience.Of those “covert” communications, roughly half appear to be initiated by standard Android analytics packages, which report statistics on usage patterns and program performance and are intended to help developers improve applications.“The interesting part is that the other 50 percent cannot be attributed to analytics,” says CSAIL postdoc Julia Rubin, who led the new study. “There might be a very good reason for this covert communication. We are not trying to say that it has to be eliminated. We’re just saying the user needs to be informed.”

NASA gives CSAIL 6-ft-tall humanoid robot to develop software for future space missions

This week NASA announced that MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions who will receive “R5,” a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as “Valkyrie” that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond.A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA’s upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans “extreme space” missions. (NASA’s challenge is divided into a virtual competition using robotic simulations, and a physical competition using the robot.)

Rising Stars workshop helps female researchers network, job-search

Success in higher education, especially for women in computer science and electrical engineering, takes a network. And while some connections are only a text message or tweet away, the personal touch still matters, and it works differently.For graduate students like Judy Hoffman, who studies adaptive learning algorithms at the University of California at Berkeley, there is no substitute for actually meeting fellow women engineers and computer scientists in person. To make this happen, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) hosts “Rising Stars in EECS,” a three-day workshop for graduate students and postdocs who are considering careers in academic research.

Wish your smartphone could Photoshop? Image-processing technique cuts bandwidth use 98%

As smartphones become people’s primary computers and their primary cameras, there is growing demand for mobile versions of image-processing applications. Image processing, however, can be computationally intensive and could quickly drain a cellphone’s battery. Some mobile applications try to solve this problem by sending image files to a central server, which processes the images and sends them back. But with large images, this introduces significant delays and could incur costs for increased data usage.

A "spot-the-difference" AI could help architects detect structural defects

At the Siggraph Asia conference this week, MIT researchers presented a pair of papers describing techniques for either magnifying or smoothing out small variations in digital images.The techniques could be used to produce more polished images for graphic-design projects, or, applied in the opposite direction, they could disclose structural defects, camouflaged objects, or movements invisible to the naked eye that could be of scientific interest.

How to make better visualizations

Spend 10 minutes on social media, and you’ll learn that people love infographics. But why, exactly, do we gravitate towards articles with titles like “24 Diagrams to Help You Eat Healthier” and “All You Need To Know About Beer In One Chart”? Do they actually serve their purpose of not only being memorable, but actually helping us comprehend and retain information? Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Harvard University are on the case.

System automatically converts 2-D video to 3-D

By exploiting the graphics-rendering software that powers sports video games, researchers at MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) have developed a system that automatically converts 2-D video of soccer games into 3-D. The converted video can be played back over any 3-D device — a commercial 3-D TV, Google’s new Cardboard system, which turns smartphones into 3-D displays, or special-purpose displays such as Oculus Rift. The researchers presented the new system last week at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Multimedia conference.

Next in 3D-printing: the "zoolophone," a new musical instrument made of animal shapes

In creating what looks to be a simple children’s musical instrument—a xylophone with keys in the shape of zoo animals—computer scientists at CSAIL, Columbia, Harvard and Disney Research have demonstrated that sound can be controlled by 3D-printing shapes.The team designed an optimization algorithm and used computational methods and digital fabrication to control acoustic properties—both sound and vibration—by altering the shape of 2D and 3D objects. Their work—“Computational Design of Metallophone Contact Sounds”—will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia on November 4 in Kobe, Japan.

Articles

Machines that learn like people

Object-recognition systems are beginning to get pretty good — and in the case of Facebook’s face-recognition algorithms, frighteningly good.But object-recognition systems are typically trained on millions of visual examples, which is a far cry from how humans learn. Show a human two or three pictures of an object, and he or she can usually identify new instances of it.

Deep-learning algorithm predicts photos’ memorability at “near-human” levels

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created an algorithm that can predict how memorable or forgettable an image is almost as accurately as humans — and they plan to turn it into an app that subtly tweaks photos to make them more memorable.For each photo, the “MemNet” algorithm — which you can try out online by uploading your own photos — also creates a heat map that identifies exactly which parts of the image are most memorable.

CSAIL shows off demos to 150 high-schoolers for “Hour of Code”

On Friday, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) hosted 150 local high school students for its second annual “Hour of Code” event, tied to the international initiative focused on getting kids interested in programming.Researchers showed off robots, 3-D-printing technology, and other projects to math and computer science students from schools throughout the greater Boston area, including Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Somerville.The event also included a surprise video message from John Green, author of the bestselling young-adult novels-turned-movies “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Papertowns.” Green commended the students on participating the event and elaborated on why coding is important.

Does Google's quantum computer live up to the hype?

This week, a group of Google researchers released a paper claiming that in their experiments, a quantum algorithm running on their D-Wave machine was 100 million times faster than a comparable classical algorithm.CSAIL researcher and MIT professor Scott Aaronson has been following the D-Wave story for years. MIT News asked him to help make sense of the Google researchers’ new paper.Q: The Google researchers’ paper focused on two algorithms: simulated annealing and quantum annealing. What are they?

Computer drawings fool human judges, pass “visual Turing test”

Researchers at CSAIL, New York University, and the University of Toronto have developed a computer system whose ability to produce a variation of a character in an unfamiliar writing system, on the first try, is indistinguishable from that of humans. That means that the system in some sense discerns what’s essential to the character — its general structure — but also what’s inessential — the minor variations characteristic of any one instance of it.

Piotr Indyk named ACM fellow

The Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) has named CSAIL researcher Piotr Indyk a 2015 Fellow for “contributions to high-dimensional geometric computing, streaming/sketching algorithms, and the Sparse Fourier Transform.Indyk is among only 1 percent of ACM members to receive the distinction, according to the association’s press release.Chosen from universities, corporations and research labs, ACM fellows are selected for contributions that provide key knowledge to the computing field and generate multiple technology advances in industry, commerce, healthcare, entertainment and education.“We are very proud of Piotr for being selected to be part of such esteemed company,” said CSAIL Director Daniela Rus.

Our top 15 Tweets of 2015

We’ve been active on Twitter this year, sending out more than 600 Tweets about computer science, technology, and research to an audience of more than 14,000 followers that has nearly doubled over the last 12 months. Walk down memory lane with us as we look at our top 15 Tweets of 2015 (as determined by number of Retweets.) Be sure to follow us to stay updated on the latest news from the lab. 1. ARPANET - 459 RTs


Ad-blocking alternative gives back to websites based on your browsing

The vast majority of online content is free to access, which is great for consumers but not so fair to creators. We “pay” via the intimate browsing data we give to content providers and the attention we pay to advertisements - and this gives folks like MIT professor David Karger pause.“I don’t think it’s right that the only options are to subscribe to a specific outlet, to see distracting ads, or to give up our privacy,” says Karger, a researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Consumers have come to hate ads, to the point that almost 200 million people around the world actively use ad-blocking software. Is there a better option?

Victor Zue named AAAS Fellow

This week CSAIL principal investigator Victor W. Zue was one of three MIT faculty members to be elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), according to the journal Science.The new fellows are part of a group of 347 AAAS members elected by their peers in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. This year’s fellows will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 13, 2016, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington.

What are your apps hiding?

CSAIL researchers have found that much of the data transferred to and from the 500 most popular free applications for Google Android cellphones make little or no difference to the user’s experience.Of those “covert” communications, roughly half appear to be initiated by standard Android analytics packages, which report statistics on usage patterns and program performance and are intended to help developers improve applications.“The interesting part is that the other 50 percent cannot be attributed to analytics,” says CSAIL postdoc Julia Rubin, who led the new study. “There might be a very good reason for this covert communication. We are not trying to say that it has to be eliminated. We’re just saying the user needs to be informed.”

Rising Stars workshop helps female researchers network, job-search

Success in higher education, especially for women in computer science and electrical engineering, takes a network. And while some connections are only a text message or tweet away, the personal touch still matters, and it works differently.For graduate students like Judy Hoffman, who studies adaptive learning algorithms at the University of California at Berkeley, there is no substitute for actually meeting fellow women engineers and computer scientists in person. To make this happen, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) hosts “Rising Stars in EECS,” a three-day workshop for graduate students and postdocs who are considering careers in academic research.

Wish your smartphone could Photoshop? Image-processing technique cuts bandwidth use 98%

As smartphones become people’s primary computers and their primary cameras, there is growing demand for mobile versions of image-processing applications. Image processing, however, can be computationally intensive and could quickly drain a cellphone’s battery. Some mobile applications try to solve this problem by sending image files to a central server, which processes the images and sends them back. But with large images, this introduces significant delays and could incur costs for increased data usage.

How to make better visualizations

Spend 10 minutes on social media, and you’ll learn that people love infographics. But why, exactly, do we gravitate towards articles with titles like “24 Diagrams to Help You Eat Healthier” and “All You Need To Know About Beer In One Chart”? Do they actually serve their purpose of not only being memorable, but actually helping us comprehend and retain information? Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Harvard University are on the case.

The basis for all cryptography

“Indistinguishability obfuscation” is a powerful concept that would yield provably secure versions of every cryptographic system we’ve ever developed and all those we’ve been unable to develop. But nobody knows how to put it into practice.

The NBA season starts today, and we want to help

Today represents the first day of the 2015-2016 NBA season, and we want to help.Well, sort of. Over the years, CSAIL researchers have regularly participated in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where computer scientists and mathematicians come together to discuss research on big data and sports.Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it's the world's biggest student-run conference and one that attracts representatives from more than 80 professional sports teams and students from over 170 countries.Here are a few take-aways that might be of assistance to players and coaches this season.

It's official: STEM now includes computer science, according to the US government

This month the STEM Education Act of 2015, which expands the definition of STEM—an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—to include computer science programs, was signed into law.As Education Week reports, the new law does not add funding, but it does expand the kinds of STEM programs that can be run and funded by federal government agencies to include computer science.The bill had bipartisan support from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, along with Elizabeth Esty (D-CT).

Machine-learning expert Jegelka wins major German award

This week CSAIL principal investigator Stefanie Jegelka received a prestigious German prize for her research efforts in machine learning. Considered the highest recognition awarded by the German Pattern Recognition Society, the “Deutscher Mustererkennungspreis” prize is given to an outstanding young researcher in machine learning or computer vision under the age of 35. Jegelka is the first woman to receive the award.

"Data Science Machine" crunches numbers faster and more effectively than most humans

Big-data analysis consists of searching for buried patterns that have some kind of predictive power. But choosing which “features” of the data to analyze usually requires some human intuition. In a database containing, say, the beginning and end dates of various sales promotions and weekly profits, the crucial data may not be the dates themselves but the spans between them, or not the total profits but the averages across those spans.

Videos

Helping robots assemble furniture on the fly

Today’s industrial robots are remarkably efficient — as long as they’re in a controlled environment where everything is exactly where they expect it to be. But put them in an unfamiliar setting, where they have to think for themselves, and their efficiency plummets. And the difficulty of on-the-fly motion planning increases exponentially with the number of robots involved. For even a simple collaborative task, a team of, say, three autonomous robots might have to think for several hours to come up with a plan of attack.

Gauging materials’ physical properties from video

Last summer, CSAIL researchers published a paper describing an algorithm that can recover intelligible speech from the analysis of the minute vibrations of objects in video captured through soundproof glass.In June, at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, researchers from the same groups will describe how the technique can be adapted to infer material properties of physical objects, such as stiffness and weight, from video.

Algorithm removes reflections from photos taken through windows

It’s hard to take a photo through a window without picking up reflections of the objects behind you. To solve that problem, professional photographers sometimes wrap their camera lenses in dark cloths affixed to windows by tape or suction cups. But that’s not a terribly attractive option for a traveler using a point-and-shoot camera to capture the view from a hotel room or a seat in a train. At the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in June, CSAIL researchers will present a new algorithm that, in a broad range of cases, can automatically remove reflections from digital photos. The algorithm exploits the fact that photos taken through windows often feature two nearly identical reflections, slightly offset from each other.

Learn a language while you text

The average person spends 10 to 15 minutes a day waiting for texts and instant-message (IM) replies, according to an analysis by Carrie Cai, a PhD student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). What if you could be more productive during those idle moments? Cai is on the case.A CSAIL team led by Cai recently developed “WaitChatter,” a Google Chat extension that delivers foreign-language vocab quizzes right to your chatbox any time the system detects that you are waiting for an instant message.

VIDEO: PhD's TEDTalk on the future of the "visual microphone"

Subtle motion happens around us all the time, including tiny vibrations caused by sound. New technology shows that we can pick up on these vibrations and actually re-create sound and conversations just from a video of a seemingly still object. (See former CSAIL researcher Michael Rubinstein's TED Talk on the topic.)But now another member of that CSAIL team, PhD student Abe Davis, takes it one step further: Watch him demo software that lets anyone interact with these hidden properties, just from a simple video.

One way to reduce email stress: Re-invent the mailing list

We all feel it — that panicked sensation when we check our inbox and see the deluge of emails awaiting our attention. The average person receives upwards of 150 emails a day, and it often seems like no amount of tagging or filtering can close the floodgates.One major source of stress is the never-ending conversation threads made possible by group emails. Mailing lists can be a fantastic medium for substantive discussions, but often they deliver too much of what we don't want and not enough of what we do.Believe it or not, such tools have barely changed since the pre-Internet days of Arpanet 40 years ago: You either opt in or opt out, you get dozens of irrelevant emails, and the views of a few loudmouths usually end up drowning out the rest.

Magnifying vibrations in bridges and buildings

To the naked eye, buildings and bridges appear fixed in place, unmoved by forces like wind and rain. But in fact, these large structures do experience imperceptibly small vibrations that, depending on their frequency, may indicate instability or structural damage.CSAIL researchers have now developed a technique to “see” vibrations that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, combining high-speed video with computer vision techniques.Normally, high-speed video wouldn’t pick up such subtle vibrations from a building. To do this, the researchers employed a computer vision technique called “motion magnification” to break down high-speed frames into certain frequencies, essentially exaggerating tiny, subpixel motions.

How 3 CSAIL students fooled the world of scientific journals

In recent years, the field of academic publishing has ballooned to an estimated 30,000 peer-reviewed journals churning out some 2 million articles per year. While this growth has led to more scientific scholarship, critics argue that it has also spurred increasing numbers of low-quality “predatory publishers” who spam researchers with weekly “calls for papers” and charge steep fees for articles that they often don’t even read before accepting.

TED this week - take a look at past talks by CSAIL researchers

This week Vancouver is hosting the annual TED conference, which brings together executives, technologists and thought leaders to share ideas about technology, education, design and more. To get you in the mood, check out some TED talks given by CSAIL researchers past and present: CSAIL researcher Tim Berners-Lee, "The next web" (2009) and "The year open data went worldwide" (2010)

Mapping the human epigenome

The sequencing of the human genome laid the foundation for the study of genetic variation and its links to a wide range of diseases. But the genome itself is only part of the story, as genes can be switched on and off by a range of chemical modifications, known as “epigenetic marks.”Now, a decade after the human genome was sequenced, the National Institutes of Health’s Roadmap Epigenomics Consortium has created a similar map of the human epigenome.CSAIL researcher Manolis Kellis led the effort to integrate and analyze the datasets produced by the project, which constitute the most comprehensive view of the human epigenome to date.

Can an LED-filled “robot garden” make coding more accessible?

Here’s one way to get kids excited about programming: a "robot garden" with dozens of fast-changing LED lights and more than 100 origami robots that can crawl, swim, and blossom like flowers.A team from CSAIL and the Department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a tablet-operated system that illustrates their cutting-edge research on distributed algorithms via robotic sheep, origami flowers that can open and change colors, and robotic ducks that fold into shape by being heated in an oven.