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Monthly talks by academic and industry leaders from around the world.

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March 2019

Using Computer Vision to Study Society: Methods and Challenges

March 11, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Timnit Gebru (Google)

32-G449 (KIva/Patel)

  Abstract: Targeted socio-economic policies require an accurate understanding of a country's demographic makeup. To that end, the United States spends more than 1 billion dollars a year gathering census data such as race, gender, education, occupation and unemployment rates. Compared to the traditional method of collecting surveys across many years which is costly and labor intensive, data-driven, machine learning driven approaches are cheaper and faster--with the potential ability to detect trends in close to real time. In this work,…

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November 2018

Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall

November 27, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Margaret Roberts (UC San Diego)


Abstract: As authoritarian governments around the world develop sophisticated technologies for controlling information, many observers have predicted that these controls would be ineffective because they are easily thwarted and evaded by savvy Internet users. In Censored, Margaret Roberts demonstrates that even censorship that is easy to circumvent can still be enormously effective. Taking advantage of digital data harvested from the Chinese Internet and leaks from China's Propaganda Department, this book sheds light on how and when censorship influences the Chinese…

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October 2018

Local Geometric Analysis and Applications

October 11, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Lizhong Zheng (MIT)


Abstract: Local geometric analysis is a method to define a coordinate system in a small neighborhood in the space of distributions over a given alphabet. It is a powerful technique since the notions of distance, projection, and inner product defined this way are useful in the optimization problems involving distributions, such as regressions. It has been used in many places in the literature such as correlation analysis, correspondence analysis. In this talk, we will go through some of the basic…

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September 2018

Text as Data in Social Science: Discovery, Measurement and Causal Inference

September 25, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Brandon Stewart (Princeton University)


Social scientists are increasingly turning to computer-assisted text analysis as a way of understanding the digital footprints left by communities and individuals. Much of the technology that powers these approaches is borrowed from the fields of computer science and statistics; yet, social scientists have substantially different goals. We focus on the development of methods that support three core tasks: discovery, measurement and causal inference with text. We introduce the Structural Topic Model (STM), a bayesian generative model of text which…

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Topics in Information and Inference Seminar

September 20, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Yury Polyanskiy (MIT )


Title: Strong data processing inequalities and information percolation Abstract: The data-processing inequality, that is, $I(U;Y) \le I(U;X)$ for a Markov chain $U \to X \to Y$, has been the method of choice for proving impossibility (converse) results in information theory and many other disciplines. A channel-dependent improvement is called the strong data-processing inequality (or SDPI). In this talk we will: a) review SDPIs; b) show how point-to-point SDPIs can be combined into an SDPI for a network; c) show recent…

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August 2018

Resource-efficient ML in 2 KB RAM for the Internet of Things

August 21, 2018 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Prateek Jain (Microsoft Research)


Abstract: We propose an alternative paradigm for the Internet of Things (IoT) where machine learning algorithms run locally on severely resource-constrained edge and endpoint devices without necessarily needing cloud connectivity. This enables many scenarios beyond the pale of the traditional paradigm including low-latency brain implants, precision agriculture on disconnected farms, privacy-preserving smart spectacles, etc. Towards this end, we develop novel tree and kNN based algorithm, called Bonsai and ProtoNN, for efficient prediction on IoT devices — such as those based…

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February 2018

Provably Secure Machine Learning

February 26, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Jacob Steinhardt (Stanford)

32-G449 (Kiva/Patel)

Abstract:  The widespread use of machine learning systems creates a new class of computer security vulnerabilities where, rather than attacking the integrity of the software itself, malicious actors exploit the statistical nature of the learning algorithms. For instance, attackers can add fake data (e.g. by creating fake user accounts), or strategically manipulate inputs to the system once it is deployed. So far, attempts to defend against these attacks have focused on empirical performance against known sets of attacks. I will argue that…

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March 2017

Learning from People

March 13, 2017 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Nihar Shah (University of California, Berkeley)

34-401 (Grier Room)

Abstract: Learning from people represents a new and expanding frontier for data science. Two critical challenges in this domain are of developing algorithms for robust learning and designing incentive mechanisms for eliciting high-quality data. In this talk, I describe progress on these challenges in the context of two canonical settings, namely those of ranking and classification. In addressing the first challenge, I introduce a class of “permutation-based” models that are considerably richer than classical models, and present algorithms for estimation…

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Gene Regulation in Space and Time, or From Ellipsoid Packing to Causal Inference – DaVinci Lecture (presented by Tau Beta Pi)

March 6, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

Caroline Uhler (MIT)


Abstract: Although the genetic information in each cell within an organism is identical, gene expression varies widely between different cell types. The quest to understand this phenomenon has led to many interesting mathematics problems. Experimental evidence suggests that the differential gene expression is related to the spatial organization of chromosomes in the cell nucleus. I will present a new model, based on ellipsoid packing and causal inference, that can link the 3d organization of chromosomes with gene regulation. Such models…

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February 2017

Towards a Theory of Fairness in Machine Learning

February 13, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

Jamie Morgenstern (Penn)

32-G449 (Kiva)

Abstract:  Algorithm design has moved from being a tool used exclusively for designing systems to one used to present people with personalized content, advertisements, and other economic opportunities. Massive amounts of information is recorded about people's online behavior including the websites they visit, the advertisements they click on, their search history, and their IP address. Algorithms then use this information for many purposes: to choose which prices to quote individuals for airline tickets, which advertisements to show them, and even which news stories to promote.…

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