Tuesday, October 3, 2017

UB CSE 50 celebrations, Alumni Symposium

The last couple of days we celebrated 50th anniversary of our department, CSE at University at Buffalo. We celebrated the anniversary with a technical conference and panels. Yesterday, I wrote about the Graduate Research Conference on Friday. Today, I am posting my notes on the Alumni Symposium that took place on Saturday. Here is a link to the full program. 


Keynote Speaker: Prof. Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang. “The 4th Industrial Revolution and Future of Nanoscience and Engineering”.

Prof. Steve Kang got an MS from our department in 1972. He was Prof. Peter Scott's student.

Steve talked about the era of the 4th industrial revolution: 1. steam engine (labor), 2. electricity (energy), 3. computing (knowledge), and 4. cyberphysical system (smart production / soft power).

As part of this 4th era, Steve credits machine learning as important. He gave examples of alpha go vs Lee Sedol, a novel written by AI in Japan, the KAIST hubo roboto winning 2015 darpa robotic challenge, and an AI lawyer Ross at Baker & Hostetler LLP.

Then he went back and started taking us through the history with the invention of transistor in 1947, and integrated circuit in 1958. Steve then talked about how he has led the development of the world's first 32-bit microprocessor chips as a technical supervisor at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1981.

When I say Steve talked about this, I am not being truthful. Steve is so humble that he never mentioned that he had led the project. He just talked about how it was challenging to build the chip, and how the team has done a wonderful job.

Then he talked about how to achieve progress unlimited by Moore's law. The key is diversification to the biochips. This harks back to the neuromorphic engineering mentioned in Prof. Bruce Shriver's talk the previous day. 

He then mentioned about memristors. Steve's PhD advisor Prof. Chua at UC Berkeley had conjectured that to complement, capacitor, resistor, and inductor, another component memristor should exist. Steve was again very humble, and mentioned this as a footnote, but his PhD dissertation laid out the theory behind memristors. A memristor is a resistor with memory: "The memristor's electrical resistance is not constant but depends on the history of current that had previously flowed through the device, i.e., its present resistance depends on how much electric charge has flowed in what direction through it in the past; the device remembers its history."

In 2008, a team at HP Labs claimed to have found Chua's missing memristor based on an analysis of a thin film of titanium dioxide thus connecting the operation of RRAM devices to the memristor concept. The result was published in Nature. Although HP has made announcement for production of memristor, it is not done yet, which is normal. After the invention of transistors it took a long time before they got practical.

Memristors has many potential applications in neuromorphic computing/engineering. Steve talked about the brain's neocortex having a structure consisting in 6 layers, and how many people see some analogs to FPGA designs in that. It may be possible to implement a synapse using a unit similar to memristors. He mentioned that the Hodgkin–Huxley model of neurons turn out to equivalent to memristors.

Steve finished his keynote talking about the higher education goals: creativity, soft skills, challenge, knowledge. He also talked about the seven social sins by Gandhi:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

Panel 1: Hot Topics in Industry and Academia 

Chair:  D. Sivakumar (Google). Panelists: Victor Bahl (Microsoft),  Anmol Bhasin (Salesforce), Jin-Yi Cai (Wisconsin), Justin Delvecchio (CURC), Faisal Farooq (IBM), Robert Myers (IBM Innovation Center Buffalo), Ashish Naik (Google), Jian Pei (Simon Fraser), Sridhar Seshadri  (Synopsys)


The panel included people in core (algorithms and infrastructure),  data/information management, and application layers of computing. Some interesting tidbits from this panel were as follows.

"Some interesting recent developments in theory/algorithms include Laszlo Babai's work on graph isomorphism."

"The design automation tools and functional verification tools are vital for integrated circuits. Nowadays the ratio of design/verification employees are 50-50, previously the ratio of design/verification employees were 80-20. Verification is of utmost importance. Model checking tools do not suffice due to sheer scale of the variables/state involved in todays' integrated circuits."

"With a background in computer science theory you can be a good impostor in any other field. I've been winging it for the last 20 years."

"Workloads are changing: ML workloads are becoming most of our workload these days. Fortunately, energy is not growing exponentially, not following the Moore's law. Accelerators like TPUs help for energy efficiency. Renewable energy sources are also used as well."

"Homomorphic encryption in cloud computing will get more important, so that government cannot subpoena the cloud providers."

"I am a skeptic on quantum computing, but a proponent on quantum communication."

"Shtetl-Optimized, Scott Aaronson's blog, is a nice source to follow on developments on quantum computing."

"A/B testing dramatically adopted in commercial products for personalization/customization."

"Deep learning is eating the world. DL/ML will have a very wide impact in unsuspected fields yet: long tail in industry, farming, etc."

"What will DL do to the data science fields?"

"Health is ripe for disruptions!"

"Developing/demonstrating the disruptive killer application is as hard as developing the disruption technology. Don't stop at technology, go end-to-end with application as well, that is as critical and important."

"The future trend estimation reports in 2006, predicted 3D printing and cloud correctly, but flapped on Virtual Reality and Second Life predictions."

"Introduction of sensors/UAVs changed DOD drastically."

Panel 2: Entrepreneurship - Opportunities and Lessons Learned 

Chair: Kannan Govindarajan. Panelists: Russ Agrusa (Iconics), Bob Fritzinger (UB TechTransfer), Dan Magnuszewski (ACV), Ron Schreiber (to be confirmed), Rohini K. Srihari (UB)

Some select quotes from this panel include...

"I was fortunate to be in the right place in the right time." (Repeated many times.)

"I have a compulsion to not say no to opportunities."

"Hodgetech in Buffalo was the first high school in the nation (world?) to have a computer and subsequently computer programming classes. (1962)"

"Among the long tail of industries not yet benefited from machine learning and big data technologies include: peace giving and conflict resolution domains. These are multi billion dollar markets as well"

"Always go to your mom and wife first for funding."

"Job < Career < Calling"

"Finish things, solve real problems, have real impact, and have control."

"After my entrepreunership experiences, the projects I assign in my classes are more holistic problem solving projects."

"When I design a product, I first talk to sales person, would you be able to sell this?"

Panel 4: Vision for CSE Department

Chair: Bharat Jayaraman (CSE UB). Panelists: Raj Acharya (Indiana U), Mark Crovella (Boston U), Deepak Kumar (Bryn Mawr College),  Aidong Zhang (UB)

Well you know the drill. Here are some quotes from the panel without context.

"There is a boom in CSE enrollment. This replicates what we experienced in 80s. At that time we made the mistake of weeding students out of our courses, and became selective to fight being overcrowded. We should not repeat that mistake. Instead we should grow to handle capacity."

"We should be mindful about increasing diversity. Digital humanities! How do you train the K12 teachers for teaching CSE?"

"How do you prepare current students for industry? Recommendation: make the distinction between science and technology."

"Renaissance engineer: entrenched in domain, but also has background in humanities."

"Why are students choosing CSE? It is not just for jobs, it is more than that. Students don't think CSE people anymore as Dilberts in cubicles. The new perception is that CSE has impact!"

"Convergence in CSE: interdisciplinary < multidisciplinary < transdisciplinary!"

"How do we give the medicine that taste bad? How do we teach fundamentals, when students would be more interested in just the technology fads? Cultivate Intellectual Deep Curiosity!"

Banquet dinner talks

After the alumni symposium, we headed to dinner, and after dinner, we listened to alumni reminisce about the department. This was the most entertaining session. The alumni told funny and emotional stories about their time in the department. The thing that came up again and again was the warmth in the department. The alumni that spoke in the event kept mentioning how it was a tight-knit community in the department and how they use to go to dinners at the faculty's houses. Those were the memories that most impressed on them. As our department gets bigger that maintaining that warmth also gets challenging. I had joined the department when it was about 20 faculty in 2005. Now it is close to 50 faculty. That is fast growth! We currently have around 150 PhD students, 450 Masters student, and 1400 undergraduate students. In spite of the growth, it is important to keep that warmth alive among the faculty and between the faculty and students.

The entire event of 3 days made me realize once again that we are not only in the business of science & engineering, but also as much in the business of raising scientists & engineers. It was great to see how our department was having impact on the world via our alumni as well.

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