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October 26, 2018

ICS at 50 and Beyond

The daylong event on Oct. 16 drew more than 400 people who helped celebrate 50 years of research and teaching excellence in UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences.

“This celebration is not really about the past,” announced Marios Papaefthymiou, the Ted and Janice Smith Family Foundation Dean of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, as he welcomed an enthusiastic crowd to the Beckman Center. “It’s about the future.” He then explained to the hundreds of alumni, students, founding and current faculty, staff and members of the community who had gathered for the “daylong extravaganza” that by “reflecting on the first half century of the school and its accomplishments, this event is really meant to foreshadow … the next 50 years.”

Making a Difference

The event kicked off with six TED-style talks focused on how UCI is “making a difference,” with Professor André van der Hoek, chair of the Department of Informatics, acting as moderator.

Mimi Ito, professor in residence of informatics, introduced the ways in which UCI’s Connected Learning Lab is empowering educators and technology developers to create the “genuinely connected ecosystem of learning” that is key in today’s networked world. In a similar vein, Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler talked about UCI’s leadership role in the emerging field of esports and how “games, in the right context, can be an incredible catalyst for learning.”

Turning to cybersecurity, Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the UCI Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute, noted that because the message for the next decade is “you can never worry too much,” ICS is “staffing up” and taking a “multidisciplinary approach” to tackling critical cybersecurity challenges.

Chancellor’s Professor of Statistics and former ICS Dean Hal Stern spoke of how ICS is “helping the world make sense of its data,” applying data science to everything from healthcare to the justice system to science. Associate Professor of Computer Science Alex Ihler then switched the focus to AI, highlighting the massive impact of UCI’s Machine Learning Repository and noting that this is an “exciting time” for AI and machine learning in education, research and technology.

Wrapping up the TED talks was Pierre Baldi, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and director of the Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, who in discussing AI and Bioinformatics asserted that determining “how to get Turing storage in the brain” will be the grand challenge for AI.

The Five Tribes of Machine Learning

Discussions continued as Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Computer Science, Alex Nicolau, introduced the lunchtime keynote speaker, ICS alumnus Pedro Domingos (M.S. ’94, Ph.D. ’97). Now a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, Domingos presented the “five tribes” of machine learning: symbolists, connectionists, evolutionaries, Bayesians and analogizers.

Domingos admitted that “we are still very far from solving the machine learning problem” but added that once we develop a “universal learner,” it could lead to everything from home robots to a cure for cancer. “We can use ML to make the world a better place,” he concluded.

How We Got Here

Three one-hour panels followed the lunchtime talk, with the first one being moderated by Computer Science Professor Sandy Irani and serving to highlight how ICS has always been ahead of its time. The three alumni on the distinguished panel were John Leslie King (B.A. ’72, M.S. ’74, Ph.D. ’77); Lawrence A. Rowe (B.S. ’70 and Ph.D. ’76); and ICS’s first graduate student, Marsha Drapkin Hopwood (Ph.D. ’74). Joining them were Dick Taylor, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Informatics; Fred Tonge, a member of the founding faculty of ICS; and Debra Richardson, founding dean of ICS. In discussing ideas upon which the school was founded, the panelists emphasized building a strong faculty, viewing students as full partners, and recognizing social impact.

Industry and Entrepreneurship

The second panel focused on how ICS has shaped the world around us. Moderator Pat Helland (’76), a software architect at Salesforce, opened the discussion by asserting that the School of ICS “gave me a passion.”

He was joined by Professor of Computer Science and Levyx Co-Founder Tony Givargis and four accomplished alumni: Andreas Gal (Ph.D. ’06), founder and CEO of Silk Labs; Owen O’Malley (M.S. ’89 and Ph.D. ’96), co-founder and technical fellow of Hortonworks; Sandy Smart-Ashburn (B.S. ’87), AVP of technology at AT&T; and Kevin Thompson (M.S. ’88), vice president of marketplace engineering at Uber. A few takeaways from the discussion were the importance of finding your passion, learning how to learn, and understanding your customers and the many roles of business.

Preparing for the Future

Guided by moderator Dan Gillen, professor and chair of the Department of Statistics, the third panel considered what lies ahead. The diverse group ranged from statistics Ph.D. candidate Michelle Nuño to alumni such as Dan Russell (B.S. ’77) of Google and LouAnne Boyd (Ph.D. ’18), an assistant professor of computer science at Chapman University. Other academics included Domingos as well as Jonathan Chen (Ph.D. ’09), an assistant professor at Stanford University, and UCI’s Sameer Singh, assistant professor of computer science. Rounding out the panel was Tim Kashani (B.S. ’86), co-founder of Apples and Oranges Studios and IT Mentors.

The panel touched on everything from AI in the workforce to the dimensions of diversity to self-driving cars and ethics. As Domingos noted, “Maybe the best things we will learn from machine learning will be what it forces us to learn about ourselves.”

From UCI to IPO

Vincent Steckler (B.S. ’80), CEO of Avast Software delivered the closing keynote, which was followed by a showcase of research projects highlighting ICS work in all of the areas discussed throughout the day.

When introducing Steckler, UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman praised ICS for being the only independent computer technology school in the UC system. “It’s hard to imagine any cutting-edge research project here at UCI that does not draw upon information and computer sciences.” He continued, “the expertise of the Bren school’s computer scientists, informatics experts and statisticians are central to us as we move forward to look at climate change, sustainability, education, art, business, entertainment, biological systems and any of a myriad other set of challenges.”

Steckler then took the stage, comparing the challenges of 1968 to those of 2018, and outlining his journey from studying at UCI to taking Avast Software public this past spring as one of the five largest tech IPOs of all time in London. Acknowledging that ICS paved the way for his success, he explained that universities “are at the core of social change” and “provide a path for upward mobility.” He concluded by giving “many, many thanks to UCI for the opportunities that the education opened up for me.”

Check back soon for photos and video from the 50th Anniversary Celebration.
ICS at 50 and Beyond

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