Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science Wed, 01 Oct 2014 17:38:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Stimulation Game to Help People Prep for Court Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:52:11 +0000

Preparing for court and appearing before a judge can be a daunting expe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly for people who are rep­re­senting them­selves because they can’t afford a lawyer or simply don’t know all the ropes of the legal process.

That’s why an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of North­eastern fac­ulty, staff, and stu­dents from the School of Law, the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence is devel­oping an online sim­u­la­tion that would pro­vide self-​​represented lit­i­gants with advo­cacy expe­ri­ence before they appear in court for real.

The sim­u­la­tion game is par­tic­u­larly tar­geted to the growing number of people who cannot afford legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and thus rep­re­sent them­selves in legal pro­ceed­ings ranging from evic­tions and mort­gage fore­clo­sures to child cus­tody pro­ceed­ings and debt col­lec­tion cases. Nation­ally, more than 80 per­cent of people with legal prob­lems must resolve them without the assis­tance of a lawyer.  When a dis­pute lands in court, people without any legal training find them­selves addressing a judge, ques­tioning wit­nesses, and offering doc­u­ments into evidence.

The sim­u­la­tion game would let indi­vid­uals try out these kinds of expe­ri­ences in a vir­tual world before they appear in an actual court­room. It would ulti­mately be made avail­able online for free.

This is the begin­ning of some­thing that could be trans­for­ma­tional in the legal system,” said Dan Jackson, exec­u­tive director of the NuLawLab. Jackson and NuLawLab fac­ulty director Martha Davis are leading the project for North­eastern in tandem with pro­fes­sors Casper Harteveld and Gillian Smith, who work in Northeastern’s Playable Inno­v­a­tive Tech­nolo­gies Lab. Law stu­dents enrolled this winter in a newly cre­ated lab sem­inar on applied design and legal empow­er­ment will also be involved in the project, which offi­cially begins Jan. 1.

The project was one of 17 world­wide nom­i­nated by the Hague Insti­tute for the Inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of Law for its Inno­vating Jus­tice Award – Inno­v­a­tive Idea 2014. Ear­lier this month, the North­eastern “vir­tual court­room” project received the most votes (988) of the nom­i­nees and will now have a shot at being named a finalist for the award in November at the institute’s Inno­vating Jus­tice Forum in the Netherlands.

The North­eastern team will work with project lead Statewide Legal Ser­vices of Con­necticut and New Haven Legal Assis­tance. The project has already received funding through the Legal Ser­vices Corporation’s Tech­nology Ini­tia­tive Grants program.

The project builds upon the NuLawLab’s work exploring new ways of deliv­ering legal assis­tance and edu­ca­tion to lawyers in order to pro­vide more people with access to their legal rights. It also con­tinues Harteveld and Smith’s “cit­izen sci­ence” projects in which the users them­selves can con­tribute to sci­en­tific research through these game-​​based plat­forms. They are devel­oping a game called “Mad Sci­ence” that aims to foster a cul­ture of curiosity and learning by allowing users (the “mad sci­en­tists”) to create their own vir­tual exper­i­ments and recruit friends to participate.

In addi­tion to pro­viding self-​​represented par­ties with foun­da­tional advo­cacy expe­ri­ence, project leaders said the “vir­tual court­room”  would help build a com­mu­nity of sup­port around these people’s needs. They envi­sion users even­tu­ally being able to com­mu­ni­cate with each other, share their court­room expe­ri­ences, and help first-​​timers nav­i­gate the process.

The team said com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion is both a unique aspect and a dri­ving force of the project. North­eastern will lead col­lab­o­ra­tive design work­shops attended by com­mu­nity stake­holders, including judges, court clerks, attor­neys, people who have already rep­re­sented them­selves in court, and those in the midst of doing so. Researchers will gather infor­ma­tion and feed­back during the game’s testing phase and deploy­ment, from which they will learn about how players respond in these vir­tual court situations—data that can be used to improve the sim­u­la­tion and to learn about human decision-​​making and com­mu­nity building.

We will work closely with the com­mu­nity to design this game and max­i­mize its impact,” Harteveld said.

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Fingertip Sensor Gives Robot Unprecedented Dexterity Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:23:28 +0000 MIT-GelSight-01_0Researchers at MIT and Northeastern University have equipped a robot with a novel tactile sensor that lets it grasp a USB cable draped freely over a hook and insert it into a USB port.

The sensor is an adaptation of a technology called GelSight, which was developed by the lab of Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, and first described in 2009. The new sensor isn’t as sensitive as the original GelSight sensor, which could resolve details on the micrometer scale. But it’s smaller — small enough to fit on a robot’s gripper — and its processing algorithm is faster, so it can give the robot feedback in real time.

Industrial robots are capable of remarkable precision when the objects they’re manipulating are perfectly positioned in advance. But according to Robert Platt, an assistant professor of computer science at Northeastern and the research team’s robotics expert, for a robot taking its bearings as it goes, this type of fine-grained manipulation is unprecedented.

“People have been trying to do this for a long time,” Platt says, “and they haven’t succeeded because the sensors they’re using aren’t accurate enough and don’t have enough information to localize the pose of the object that they’re holding.”

The researchers presented their results at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems this week. The MIT team — which consists of Adelson; first author Rui Li, a PhD student; Wenzhen Yuan, a master’s student; and Mandayam Srinivasan, a senior research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering — designed and built the sensor. Platt’s team at Northeastern, which included Andreas ten Pas and Nathan Roscup, developed the robotic controller and conducted the experiments.


Whereas most tactile sensors use mechanical measurements to gauge mechanical forces, GelSight uses optics and computer-vision algorithms.

“I got interested in touch because I had children,” Adelson says. “I expected to be fascinated by watching how they used their visual systems, but I was actually more fascinated by how they used their fingers. But since I’m a vision guy, the most sensible thing, if you wanted to look at the signals coming into the finger, was to figure out a way to transform the mechanical, tactile signal into a visual signal — because if it’s an image, I know what to do with it.”

A GelSight sensor — both the original and the new, robot-mounted version — consists of a slab of transparent, synthetic rubber coated on one side with a metallic paint. The rubber conforms to any object it’s pressed against, and the metallic paint evens out the light-reflective properties of diverse materials, making it much easier to make precise optical measurements.

In the new device, the gel is mounted in a cubic plastic housing, with just the paint-covered face exposed. The four walls of the cube adjacent to the sensor face are translucent, and each conducts a different color of light — red, green, blue, or white — emitted by light-emitting diodes at the opposite end of the cube. When the gel is deformed, light bounces off of the metallic paint and is captured by a camera mounted on the same cube face as the diodes.

From the different intensities of the different-colored light, the algorithms developed by Adelson’s team can infer the three-dimensional structure of ridges or depressions of the surface against which the sensor is pressed.

Although there are several ways of measuring human tactile acuity, one is to determine how far apart two small bumps need to be before a subject can distinguish them just by touching; the answer is usually about a millimeter. By that measure, even the lower-resolution, robot-mounted version of the GelSight sensor is about 100 times more sensitive than a human finger.

Plug ‘n play

In Platt’s experiments, a Baxter robot from MIT spinout Rethink Robotics was equipped with a two-pincer gripper, one of whose pincers had a GelSight sensor on its tip. Using conventional computer-vision algorithms, the robot identified the dangling USB plug and attempted to grasp it. It then determined the position of the USB plug relative to its gripper from an embossed USB symbol. Although there was a 3-millimeter variation in where the robot grasped the plug, it was able to measure its position accurately enough to insert it into a USB port that tolerated only about a millimeter’s error.

“Having a fast optical sensor to do this kind of touch sensing is a novel idea,” says Daniel Lee, a professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the GRASP robotics lab, “and I think the way that they’re doing it with such low-cost components — using just basically colored LEDs and a standard camera — is quite interesting.”

How GelSight fares against other approaches to tactile sensing will depend on “the application domain and what the price points are,” Lee says. “What Rui’s device has going for it is that it has very good spatial resolution. It’s able to see heights on the level of tens of microns. Compared to other devices in the domain that use things like barometers, the spatial resolution is very good.”

“As roboticists, we are always looking for new sensors,” Lee adds. “This is a promising prototype. It could be developed into practical device.”

Article from MIT News

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Three Distinct Careers, One Definitive Goal Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:56:42 +0000

The three women busi­ness leaders com­prising the panel at Thursday evening’s Women Who Inspire event work in three very dis­tinct fields—Naomi Fried works in health­care, Flora Sah works in finance, and Deb­orah Theobald works in robotics.

But they do have one thing in common—each is the first to serve in her cur­rent position.

On Thursday evening in the Alumni Center, the three leaders dis­cussed their career paths as inno­va­tors and shared insight into how inno­va­tion and tech­nology are changing the busi­ness world.

The dig­ital trans­for­ma­tion is hap­pening now in health­care,” said Fried, the first chief inno­va­tion officer at Boston Children’s Hos­pital. “People are starting to think about the next fron­tier and that is really increasing com­mu­ni­ca­tion between clin­i­cians and patients and lever­aging the mobile devices we’ve all grown accus­tomed to.”

The event marked the start of the 2014–15 Women Who Inspire speaker series, which is designed to pro­mote the advance­ment of women in sci­ence, sus­tain­ability, engi­neering, and tech­nology. Carla Brodley, the newly appointed dean of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, mod­er­ated the 90-​​minute discussion.

I think for both men and women, seeing women who inspire and hearing sto­ries can really lead to insights into where you want to take your career and the path you’ll want to take to get there,” Brodley said in her opening remarks.

Theobald, the co-​​founder and CEO of Vecna Tech­nolo­gies, noted that she and her hus­band cre­ated the health­care IT com­pany in response to the real­iza­tion that the kind of com­pany she wanted to work for didn’t exist. Her research focuses on robotics and soft­ware devel­op­ment, and her com­pany offers hard­ware, soft­ware, and IT ser­vices to clients across strategic industries.

When asked if busi­ness­women are more risk-​​adverse than busi­nessmen, Theobald responded by explaining that women need to identify—and sub­se­quently harness—the tools and infor­ma­tion that will lend cre­dence to their ideas and give them the con­fi­dence to move forward.

I think the biggest thing we need to feel con­fi­dent in is that our pas­sion is worth­while to pursue even if nothing comes of it,” she said. “People are not going not stop solving a problem that they solved incor­rectly the first time.”

Sah, MS’95, noted that she has noticed an uptick in the number of female leaders in the finan­cial industry, but added that there can always be more.

Sah, who cre­ated her posi­tion as senior vice pres­i­dent and COO of enter­prise risk man­age­ment at State Street in Boston, said that advo­cating the duel business-​​technology role puts her in a posi­tion to see mul­tiple sides of State Street’s operations.

This role has opened new doors for me,” Sah said. “It has allowed me to under­stand not only the tech­nology infra­struc­ture within the com­pany, but also our busi­ness model. And I think being able to see both sides has given me that com­pet­i­tive edge.”

During a Q-​​and-​​A fol­lowing the panel dis­cus­sion, the experts were asked to sug­gest some strate­gies that other busi­ness­women can employ to make sure their inno­v­a­tive ideas are being heard in the workplace.

It’s about saying what you want to say, believing you have a voice at the table, and being con­fi­dent,” Fried said. “Over time the female voice gets heard.”

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U.S. Scientists See Long Fight Against Ebola Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:03:02 +0000 The deadly Ebola outbreak sweeping across three countries in West Africa is likely to last 12 to 18 months more, much longer than anticipated, and could infect hundreds of thousands of people before it is brought under control, say scientists mapping its spread for the federal government.

“We hope we’re wrong,” said Bryan Lewis, an epidemiologist at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech.

Both the time the model says it will take to control the epidemic and the number of cases it forecasts far exceed estimates by the World Health Organization, which said last month that it hoped to control the outbreak within nine months and predicted 20,000 total cases by that time. The organization is sticking by its estimates, a W.H.O. spokesman said Friday.

But researchers at various universities say that at the virus’s present rate of growth, there could easily be close to 20,000 cases in one month, not in nine. Some of the United States’ leading epidemiologists, with long experience in tracking diseases such as influenza, have been creating computer models of the Ebola epidemic at the request of the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to comment on the projections. A spokesman, Tom Skinner, said the agency was doing its own modeling and hoped to publish the results soon. But the C.D.C. director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, has warned repeatedly that the epidemic is worsening, and on Sept. 2 described it as “spiraling out of control.”

While previous outbreaks have been largely confined to rural areas, the current epidemic, the largest ever, has reached densely populated, impoverished cities — including Monrovia, the capital of Liberia — gravely complicating efforts to control the spread of the disease. Alessandro Vespignani, a professor of computational sciences at Northeastern University who has been involved in the computer modeling of Ebola’s spread, said that if the case count reaches hundreds of thousands, “there will be little we can do.”

What worries public health officials most is that the epidemic has begun to grow exponentially in Liberia. In the most recent week reported, Liberia had nearly 400 new cases, almost double the number reported the week before. Another grave concern, the W.H.O. said, is “evidence of substantial underreporting of cases and deaths.” The organization reported on Friday that the number of Ebola cases as of Sept. 7 was 4,366, including 2,218 deaths.

“There has been no indication of any downturn in the epidemic in the three countries that have widespread and intense transmission,” it said, referring to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The scientists who produced the models cautioned that their dire predictions were based on the virus’s current uncontrolled spread and said the picture could improve if public health efforts started to work. Because conditions could change, for better or for worse, the researchers also warned that their forecasts became shakier the farther into the future they went.

Dr. Lewis, the Virginia Tech epidemiologist, said that a group of scientists collaborating on Ebola modeling as part of an N.I.H.-sponsored project called Midas, short for Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study, had come to a consensus on the projected 12- to 18-month duration and very high case count.

Another Midas participant, Jeffrey L. Shaman, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, agreed.

“Ebola has a simple trajectory because it’s growing exponentially,” Dr. Shaman said.

Lone Simonsen, a research professor of global health at George Washington University who was not involved in the modeling, said the W.H.O. estimates seemed conservative and the higher projections more reasonable.

“The final death toll may be far higher than any of those estimates unless an effective vaccine or therapy becomes available on a large scale or many more hospital beds are supplied,” she said in an email.

Dr. Vespignani said that the W.H.O. figures would be reasonable if there were an effective campaign to stop the epidemic now, but that there is not.

The modeling estimates are based on the observed growth rate of cases and on factors like how many people each patient infects. The researchers use the past data to make projections. They can test their methods by, for instance, taking the figures from June, plugging them into the model to predict the number of cases in July, and then comparing the results with what actually happened in July.

Dr. Shaman’s research team created a model that estimated the number of cases through Oct. 12, with different predictions based on whether control of the epidemic stays about the same, improves or gets worse. If control stays the same, according to the model, the case count by Oct. 12 will be 18,406. If control improves, it will be 7,861. If control worsens, it will soar to 54,895.

Before this epidemic, the largest Ebola outbreak was in Uganda from 2000 to 2001, and it involved only 425 cases. Scientists say the current epidemic surged out of control because it began near the borders of three countries where people traveled a lot, and they carried the disease to densely populated city slums. In addition, the weak health systems in these poor countries were not equipped to handle the disease, and much of the international response has been slow and disorganized.

But questions have also been raised about whether there could be something different about this strain of Ebola that makes it more contagious than previous ones.

Researchers are doubtful, but Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said it was important to keep an open mind about the possibility. During vaccine tests expected to start next month in monkeys, he said, he and his colleagues will monitor infected animals to see if they develop unusually high virus levels early in the disease that might amplify its infectiousness.

Some scientists have also suggested that as the outbreak continues and the virus spreads from person to person, it will have more opportunities to mutate and perhaps become even more dangerous or contagious. But Stuart T. Nichol, chief of the C.D.C.’s Viral Special Pathogens Branch, said that so far, researchers monitoring the mutations had seen no such changes.

Article from New York Times

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3Qs: Password and Cloud Security Tue, 09 Sep 2014 15:32:32 +0000

The recent news that hackers accessed celebri­ties’ cloud accounts and released their inti­mate photos online has prompted many to ques­tion the secu­rity of sen­si­tive data stored on people’s own smart­phones and in the cloud. Here, Wil Robertson, an assis­tant pro­fessor who holds joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, dis­cusses this recent hack and pro­vides some advice for people to pro­tect their pri­vacy and online data.

Cybersecurity expert Wil Robertson, an assistant professor who holds joint appointments in the College of Computer and Information Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, discusses the recent celebrity photo hack and what it means for the average smartphone user’s data security.

It has been widely reported that hackers were able to access celebrities’ private accounts. How were they able to do this?

This story is still developing, and the details behind the attack are still not clear. However, there are several theories, including the targeted attacks against cloud service user names, passwords, and security questions that has been used in similar breaches in the past, as well as the use of malicious wireless access points at the Emmy Awards show. Another theory, which Apple denies was involved in the leak, is the exploitation of a recently discovered iCloud/Find My iPhone vulnerability that allowed non-rate-limited password guessing. Any of these methods could have been used to gain access to an initial set of celebrity cloud accounts, from which an attacker could gain further information (e.g., account details for other celebrities from compromised contact lists) in order to compromise more accounts.

The reason that access to the cloud services provided the attackers access to such sensitive data is because modern mobile devices, including phones, generally upload pictures and other media to the cloud provider. These devices are often configured to perform this automatically, which can be problematic in the case of data such as this.

Is the average smartphone and cloud user vulnerable to such an attack? What precautions can people take to better protect sensitive information that might be stored on mobile devices or in the cloud such as passwords and financial information?

In principle, yes, the average user is vulnerable to similar attacks—that is, if you choose to upload data you wouldn’t want the world to see to the cloud. The best way to prevent this sort of leak is to not upload sensitive data in the first place, and to disable automatic synchronization of all documents, pictures, and other media to the cloud. Once someone gains access to your data and copies it away, there is no mechanism available to “unleak” that data. Furthermore, even if users request the cloud provider to delete uploaded data, it often persists regardless (e.g., on content delivery networks and other caches). Finally, cloud providers also create offline backups of data that are difficult to purge, and any entity with a subpoena could potentially gain access to these.

The second avenue to protect yourself is to make it more difficult for attackers to access your account without your permission. This involves using a strong, hard-to-guess password, and enabling two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication simply requires that you provide two forms of proof that you are who you say you are (e.g., a password and a security code from a mobile application), and is one of the most effective ways of shutting out attackers.

What are some of the most recent cybersecurity advances being made at Northeastern and elsewhere? Will this hack affect future security measures?

There are really too many advances in cybersecurity to list here, but security researchers have long warned about the potential risks of cloud storage. While certainly convenient, one does lose a large degree of control over the uploaded data, and a centralized cloud provider is a juicy target for adversaries. There is a large amount of interest in researching ways to secure the cloud, with approaches varying from making authentication to cloud accounts both stronger and less of a burden on users, to transparent encryption schemes that prevent attackers—and even the cloud provider—from accessing your data, to fully homomorphic encryption, which would allow cloud providers to somewhat counter-intuitively compute or “use” your data without being able to “see” it.

While this hack will no doubt further spur the work of security researchers, one hopes for other outcomes as a result of this attack, including a greater recognition amongst users of the risks associated with the cloud, and the permanence of your data in modern society.

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Virtual Healthcare Agents, At Your Service Mon, 01 Sep 2014 17:16:14 +0000 virtual expo

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New Study: Activists Pose Easy Target for Nation-State Attackers Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:26:07 +0000

Lean operations and a lack of technical staff make non-governmental organizations a prime, and relatively soft, target for well-funded adversaries, according to an academic study of a four-year campaign targeting one such group.

In a paper to be delivered at the USENIX Security Conference next week, six academic researchers analyzed nearly 1,500 suspicious e-mail messages targeting the World Uyghur Congress (WUC). The team found that, while the malware managed to reliably evade detection by many antivirus programs, the attacks were relatively unsophisticated, using known vulnerabilities that had already been patched. The social engineering tactics, however, were very targeted and convincing, with the majority written in the native language, referring to events of interest to the NGO and appearing to come from known contacts, said Engin Kirda, a professor of computer science at Northeastern University and a co-author of the paper.

“You read about sophisticated attacks, but the malware that we analyzed was pretty standard,” Kirda said. “It was not some ground breaking obfuscation or malware.”

Kirda collaborated with three researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems and two others from the National University of Singapore on the project. The research underscores that attackers only use the level of technical sophistication necessary to complete their operation, Kirda said.

Unfortunately, non-governmental organizations tend to be vulnerable to attack. The WUC, which advocates on issues involving the Uyghur Euroasian minority of 10 million people in China, used older versions of Windows, relied on antivirus software, and lacked the technical sophistication found in many enterprises. The group is funded, in part, by the US-based National Endowment for Democracy.

“The lack of resources is always a problem,” Kirda said. “Our aim should be to create technology that will trickle down to people and protect them more completely.”

Almost half the attacks used a real organizational event, such as a conference, as a lure to convince a target to open the attachments. Of the nearly 1,500 e-mails analyzed by the researchers, nearly 1,176 contained malicious attachments, mainly Office documents. The e-mails targeted more than 700 people at 108 different organizations through carbon-copied recipients, including the Australian Uyghur Association, Radio Free Asia, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Unlike the trend in opportunistic attacks, which generally target vulnerabilities in Java browser plugins, the WUC’s attackers started the campaign in 2009 by attaching PDF files with exploits that would compromise systems through Adobe’s Acrobat. Soon after, however, the attackers switched to using Microsoft Office documents, which constituted the vector for the lion’s share of attacks analyzed by the researchers.

The WUC has suffered a number of disruptive attacks in the past five years, including a two-week denial-of-service attack on its website in 2011 and a flood of phone calls and more than 15,000 spam messages in a single week.

About a quarter of the attacks matched the signatures of other operations attributed to nation-state actors, Kirda said. Despite some of the attacks being more than four years old, no antivirus program detected all the malware.

Organizations that believe they could be targeted by such attacks should take more concrete steps to protect themselves. Upgrading systems to more modern operating systems and regularly patching those systems can help immensely, Kirda said.

“Make sure you have all the updates; make sure you use a browser that is not standard; and pursue more training—talk about the threat,” he said.

Article from

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Carla Brodley Appointed Dean of the College of Computer and Information Science Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:12:54 +0000 Carla Brodley

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has appointed Dr. Carla E. Brodley as dean of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, effec­tive Aug. 1, 2014.

Brodley comes to North­eastern from Tufts Uni­ver­sity, where she is cur­rently pro­fessor of com­puter sci­ence with a sec­ondary appoint­ment in the Clin­ical and Trans­la­tional Sci­ence Insti­tute of the Tufts Med­ical Center. From 2010 through 2013 she chaired the Depart­ment of Com­puter Sci­ence at Tufts.

She is an inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized researcher in machine learning and knowl­edge dis­covery in data­bases who has applied her exper­tise to prob­lems in per­son­al­ized and evidence-​​based med­i­cine, med­ical imaging, neu­ro­science, remote sensing, and com­puter secu­rity. A widely pub­lished scholar, her research has been funded by a wide range of fed­eral agen­cies, cor­po­ra­tions and foun­da­tions, among them the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, the National Insti­tutes of Health, NASA, DARPA, IBM, and the Mul­tiple Scle­rosis Society.

A leader in com­puting research, Dr. Brodley’s achieve­ments have con­tributed greatly to the advance­ment of the changing field of com­puter sci­ence,” said Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice pres­i­dent for aca­d­emic affairs. “An accom­plished leader and scholar, she will take Northeastern’s lead­er­ship in com­puter sci­ence to the next level-​​both within and beyond CCIS.”

Brodley serves on the boards of the Inter­na­tional Machine Learning Society and DARPA’s Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and Tech­nology Board. Among her many pro­fes­sional recog­ni­tions, she has received an NSF CAREER Award and mem­ber­ships to the Defense Sci­ence Study Group of DARPA and the AAAI Exec­u­tive Council.

North­eastern is a uni­ver­sity on the move and I am thrilled to be joining as the next dean of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence,” Brodley said. “In today’s infor­ma­tion driven age it is more impor­tant than ever to inte­grate com­puting and infor­ma­tion sci­ence into every aca­d­emic field. I look for­ward to working with fac­ulty, staff, and stu­dents to build upon the great momentum that has already made CCIS one of the nation’s most exciting inter­dis­ci­pli­nary colleges.”

She is also a member of the edi­to­rial boards of Machine Learning, Journal of Machine Learning Research, and Data Mining and Knowl­edge Dis­covery. She is co-​​chairing the 2014 con­fer­ence of the Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence and from 2008–2011 co-​​chaired the Com­mittee on the Status of Women in Com­puting Research.

Brodley was awarded the bachelor’s degree in math­e­matics and com­puter sci­ence from McGill Uni­ver­sity in 1985 and earned her doc­torate in com­puter sci­ence from the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts at Amherst in 1994. Prior to joining Tufts, she was on the elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering fac­ulty at Purdue Uni­ver­sity, where she was hon­ored with the Ruth and Joel Spira Out­standing Teacher award in 1998. In 2010, the Uni­ver­sity of Mass­a­chu­setts rec­og­nized Brodley with the Alumni award for Out­standing Educator.

In an email to the fac­ulty of CCIS, Director thanked Larry Finkel­stein for his out­standing con­tri­bu­tions as dean of the col­lege for 12 years. “Larry’s ded­i­ca­tion to the col­lege and to the uni­ver­sity, in addi­tion to his strong lead­er­ship throughout his tenure as dean, has been key in helping the col­lege achieve the level of excel­lence it enjoys today,” he wrote.

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A Virtual Outbreak Offers Hints Of Ebola’s Future Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:57:20 +0000 Kenyan health officials take the temperatures of passengers arriving at the Nairobi airport on Thursday. Kenya has no reported cases of Ebola, but it's a transportation hub and so is on alert.While the Ebola outbreak continues to rage in West Africa, it is also unfolding — in a virtual sense — inside the computers of researchers who study the dynamics of epidemics.

Policymakers look to these simulations to get a sense of how the outbreak might spread. They also can use them to run experiments to see which public health measures should take priority.

“I’ve spent a lot of time doing computer models of disease transmission, but rarely does it involve something in Africa. Africa is often overlooked,” says Bryan Lewis, a computational epidemiologist at Virginia Tech.

So when a defense agency called him a few weeks ago and asked him to model the Ebola outbreak, he was excited by the challenge.

Lewis started plugging data into his computer. He uses the official numbers of how many people have died or gotten infected, even though those are probably underestimates. And he says health officials really don’t have a handle yet on other important stuff that’s going on — like how many infected people stay at home versus go to a hospital, or how burial practices spread infection.

“Some of those factors are the ones that are hard to measure,” he says. “You’ve got to choose how much of this complexity you care to explicitly represent.”

What’s more, they can’t assume this will play out like past Ebola outbreaks — those hit much smaller populations in more isolated, rural areas.

Despite all this uncertainty, Lewis says his models have been able to predict the course of the epidemic so far.

“At the moment, these models — at least for Sierra Leone and Liberia — we aren’t putting in any mitigating factors. We’re just letting these things run unthrottled,” Lewis says. “And they’ve just been surging up. And they’ve been, unfortunately, accurate in the last couple of weeks in terms of the number of cases coming out.”

He says if you just kept this simulation going on and on, it shows Ebola spreading across the continent. But this scenario he’s constructed doesn’t include all the public health measures starting to ramp up now.

“We know in the real world there are efforts being directed out there, there are resources being allocated,” says Lewis. “Until we understand that better and can incorporate that into the model, I don’t think it’s very useful to speculate out past a week or two.”

Some computer simulations focus on the risk of Ebola spreading to other countries. Alessandro Vespignani, at Northeastern University with joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, creates those models, using information about air travel and other kinds of transportation.

His work suggests that Ebola could find its way to African nations like Ghana, Gambia, and Senegal. “There is a tangible risk of spreading in the region to other countries,” says Vespignani, “probably in the ballpark of 20 to 30 percent in the next few weeks.”

He notes poor countries might have trouble keeping an imported case from spreading. And the larger this outbreak gets, the harder it will be to contain.

So while his model currently suggests that the risk of Ebola reaching the U.S. or Europe in the next six weeks or so is very small — just a small percentage — that could change if the outbreak in Africa continues to grow.

Vespignani says we need “to extinguish the fire,” so that Ebola doesn’t really become a threat to the rest of the world in the next months.

Given that all this modeling is as much an art as a science, different groups working on the problem have been comparing notes. They’ve also been fielding calls from government officials and policymakers.

Martin Meltzer, who heads up the unit at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s been creating computer models of the outbreak, says that people always ask him the same two questions: “How many people are going to die, and when is this going to end?”

He tells them too much is unknown to give any reliable answer.

Mostly, he says, the models just illustrate the need for old, tried-and-true methods for disease control, such as quickly identifying patients and isolating them.

“Modeling won’t stop this disease,” says Meltzer. “We know how to stop this disease. It’s fairly simple and it’s a matter of getting the simple activities and practices in action — in place, on the ground.”

That’s the struggle now, he says. Because while it’s easy to change a line of computer code in a simulated epidemic and, say, reduce a transmission rate by 80 percent, it’s a lot harder to do that in the real world.

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New Algorithm Gives Credit Where Credit is Due Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:49:26 +0000 Robert Gray Dodge Chair Installation Ceremony: Laszlo Barabasi

It makes sense that the credit for sci­ence papers with mul­tiple authors should go to the authors who per­form the bulk of the research, yet that’s not always the case.

Now a new algo­rithm devel­oped at Northeastern’s Center for Com­plex Net­work Research helps sheds light on how to prop­erly allo­cate credit.

The research was pub­lished this month in Pro­ceed­ings of the National Academy of Sci­ences in a paper co-​​authored by Hua-​​Wei Shen, a vis­iting scholar at North­eastern and asso­ciate pro­fessor at the Insti­tute of Com­puting Tech­nology at the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, and Albert-​​László Barabási, the Robert Gray Dodge Pro­fessor of Net­work Sci­ence and a Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor at Northeastern.

Using the algo­rithm, which Shen devel­oped, the team revealed a new credit allo­ca­tion system based on how often the paper is co-​​cited with the other papers pub­lished by the paper’s co-​​authors, cap­turing the authors’ addi­tional con­tri­bu­tions to the field.

The idea behind this is that based on an author’s pre­vious line of work, people have a per­cep­tion of where the credit lies,” explained Barabási, the director of the Center for Com­plex Net­work Research. “And the algorithm’s goal is simply to extract that perception.”

To test its hypoth­esis, the team looked at Nobel prize-​​winning papers in which the Nobel com­mittee and the sci­ence com­mu­nity decided to whom the pri­mary credit for a dis­covery should go. In 81 per­cent of the papers related to physics, chem­istry, and med­i­cine that they looked at, the credit allo­ca­tion algo­rithm found that the authors deserving of the most credit cor­re­sponded to the Nobel laureate.

In all, the team looked at 63 prize-​​winning papers using the algo­rithm. In another finding, the algo­rithm showed physi­cist Tom Kibble, who in 1964 wrote a research paper on the Higgs boson theory, should receive the same amount of credit as Nobel prize win­ners Peter Higgs and François Englert.

A world-​​​​renowned net­work sci­en­tist, Barabási has joint appoint­ments in the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence at North­eastern. The paper builds upon his research in the sci­ence of suc­cess, which uses a math­e­mat­ical model for quan­ti­fying the long-​​term suc­cess of indi­vidual researchers.

Barabási explained that the tra­di­tional system of credit allo­ca­tion varies depending on the field of research, and being the first author listed on a paper does not mean that person would receive the most credit. In biology, for example, the authors listed first and last on a paper are gen­er­ally the one’s who receive credit while in physics the author list is often alphabetical.

If you are not an insider in the field, you have absolutely no idea who should get the credit for the paper,” Barabási said.

While the sci­ence com­mu­nity is usu­ally cor­rect when allo­cating credit to authors, some­times credit can go to the wrong person. In their paper, the researchers wrote that “the ability to accu­rately mea­sure the rel­a­tive credit of researchers could poten­tially impact hiring, funding, and promotions.”

Barabási also noted this new algo­rithm could help pro­fes­sors from dif­ferent dis­ci­plines who col­lab­o­rate on a research paper deter­mine to whom the com­mu­nity would credit the paper.

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