Simons and Amazon
15 November 2018 | 4:59 pm

I'm spending this week at the Simons Institute in smokey Berkeley, California. This fall Simons has a program in Lower Bounds in Computational Complexity. Scroll down that page and you'll see the rather strong collection of participants that are spending much of the fall at the Institute.

I purposely chose a week without a workshop--I'd rather talk to people than sit in talks. My former PhD student Rahul Santhanam is hosting me and we are having some fun discussions about the minimum circuit-size problems, pseudorandom generators and white vs black box algorithms. I've grown a little rusty in complexity during my years as department chair and have to work to keep up with Rahul. The student has become the master.

Even a quiet week at Simons is not that quiet. Every night seems to have a theme: trivia, board games, pub night, music night. I participated in a discussion with the "journalist in residence" on how to make lower bounds interesting to the general public. As part of a Turing awardee lecture series, Andy Yao gave a talk on Game Theory in Auction and Blockchain which included some reminiscing of Yao's golden time in Berkeley back in the early 80's when he helped lay the mathematical foundations of modern cryptography.

Simons started as a competition and, while I was on team Chicago, I have to admit Berkeley has done a wonderful job with the institute. We've just seen the results from another competition, with Amazon splitting their "second headquarters" between Northern Virginia and Queens, missing an awesome opportunity in Atlanta (not that I'm biased). Not surprised about the DC area, but pretty surprised about separating the HQ into two locations, neither planned to reach the level of activity of HQ1 in Seattle. Amazon stated that they didn't think they could find the tech talent to fill 50,000 positions in a single city. So much for "build it and they will come".

And the winner is again, Harambe: A pre election poll of my class that was truly a referenum on the Prez
14 November 2018 | 1:33 am

I had meant to post this before the election but I didn't quite time it right. Oh well.

It has been said that this midterm election (more than others) was a referendum on the prez.  Every prez election year I have my students (or someone's students) vote (Secret Ballot of course) for president. ((see 2016 , 2012, 2008) This year, for the first time, I had a midterm election, though rather than ask them which Maryland people they would vote for, I made it truly a referendum on Trump by asking two questions:

1) Who did you vote for in 2016?

2) Knowing what you know now, who would have have voted for in 2016?

Full Disclosure: I am in the Clinton/Clinton Camp. However, this is an information-post not an opinion-post, so my vote is not relevant nor was it counted.

I give the full results at the end of the post; however, I will summarize the most interesting data: the change-mind people and my thoughts.

4 voted Trump and now wish they voted differently: Harmabe, Clinton, Nobody, Gasarch

Only 12 people had voted for Trump in 2016 and of those 4
regret it. While I can see wanting Clinton, Nobody, or Gasarch,
I'm surprised someone wanted Harmabe. Is he even a citizen?

5 voted Clinton and now wish they voted differently: 2-Johnson, Trump, Kanye, Gasarch.

Since Clinton hasn't done anything to merit rejection since the election,
I deduce these people are more going TOWARDS the one they picked rather
than AWAY from her. Trump has been Prez and has done stuff, so Clinton/Trump
makes sense -- the student's opinion is that Trump is doing better
than expected. Gary Johnson hasn't done anything to merit a change towards
him, so thats a puzzler.  Kanye, similar. As for Gasarch, if the reasoning
is `he's doing a good job teaching crypto, lets make him president' doesn't
really work since he's not doing THAT good a job. If it was Ramsey theory
then I could see it.

1 Underwood(House of Cards)/Satan (For those tired of picking the LESSER of two evils)
1 Stein/Clinton
1 Johnson/Clinton
1 Kruskal/Gasarch (some people can't tell them apart)

The two who went to Clinton I interpret as thinking Trump is worse
than expected.

ALSO: Hillary had 28 Hillary/Hillary. Hence Trump had the largest percentage of people who regret voting for him, but still only 1/3. And the numbers are to small to make much of them.



61 students did the poll.

Stayed the same:

Stayed the same:

28 Clinton/Clinton
8 Trump/Trump
4 Stein/Stein
3 Johnson/Johnson
1 Kasich/Kasich
1 Sanders/Sanders
1 Jerry White/Jerry White (Socialist Party)
1 Bofa/Bofa (this is a joke)
1 Thomas Adam Kirkman/Thomas Adam Kirkman (prez on TV show Designated Survivor)

48 do not regret their vote.


1 Trump/Harmabe (Harambe is the Gorilla who got shot in a zoo.)
1 Trump/Clinton
1 Trump/Nobody
1 Trump/Gasarch (Gasarch would prove the problems of government are unsolvable rather than solve them)

FOUR people voted Trump and now regret it.


2 Clinton/Johnson
1 Clinton/Trump
1 Clinton/Kanye
1 Clinton/Gasarch

FIVE people voted Clinton and now regret it.

MISC changed

1 Underwood(House of Cards)/Satan (For those tired of picking the LESSER of two evils)
1 Stein/Clinton
1 Johnson/Clinton
1 Kruskal/Gasarch (some people can't tell them apart)

TWO people who voted third party now would have voted Clinton.
I interpret this as not-liking-Trump since I don't think Clinton
has done anything since the election to make anyone thing better
or worse of her, while as Trump as president has done enough
to change people's opinions of him.

The Data Transformation of Universities
8 November 2018 | 2:00 pm

With all the news about elections, caravans, shootings and attorney generals, maybe you missed the various stories about real transformations at our top universities.

On October 15 MIT announced the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. Schwarzmann donated $350 million to the effort as part of an expected billion-dollar commitment that will pay for a new building and fifty new faculty.
“As computing reshapes our world, MIT intends to help make sure it does so for the good of all,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “In keeping with the scope of this challenge, we are reshaping MIT. The MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will constitute both a global center for computing research and education, and an intellectual foundry for powerful new AI tools. Just as important, the College will equip students and researchers in any discipline to use computing and AI to advance their disciplines and vice-versa, as well as to think critically about the human impact of their work. 
Two weeks later the University of California at Berkeley announced a Division of Data Science to be led by an associate provost reporting directly to the provost (like a dean).
“Berkeley’s powerful research engine, coupled with its deep commitment to equity and diversity, creates a strong bedrock from which to build the future foundations of this fast-changing field while ensuring that its applications and impacts serve to benefit society as a whole,” said Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost. “The division’s broad scope and its facilitation of new cross-disciplinary work will uniquely position Berkeley to lead in our data-rich age. It will simultaneously allow a new discipline to emerge and strengthen existing ones.”
Sorry Berkeley, you are anything but unique. Every major research university is trying to build up expertise in computing and data science given the demands of students, industry and researchers across nearly all academic disciplines who need help and guidance in collecting, managing, analyzing and interpreting data.

Here at Georgia Tech, where we've had a College of Computing since 1990, we recently started an Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Data Science and Engineering and a Interdisciplinary Research Center in Machine Learning both to be housed in a twenty-one story CODA building that will open next year in Midtown Atlanta (sounds impressive when I write it down).

I could go on for pages on how other universities are rethinking and transforming themselves. Earlier this year Columbia (who hired Jeannette Wing to run their data science institute) held a summit of academic data science leadership. The report shows we have much to do.

The real secret is that none of us have really figured it out, how to meet the escalating needs for computing and data and integrating it across campus. We aim at a moving target problem as we sit just at the beginning of the data revolution that will reshape society. The future looks rocky, scary and fun.

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