Brown CS Blog

Brown CS PhD Alums Continue To Impress Us With Their Various Accomplishments

    Brown CS is so proud of our PhD alums! They have been very busy this year and are continuing to work hard to improve and expand the field of computer science.

    Michael Littman:

    • Michael was invited as keynote speaker for the 24th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He spoke about programming agents via rewards and focused on the problem of creating suitable reward functions through a variety of mechanisms such as behavioral examples, evolutionary optimization, formal specifications, and human feedback.
    • Michael also won the International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems (IFAAMAS)'s Influential Paper Award for his work “Markov Games as a Framework for Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning”. “I've long been interested in exploring how to make algorithms that learn to make sensible reward-focused decisions in the presence of other decision makers,” he says. “The key components of the problem have been formalized in different communities---machine learning and game theory---so, it's important to draw on both when addressing the problem itself. The ‘Markov game’ paper surfaces an old but highly relevant model from the game-theory community that provides a bridge to the machine-learning community.”
    • Currently, Michael is working with Amy Greenwald on a project with the goal of trying to understand how a learning agent could or should make decisions to influence the behavior of another agent---perhaps nudging it towards more cooperative and mutually beneficial behavior. “I find it amazing how even simple decisions become deep and complex when they have implications to the well being of others!” says Michael.


    Joe Politz:

    • Joe is on the tenure-track for teaching at University of California, San Diego and is focusing research on STEM education in middle and high school. He is working intensively on the Pyret programming language, and is helping to incorporate the language into schools through Bootstrap. He is also contributing to an online textbook that compliments these efforts. 


    Scott Smolka:

    • Scott was recently named a fellow of the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science. “My research as a Brown PhD student took on a European flavor thanks to fellow PhD student Alessandro Giacalone, from Pisa,” says Scott. “Alessandro told me about this new ‘thing’ called CCS (Calculus of Communicating Systems).  It did not take long for my co-advisor Paris Kanellakis and me to get interested in the problem of finding an algorithm for automatically determining if two CCS processes were behaviorally equivalent, or ‘bisimilar’ in Milner's terminology.  The paper we eventually published remains my most-cited publication.”
    • Scott’s current research interests include the formal safety verification of medical devices, especially cardiac devices, and viewing the problem of V-formation in migrating flocks of birds as one of optimal control. He will give a joint invited talk on the latter at the CONCUR-QEST-FORMATS conferences in Quebec City, Canada later this summer.


    Srikanta Tirthapura:

    • Srikanta was promoted to a full professor at Iowa State University this year. He has been working as a researcher and a teacher, with a stint in the database industry as an engineer. In conjunction with graduate students and colleagues, his research has focused on designing efficient methods and software for finding patterns within massive data sets. “In today’s context of ‘big data’, this means designing the behind-the-scenes plumbing that manages data ingested into, say, a data warehouse, or a popular website,” Srikanta explains.
    • Some highlights of his work have been a new analysis technique that settled a 20-year-old problem on indexing multi-dimensional data using “Space Filling Curves”, current-best methods for sampling from distributed and dynamic data, and an analysis of “link reversal” algorithms for wireless networks that settled a 25-year-old open problem on the time to convergence. He has recently started working on the use of data analysis in network security.
    •  “Throughout my journey as an academic, I have been inspired by the people that I met at Brown including Maurice Herlihy (my thesis advisor), Eli Upfal, Philip Klein, Tom Doeppner, Roberto Tamassia, and many others. I feel lucky to have got a chance to work with them, and take classes with them. I see that Brown CS has grown significantly since I graduated,” says Srikanta.