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    3 Questions: A new PhD program from the Center for Computational Science and Engineering

    This fall, the Center for Computational Science and Engineering (CCSE), an academic unit in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, is introducing a new standalone PhD degree program that will enable students to pursue research in cross-cutting methodological aspects of computational science and engineering. The launch follows approval of the center’s degree program proposal at the May 2023 Institute faculty meeting.

    Doctoral-level graduate study in computational science and engineering (CSE) at MIT has, for the past decade, been offered through an interdisciplinary program in which CSE students are admitted to one of eight participating academic departments in the School of Engineering or School of Science. While this model adds a strong disciplinary component to students’ education, the rapid growth of the CSE field and the establishment of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing have prompted an exciting expansion of MIT’s graduate-level offerings in computation.

    The new degree, offered by the college, will run alongside MIT’s existing interdisciplinary offerings in CSE, complementing these doctoral training programs and preparing students to contribute to the leading edge of the field. Here, CCSE co-directors Youssef Marzouk and Nicolas Hadjiconstantinou discuss the standalone program and how they expect it to elevate the visibility and impact of CSE research and education at MIT.

    Q: What is computational science and engineering?

    Marzouk: Computational science and engineering focuses on the development and analysis of state-of-the-art methods for computation and their innovative application to problems of science and engineering interest. It has intellectual foundations in applied mathematics, statistics, and computer science, and touches the full range of science and engineering disciplines. Yet, it synthesizes these foundations into a discipline of its own — one that links the digital and physical worlds. It’s an exciting and evolving multidisciplinary field.

    Hadjiconstantinou: Examples of CSE research happening at MIT include modeling and simulation techniques, the underlying computational mathematics, and data-driven modeling of physical systems. Computational statistics and scientific machine learning have become prominent threads within CSE, joining high-performance computing, mathematically-oriented programming languages, and their broader links to algorithms and software. Application domains include energy, environment and climate, materials, health, transportation, autonomy, and aerospace, among others. Some of our researchers focus on general and widely applicable methodology, while others choose to focus on methods and algorithms motivated by a specific domain of application.

    Q: What was the motivation behind creating a standalone PhD program?

    Marzouk: The new degree focuses on a particular class of students whose background and interests are primarily in CSE methodology, in a manner that cuts across the disciplinary research structure represented by our current “with-departments” degree program. There is a strong research demand for such methodologically-focused students among CCSE faculty and MIT faculty in general. Our objective is to create a targeted, coherent degree program in this field that, alongside our other thriving CSE offerings, will create the leading environment for top CSE students worldwide.

    Hadjiconstantinou: One of CCSE’s most important functions is to recruit exceptional students who are trained in and want to work in computational science and engineering. Experience with our CSE master’s program suggests that students with a strong background and interests in the discipline prefer to apply to a pure CSE program for their graduate studies. The standalone degree aims to bring these students to MIT and make them available to faculty across the Institute.

    Q: How will this impact computing education and research at MIT? 

    Hadjiconstantinou: We believe that offering a standalone PhD program in CSE alongside the existing “with-departments” programs will significantly strengthen MIT’s graduate programs in computing. In particular, it will strengthen the methodological core of CSE research and education at MIT, while continuing to support the disciplinary-flavored CSE work taking place in our participating departments, which include Aeronautics and Astronautics; Chemical Engineering; Civil and Environmental Engineering; Materials Science and Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Nuclear Science and Engineering; Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; and Mathematics. Together, these programs will create a stronger CSE student cohort and facilitate deeper exchanges between the college and other units at MIT.

    Marzouk: In a broader sense, the new program is designed to help realize one of the key opportunities presented by the college, which is to create a richer variety of graduate degrees in computation and to involve as many faculty and units in these educational endeavors as possible. The standalone CSE PhD will join other distinguished doctoral programs of the college — such as the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science PhD; the Operations Research Center PhD; and the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Statistics and the Social and Engineering Systems PhD within the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society — and grow in a way that is informed by them. The confluence of these academic programs, and natural synergies among them, will make MIT quite unique. More

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    3 Questions: Honing robot perception and mapping

    Walking to a friend’s house or browsing the aisles of a grocery store might feel like simple tasks, but they in fact require sophisticated capabilities. That’s because humans are able to effortlessly understand their surroundings and detect complex information about patterns, objects, and their own location in the environment.

    What if robots could perceive their environment in a similar way? That question is on the minds of MIT Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) researchers Luca Carlone and Jonathan How. In 2020, a team led by Carlone released the first iteration of Kimera, an open-source library that enables a single robot to construct a three-dimensional map of its environment in real time, while labeling different objects in view. Last year, Carlone’s and How’s research groups (SPARK Lab and Aerospace Controls Lab) introduced Kimera-Multi, an updated system in which multiple robots communicate among themselves in order to create a unified map. A 2022 paper associated with the project recently received this year’s IEEE Transactions on Robotics King-Sun Fu Memorial Best Paper Award, given to the best paper published in the journal in 2022.

    Carlone, who is the Leonardo Career Development Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor in Aeronautics and Astronautics, spoke to LIDS about Kimera-Multi and the future of how robots might perceive and interact with their environment.

    Q: Currently your labs are focused on increasing the number of robots that can work together in order to generate 3D maps of the environment. What are some potential advantages to scaling this system?

    How: The key benefit hinges on consistency, in the sense that a robot can create an independent map, and that map is self-consistent but not globally consistent. We’re aiming for the team to have a consistent map of the world; that’s the key difference in trying to form a consensus between robots as opposed to mapping independently.

    Carlone: In many scenarios it’s also good to have a bit of redundancy. For example, if we deploy a single robot in a search-and-rescue mission, and something happens to that robot, it would fail to find the survivors. If multiple robots are doing the exploring, there’s a much better chance of success. Scaling up the team of robots also means that any given task may be completed in a shorter amount of time.

    Q: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from recent experiments, and challenges you’ve had to overcome while designing these systems?

    Carlone: Recently we did a big mapping experiment on the MIT campus, in which eight robots traversed up to 8 kilometers in total. The robots have no prior knowledge of the campus, and no GPS. Their main tasks are to estimate their own trajectory and build a map around it. You want the robots to understand the environment as humans do; humans not only understand the shape of obstacles, to get around them without hitting them, but also understand that an object is a chair, a desk, and so on. There’s the semantics part.

    The interesting thing is that when the robots meet each other, they exchange information to improve their map of the environment. For instance, if robots connect, they can leverage information to correct their own trajectory. The challenge is that if you want to reach a consensus between robots, you don’t have the bandwidth to exchange too much data. One of the key contributions of our 2022 paper is to deploy a distributed protocol, in which robots exchange limited information but can still agree on how the map looks. They don’t send camera images back and forth but only exchange specific 3D coordinates and clues extracted from the sensor data. As they continue to exchange such data, they can form a consensus.

    Right now we are building color-coded 3D meshes or maps, in which the color contains some semantic information, like “green” corresponds to grass, and “magenta” to a building. But as humans, we have a much more sophisticated understanding of reality, and we have a lot of prior knowledge about relationships between objects. For instance, if I was looking for a bed, I would go to the bedroom instead of exploring the entire house. If you start to understand the complex relationships between things, you can be much smarter about what the robot can do in the environment. We’re trying to move from capturing just one layer of semantics, to a more hierarchical representation in which the robots understand rooms, buildings, and other concepts.

    Q: What kinds of applications might Kimera and similar technologies lead to in the future?

    How: Autonomous vehicle companies are doing a lot of mapping of the world and learning from the environments they’re in. The holy grail would be if these vehicles could communicate with each other and share information, then they could improve models and maps that much quicker. The current solutions out there are individualized. If a truck pulls up next to you, you can’t see in a certain direction. Could another vehicle provide a field of view that your vehicle otherwise doesn’t have? This is a futuristic idea because it requires vehicles to communicate in new ways, and there are privacy issues to overcome. But if we could resolve those issues, you could imagine a significantly improved safety situation, where you have access to data from multiple perspectives, not only your field of view.

    Carlone: These technologies will have a lot of applications. Earlier I mentioned search and rescue. Imagine that you want to explore a forest and look for survivors, or map buildings after an earthquake in a way that can help first responders access people who are trapped. Another setting where these technologies could be applied is in factories. Currently, robots that are deployed in factories are very rigid. They follow patterns on the floor, and are not really able to understand their surroundings. But if you’re thinking about much more flexible factories in the future, robots will have to cooperate with humans and exist in a much less structured environment. More

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    Q&A: Are far-reaching fires the new normal?

    Where there’s smoke, there is fire. But with climate change, larger and longer-burning wildfires are sending smoke farther from their source, often to places that are unaccustomed to the exposure. That’s been the case this week, as smoke continues to drift south from massive wildfires in Canada, prompting warnings of hazardous air quality, and poor visibility in states across New England, the mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest.

    As wildfire season is just getting going, many may be wondering: Are the air-polluting effects of wildfires a new normal?

    MIT News spoke with Professor Colette Heald of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Professor Noelle Selin of the Institute for Data, Systems and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Heald specializes in atmospheric chemistry and has studied the climate and health effects associated with recent wildfires, while Selin works with atmospheric models to track air pollutants around the world, which she uses to inform policy decisions on mitigating  pollution and climate change. The researchers shared some of their insights on the immediate impacts of Canada’s current wildfires and what downwind regions may expect in the coming months, as the wildfire season stretches into summer.  

    Q: What role has climate change and human activity played in the wildfires we’ve seen so far this year?

    Heald: Unusually warm and dry conditions have dramatically increased fire susceptibility in Canada this year. Human-induced climate change makes such dry and warm conditions more likely. Smoke from fires in Alberta and Nova Scotia in May, and Quebec in early June, has led to some of the worst air quality conditions measured locally in Canada. This same smoke has been transported into the United States and degraded air quality here as well. Local officials have determined that ignitions have been associated with lightning strikes, but human activity has also played a role igniting some of the fires in Alberta.

    Q: What can we expect for the coming months in terms of the pattern of wildfires and their associated air pollution across the United States?

    Heald: The Government of Canada is projecting higher-than-normal fire activity throughout the 2023 fire season. Fire susceptibility will continue to respond to changing weather conditions, and whether the U.S. is impacted will depend on the winds and how air is transported across those regions. So far, the fire season in the United States has been below average, but fire risk is expected to increase modestly through the summer, so we may see local smoke influences as well.

    Q: How has air pollution from wildfires affected human health in the U.S. this year so far?

    Selin: The pollutant of most concern in wildfire smoke is fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – fine particles in the atmosphere that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing health damages. Exposure to PM2.5 causes respiratory and cardiovascular damage, including heart attacks and premature deaths. It can also cause symptoms like coughing and difficulty breathing. In New England this week, people have been breathing much higher concentrations of PM2.5 than usual. People who are particularly vulnerable to the effects are likely experiencing more severe impacts, such as older people and people with underlying conditions. But PM2.5 affects everyone. While the number and impact of wildfires varies from year to year, the associated air pollution from them generally lead to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. overall annually. There is also some evidence that PM2.5 from fires could be particularly damaging to health.

    While we in New England usually have relatively lower levels of pollution, it’s important also to note that some cities around the globe experience very high PM2.5 on a regular basis, not only from wildfires, but other sources such as power plants and industry. So, while we’re feeling the effects over the past few days, we should remember the broader importance of reducing PM2.5 levels overall for human health everywhere.

    Q: While firefighters battle fires directly this wildfire season, what can we do to reduce the effects of associated air pollution? And what can we do in the long-term, to prevent or reduce wildfire impacts?

    Selin: In the short term, protecting yourself from the impacts of PM2.5 is important. Limiting time outdoors, avoiding outdoor exercise, and wearing a high-quality mask are some strategies that can minimize exposure. Air filters can help reduce the concentrations of particles in indoor air. Taking measures to avoid exposure is particularly important for vulnerable groups. It’s also important to note that these strategies aren’t equally possible for everyone (for example, people who work outside) — stressing the importance of developing new strategies to address the underlying causes of increasing wildfires.

    Over the long term, mitigating climate change is important — because warm and dry conditions lead to wildfires, warming increases fire risk. Preventing the fires that are ignited by people or human activities can help.  Another way that damages can be mitigated in the longer term is by exploring land management strategies that could help manage fire intensity. More

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    3 Questions: Leo Anthony Celi on ChatGPT and medicine

    Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is a chatbot that can not only engage in human-like conversation, but also provide accurate answers to questions in a wide range of knowledge domains. The chatbot, created by the firm OpenAI, is based on a family of “large language models” — algorithms that can recognize, predict, and generate text based on patterns they identify in datasets containing hundreds of millions of words.

    In a study appearing in PLOS Digital Health this week, researchers report that ChatGPT performed at or near the passing threshold of the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) — a comprehensive, three-part exam that doctors must pass before practicing medicine in the United States. In an editorial accompanying the paper, Leo Anthony Celi, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, a practicing physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and his co-authors argue that ChatGPT’s success on this exam should be a wake-up call for the medical community.

    Q: What do you think the success of ChatGPT on the USMLE reveals about the nature of the medical education and evaluation of students? 

    A: The framing of medical knowledge as something that can be encapsulated into multiple choice questions creates a cognitive framing of false certainty. Medical knowledge is often taught as fixed model representations of health and disease. Treatment effects are presented as stable over time despite constantly changing practice patterns. Mechanistic models are passed on from teachers to students with little emphasis on how robustly those models were derived, the uncertainties that persist around them, and how they must be recalibrated to reflect advances worthy of incorporation into practice. 

    ChatGPT passed an examination that rewards memorizing the components of a system rather than analyzing how it works, how it fails, how it was created, how it is maintained. Its success demonstrates some of the shortcomings in how we train and evaluate medical students. Critical thinking requires appreciation that ground truths in medicine continually shift, and more importantly, an understanding how and why they shift.

    Q: What steps do you think the medical community should take to modify how students are taught and evaluated?  

    A: Learning is about leveraging the current body of knowledge, understanding its gaps, and seeking to fill those gaps. It requires being comfortable with and being able to probe the uncertainties. We fail as teachers by not teaching students how to understand the gaps in the current body of knowledge. We fail them when we preach certainty over curiosity, and hubris over humility.  

    Medical education also requires being aware of the biases in the way medical knowledge is created and validated. These biases are best addressed by optimizing the cognitive diversity within the community. More than ever, there is a need to inspire cross-disciplinary collaborative learning and problem-solving. Medical students need data science skills that will allow every clinician to contribute to, continually assess, and recalibrate medical knowledge.

    Q: Do you see any upside to ChatGPT’s success in this exam? Are there beneficial ways that ChatGPT and other forms of AI can contribute to the practice of medicine? 

    A: There is no question that large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT are very powerful tools in sifting through content beyond the capabilities of experts, or even groups of experts, and extracting knowledge. However, we will need to address the problem of data bias before we can leverage LLMs and other artificial intelligence technologies. The body of knowledge that LLMs train on, both medical and beyond, is dominated by content and research from well-funded institutions in high-income countries. It is not representative of most of the world.

    We have also learned that even mechanistic models of health and disease may be biased. These inputs are fed to encoders and transformers that are oblivious to these biases. Ground truths in medicine are continuously shifting, and currently, there is no way to determine when ground truths have drifted. LLMs do not evaluate the quality and the bias of the content they are being trained on. Neither do they provide the level of uncertainty around their output. But the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. There is tremendous opportunity to improve the way health care providers currently make clinical decisions, which we know are tainted with unconscious bias. I have no doubt AI will deliver its promise once we have optimized the data input. More

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    Q&A: A fresh look at data science

    As the leaders of a developing field, data scientists must often deal with a frustratingly slippery question: What is data science, precisely, and what is it good for?

    Alfred Spector is a visiting scholar in the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), an influential developer of distributed computing systems and applications, and a successful tech executive with companies including IBM and Google. Along with three co-authors — Peter Norvig at Stanford University and Google, Chris Wiggins at Columbia University and The New York Times, and Jeannette M. Wing at Columbia — Spector recently published “Data Science in Context: Foundations, Challenges, Opportunities” (Cambridge University Press), which provides a broad, conversational overview of the wide-ranging field driving change in sectors ranging from health care to transportation to commerce to entertainment. 

    Here, Spector talks about data-driven life, what makes a good data scientist, and how his book came together during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Q: One of the most common buzzwords Americans hear is “data-driven,” but many might not know what that term is supposed to mean. Can you unpack it for us?

    A: Data-driven broadly refers to techniques or algorithms powered by data — they either provide insight or reach conclusions, say, a recommendation or a prediction. The algorithms power models which are increasingly woven into the fabric of science, commerce, and life, and they often provide excellent results. The list of their successes is really too long to even begin to list. However, one concern is that the proliferation of data makes it easy for us as students, scientists, or just members of the public to jump to erroneous conclusions. As just one example, our own confirmation biases make us prone to believing some data elements or insights “prove” something we already believe to be true. Additionally, we often tend to see causal relationships where the data only shows correlation. It might seem paradoxical, but data science makes critical reading and analysis of data all the more important.

    Q: What, to your mind, makes a good data scientist?

    A: [In talking to students and colleagues] I optimistically emphasize the power of data science and the importance of gaining the computational, statistical, and machine learning skills to apply it. But, I also remind students that we are obligated to solve problems well. In our book, Chris [Wiggins] paraphrases danah boyd, who says that a successful application of data science is not one that merely meets some technical goal, but one that actually improves lives. More specifically, I exhort practitioners to provide a real solution to problems, or else clearly identify what we are not solving so that people see the limitations of our work. We should be extremely clear so that we do not generate harmful results or lead others to erroneous conclusions. I also remind people that all of us, including scientists and engineers, are human and subject to the same human foibles as everyone else, such as various biases. 

    Q: You discuss Covid-19 in your book. While some short-range models for mortality were very accurate during the heart of the pandemic, you note the failure of long-range models to predict any of 2020’s four major geotemporal Covid waves in the United States. Do you feel Covid was a uniquely hard situation to model? 

    A: Covid was particularly difficult to predict over the long term because of many factors — the virus was changing, human behavior was changing, political entities changed their minds. Also, we didn’t have fine-grained mobility data (perhaps, for good reasons), and we lacked sufficient scientific understanding of the virus, particularly in the first year.

    I think there are many other domains which are similarly difficult. Our book teases out many reasons why data-driven models may not be applicable. Perhaps it’s too difficult to get or hold the necessary data. Perhaps the past doesn’t predict the future. If data models are being used in life-and-death situations, we may not be able to make them sufficiently dependable; this is particularly true as we’ve seen all the motivations that bad actors have to find vulnerabilities. So, as we continue to apply data science, we need to think through all the requirements we have, and the capability of the field to meet them. They often align, but not always. And, as data science seeks to solve problems into ever more important areas such as human health, education, transportation safety, etc., there will be many challenges.

    Q: Let’s talk about the power of good visualization. You mention the popular, early 2000’s Baby Name Voyager website as one that changed your view on the importance of data visualization. Tell us how that happened. 

    A: That website, recently reborn as the Name Grapher, had two characteristics that I thought were brilliant. First, it had a really natural interface, where you type the initial characters of a name and it shows a frequency graph of all the names beginning with those letters, and their popularity over time. Second, it’s so much better than a spreadsheet with 140 columns representing years and rows representing names, despite the fact it contains no extra information. It also provided instantaneous feedback with its display graph dynamically changing as you type. To me, this showed the power of a very simple transformation that is done correctly.

    Q: When you and your co-authors began planning “Data Science In Context,” what did you hope to offer?

    A: We portray present data science as a field that’s already had enormous benefits, that provides even more future opportunities, but one that requires equally enormous care in its use. Referencing the word “context” in the title, we explain that the proper use of data science must consider the specifics of the application, the laws and norms of the society in which the application is used, and even the time period of its deployment. And, importantly for an MIT audience, the practice of data science must go beyond just the data and the model to the careful consideration of an application’s objectives, its security, privacy, abuse, and resilience risks, and even the understandability it conveys to humans. Within this expansive notion of context, we finally explain that data scientists must also carefully consider ethical trade-offs and societal implications.

    Q: How did you keep focus throughout the process?

    A: Much like in open-source projects, I played both the coordinating author role and also the role of overall librarian of all the material, but we all made significant contributions. Chris Wiggins is very knowledgeable on the Belmont principles and applied ethics; he was the major contributor of those sections. Peter Norvig, as the coauthor of a bestselling AI textbook, was particularly involved in the sections on building models and causality. Jeannette Wing worked with me very closely on our seven-element Analysis Rubric and recognized that a checklist for data science practitioners would end up being one of our book’s most important contributions. 

    From a nuts-and-bolts perspective, we wrote the book during Covid, using one large shared Google doc with weekly video conferences. Amazingly enough, Chris, Jeannette, and I didn’t meet in person at all, and Peter and I met only once — sitting outdoors on a wooden bench on the Stanford campus.

    Q: That is an unusual way to write a book! Do you recommend it?

    A: It would be nice to have had more social interaction, but a shared document, at least with a coordinating author, worked pretty well for something up to this size. The benefit is that we always had a single, coherent textual base, not dissimilar to how a programming team works together.

    This is a condensed, edited version of a longer interview that originally appeared on the MIT EECS website. More

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    3 Questions: Why cybersecurity is on the agenda for corporate boards of directors

    Organizations of every size and in every industry are vulnerable to cybersecurity risks — a dynamic landscape of threats and vulnerabilities and a corresponding overload of possible mitigating controls. MIT Senior Lecturer Keri Pearlson, who is also the executive director of the research consortium Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS) and an instructor for the new MIT Sloan Executive Education course Cybersecurity Governance for the Board of Directors, knows how business can get ahead of this risk. Here, she describes the current threat and explores how boards can mitigate their risk against cybercrime.

    Q: What does the current state of cyberattacks mean for businesses in 2023?

    A: Last year we were discussing how the pandemic heightened fear, uncertainty, doubt and chaos, opening new doors for malicious actors to do their cyber mischief in our organizations and our families. We saw an increase in ransomware and other cyber attacks, and we saw an increase in concern from operating executives and board of directors wondering how to keep the organization secure. Since then, we have seen a continued escalation of cyber incidents, many of which no longer make the headlines unless they are wildly unique, damaging, or different than previous incidents. For every new technology that cybersecurity professionals invent, it’s only a matter of time until malicious actors find a way around it. New leadership approaches are needed for 2023 as we move into the next phase of securing our organizations.

    In great part, this means ensuring deep cybersecurity competencies on our boards of directors. Cyber risk is so significant that a responsible board can no longer ignore it or just delegate it to risk management experts. In fact, an organization’s board of directors holds a uniquely vital role in safeguarding data and systems for the future because of their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and their responsibility to oversee and mitigate business risk.

    As these cyber threats increase, and as companies bolster their cybersecurity budgets accordingly, the regulatory community is also advancing new requirements of companies. In March of this year, the SEC issued a proposed rule titled Cybersecurity Risk Management, Strategy, Governance, and Incident Disclosure. In it, the SEC describes its intention to require public companies to disclose whether their boards have members with cybersecurity expertise. Specifically, registrants will be required to disclose whether the entire board, a specific board member, or a board committee is responsible for the oversight of cyber risks; the processes by which the board is informed about cyber risks, and the frequency of its discussions on this topic; and whether and how the board or specified board committee considers cyber risks as part of its business strategy, risk management, and financial oversight.

    Q: How can boards help their organizations mitigate cyber risk?

    A: According to the studies I’ve conducted with my CAMS colleagues, most organizations focus on cyber protection rather than cyber resilience, and we believe that is a mistake. A company that invests only in protection is not managing the risk associated with getting up and running again in the event of a cyber incident, and they are not going to be able to respond appropriately to new regulations, either. Resiliency means having a practical plan for recovery and business continuation.

    Certainly, protection is part of the resilience equation, but if the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us that resilience is the ability to weather an attack and recover quickly with minimal impact to our operations. The ultimate goal of a cyber-resilient organization would be zero disruption from a cyber breach — no impact on operations, finances, technologies, supply chain or reputation. Board members should ask, What would it take for this to be the case? And they should ensure that executives and managers have made proper and appropriate preparations to respond and recover.

    Being a knowledgeable board member does not mean becoming a cybersecurity expert, but it does mean understanding basic concepts, risks, frameworks, and approaches. And it means having the ability to assess whether management appropriately comprehends related threats, has an appropriate cyber strategy, and can measure its effectiveness. Board members today require focused training on these critical areas to carry out their mission. Unfortunately, many enterprises fail to leverage their boards of directors in this capacity or prepare board members to actively contribute to strategy, protocols, and emergency action plans.

    Alongside my CAMS colleagues Stuart Madnick and Kevin Powers, I’m teaching a new  MIT Sloan Executive Education course, Cybersecurity Governance for the Board of Directors, designed to help organizations and their boards get up to speed. Participants will explore the board’s role in cybersecurity, as well as breach planning, response, and mitigation. And we will discuss the impact and requirements of the many new regulations coming forward, not just from the SEC, but also White House, Congress, and most states and countries around the world, which are imposing more high-level responsibilities on companies.

    Q: What are some examples of how companies, and specifically boards of directors, have successfully upped their cybersecurity game?

    A: To ensure boardroom skills reflect the patterns of the marketplace, companies such as FedEx, Hasbro, PNC, and UPS have transformed their approach to governing cyber risk, starting with board cyber expertise. In companies like these, building resiliency started with a clear plan — from the boardroom — built on business and economic analysis.

    In one company we looked at, the CEO realized his board was not well versed in the business context or financial exposure risk from a cyber attack, so he hired a third-party consulting firm to conduct a cybersecurity maturity assessment. The company CISO presented the results of the report to the enterprise risk management subcommittee, creating a productive dialogue around the business and financial impact of different investments in cybersecurity.  

    Another organization focused their board on the alignment of their cybersecurity program and operational risk. The CISO, chief risk officer, and board collaborated to understand the exposure of the organization from a risk perspective, resulting in optimizing their cyber insurance policy to mitigate the newly understood risk.

    One important takeaway from these examples is the importance of using the language of risk, resiliency, and reputation to bridge the gaps between technical cybersecurity needs and the oversight responsibilities executed by boards. Boards need to understand the financial exposure resulting from cyber risk, not just the technical components typically found in cyber presentations.

    Cyber risk is not going away. It’s escalating and becoming more sophisticated every day. Getting your board “on board” is key to meeting new guidelines, providing sufficient oversight to cybersecurity plans, and making organizations more resilient. More

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    Q&A: Global challenges surrounding the deployment of AI

    The AI Policy Forum (AIPF) is an initiative of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing to move the global conversation about the impact of artificial intelligence from principles to practical policy implementation. Formed in late 2020, AIPF brings together leaders in government, business, and academia to develop approaches to address the societal challenges posed by the rapid advances and increasing applicability of AI.

    The co-chairs of the AI Policy Forum are Aleksander Madry, the Cadence Design Systems Professor; Asu Ozdaglar, deputy dean of academics for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing and head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and Luis Videgaray, senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and director of MIT AI Policy for the World Project. Here, they discuss talk some of the key issues facing the AI policy landscape today and the challenges surrounding the deployment of AI. The three are co-organizers of the upcoming AI Policy Forum Summit on Sept. 28, which will further explore the issues discussed here.

    Q: Can you talk about the ­ongoing work of the AI Policy Forum and the AI policy landscape generally?

    Ozdaglar: There is no shortage of discussion about AI at different venues, but conversations are often high-level, focused on questions of ethics and principles, or on policy problems alone. The approach the AIPF takes to its work is to target specific questions with actionable policy solutions and engage with the stakeholders working directly in these areas. We work “behind the scenes” with smaller focus groups to tackle these challenges and aim to bring visibility to some potential solutions alongside the players working directly on them through larger gatherings.

    Q: AI impacts many sectors, which makes us naturally worry about its trustworthiness. Are there any emerging best practices for development and deployment of trustworthy AI?

    Madry: The most important thing to understand regarding deploying trustworthy AI is that AI technology isn’t some natural, preordained phenomenon. It is something built by people. People who are making certain design decisions.

    We thus need to advance research that can guide these decisions as well as provide more desirable solutions. But we also need to be deliberate and think carefully about the incentives that drive these decisions. 

    Now, these incentives stem largely from the business considerations, but not exclusively so. That is, we should also recognize that proper laws and regulations, as well as establishing thoughtful industry standards have a big role to play here too.

    Indeed, governments can put in place rules that prioritize the value of deploying AI while being keenly aware of the corresponding downsides, pitfalls, and impossibilities. The design of such rules will be an ongoing and evolving process as the technology continues to improve and change, and we need to adapt to socio-political realities as well.

    Q: Perhaps one of the most rapidly evolving domains in AI deployment is in the financial sector. From a policy perspective, how should governments, regulators, and lawmakers make AI work best for consumers in finance?

    Videgaray: The financial sector is seeing a number of trends that present policy challenges at the intersection of AI systems. For one, there is the issue of explainability. By law (in the U.S. and in many other countries), lenders need to provide explanations to customers when they take actions deleterious in whatever way, like denial of a loan, to a customer’s interest. However, as financial services increasingly rely on automated systems and machine learning models, the capacity of banks to unpack the “black box” of machine learning to provide that level of mandated explanation becomes tenuous. So how should the finance industry and its regulators adapt to this advance in technology? Perhaps we need new standards and expectations, as well as tools to meet these legal requirements.

    Meanwhile, economies of scale and data network effects are leading to a proliferation of AI outsourcing, and more broadly, AI-as-a-service is becoming increasingly common in the finance industry. In particular, we are seeing fintech companies provide the tools for underwriting to other financial institutions — be it large banks or small, local credit unions. What does this segmentation of the supply chain mean for the industry? Who is accountable for the potential problems in AI systems deployed through several layers of outsourcing? How can regulators adapt to guarantee their mandates of financial stability, fairness, and other societal standards?

    Q: Social media is one of the most controversial sectors of the economy, resulting in many societal shifts and disruptions around the world. What policies or reforms might be needed to best ensure social media is a force for public good and not public harm?

    Ozdaglar: The role of social media in society is of growing concern to many, but the nature of these concerns can vary quite a bit — with some seeing social media as not doing enough to prevent, for example, misinformation and extremism, and others seeing it as unduly silencing certain viewpoints. This lack of unified view on what the problem is impacts the capacity to enact any change. All of that is additionally coupled with the complexities of the legal framework in the U.S. spanning the First Amendment, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and trade laws.

    However, these difficulties in regulating social media do not mean that there is nothing to be done. Indeed, regulators have begun to tighten their control over social media companies, both in the United States and abroad, be it through antitrust procedures or other means. In particular, Ofcom in the U.K. and the European Union is already introducing new layers of oversight to platforms. Additionally, some have proposed taxes on online advertising to address the negative externalities caused by current social media business model. So, the policy tools are there, if the political will and proper guidance exists to implement them. More

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    3 Questions: Marking the 10th anniversary of the Higgs boson discovery

    This July 4 marks 10 years since the discovery of the Higgs boson, the long-sought particle that imparts mass to all elementary particles. The elusive particle was the last missing piece in the Standard Model of particle physics, which is our most complete model of the universe.

    In early summer of 2012, signs of the Higgs particle were detected in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, which is operated by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LHC is engineered to smash together billions upon billions of protons for the chance at producing the Higgs boson and other particles that are predicted to have been created in the early universe.

    In analyzing the products of countless proton-on-proton collisions, scientists registered a Higgs-like signal in the accelerator’s two independent detectors, ATLAS and CMS (the Compact Muon Solenoid). Specifically, the teams observed signs that a new particle had been created and then decayed to two photons, two Z bosons or two W bosons, and that this new particle was likely the Higgs boson.

    The discovery was revealed within the CMS collaboration, including over 3,000 scientists, on June 15, and ATLAS and CMS announced their respective observations to the world on July 4. More than 50 MIT physicists and students contributed to the CMS experiment, including Christoph Paus, professor of physics, who was one of the experiment’s two lead investigators to organize the search for the Higgs boson.

    As the LHC prepares to start back up on July 5 with “Run 3,” MIT News spoke with Paus about what physicists have learned about the Higgs particle in the last 10 years, and what they hope to discover with this next deluge of particle data.

    Q: Looking back, what do you remember as the key moments leading up to the Higgs boson’s discovery?

    A: I remember that by the end of 2011, we had taken a significant amount of data, and there were some first hints that there could be something, but nothing that was conclusive enough. It was clear to everybody that we were entering the critical phase of a potential discovery. We still wanted to improve our searches, and so we decided, which I felt was one of the most important decisions we took, that we had to remove the bias — that is, remove our knowledge about where the signal could appear. Because it’s dangerous as a scientist to say, “I know the solution,” which can influence the result unconsciously. So, we made that decision together in the coordination group and said, we are going to get rid of this bias by doing what people refer to as a “blind” analysis. This allowed the analyzers to focus on the technical aspects, making sure everything was correct without having to worry about being influenced by what they saw.

    Then, of course, there had to be the moment where we unblind the data and really look to see, is the Higgs there or not. And about two weeks before the scheduled presentations on July 4 where we eventually announced the discovery, there was a meeting on June 15 to show the analysis with its results to the collaboration. The most significant analysis turned out to be the two-photon analysis. One of my students, Joshua Bendavid PhD ’13, was leading that analysis, and the night before the meeting, only he and another person on the team were allowed to unblind the data. They were working until 2 in the morning, when they finally pushed a button to see what it looks like. And they were the first in CMS to have that moment of seeing that [the Higgs boson] was there. Another student of mine who was working on this analysis, Mingming Yang PhD ’15, presented the results of that search to the Collaboration at CERN that following afternoon. It was a very exciting moment for all of us. The room was hot and filled with electricity.

    The scientific process of the discovery was very well-designed and executed, and I think it can serve as a blueprint for how people should do such searches.

    Q: What more have scientists learned of the Higgs boson since the particle’s detection?

    A: At the time of the discovery, something interesting happened I did not really expect. While we were always talking about the Higgs boson before, we became very careful once we saw that “narrow peak.” How could we be sure that it was the Higgs boson and not something else? It certainly looked like the Higgs boson, but our vision was quite blurry. It could have turned out in the following years that it was not the Higgs boson. But as we now know, with so much more data, everything is completely consistent with what the Higgs boson is predicted to look like, so we became comfortable with calling the narrow resonance not just a Higgs-like particle but rather simply the Higgs boson. And there were a few milestones that made sure this is really the Higgs as we know it.

    The initial discovery was based on Higgs bosons decaying to two photons, two Z bosons or two W bosons. That was only a small fraction of decays that the Higgs could undergo. There are many more. The amount of decays of the Higgs boson into a particular set of particles depends critically on their masses. This characteristic feature is essential to confirm that we are really dealing with the Higgs boson.

    What we found since then is that the Higgs boson does not only decay to bosons, but also to fermions, which is not obvious because bosons are force carrier particles while fermions are matter particles. The first new decay was the decay to tau leptons, the heavier sibling of the electron. The next step was the observation of the Higgs boson decaying to b quarks, the heaviest quark that the Higgs can decay to. The b quark is the heaviest sibling of the down quark, which is a building block of protons and neutrons and thus all atomic nuclei around us. These two fermions are part of the heaviest generation of fermions in the standard model. Only recently the Higgs boson was observed to decay to muons, the charge lepton of the second and thus lighter generation, at the expected rate. Also, the direct coupling to the heaviest  top quark was established, which spans together with the muons four orders of magnitudes in terms of their masses, and the Higgs coupling behaves as expected over this wide range.

    Q: As the Large Hadron Collider gears up for its new “Run 3,” what do you hope to discover next?

    One very interesting question that Run 3 might give us some first hints on is the self-coupling of the Higgs boson. As the Higgs couples to any massive particle, it can also couple to itself. It is unlikely that there is enough data to make a discovery, but first hints of this coupling would be very exciting to see, and this constitutes a fundamentally different test than what has been done so far.

    Another interesting aspect that more data will help to elucidate is the question of whether the Higgs boson might be a portal and decay to invisible particles that could be candidates for explaining the mystery of dark matter in the universe. This is not predicted in our standard model and thus would unveil the Higgs boson as an imposter.

    Of course, we want to double down on all the measurements we have made so far and see whether they continue to line up with our expectations.

    This is true also for the upcoming major upgrade of the LHC (runs starting in 2029) for what we refer to as the High Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC). Another factor of 10 more events will be accumulated during this program, which for the Higgs boson means we will be able to observe its self-coupling. For the far future, there are plans for a Future Circular Collider, which could ultimately measure the total decay width of the Higgs boson independent of its decay mode, which would be another important and very precise test whether the Higgs boson is an imposter.

    As any other good physicist, I hope though that we can find a crack in the armor of the Standard Model, which is so far holding up all too well. There are a number of very important observations, for example the nature of dark matter, that cannot be explained using the Standard Model. All of our future studies, from Run 3 starting on July 5 to the very in the future FCC, will give us access to entirely uncharted territory. New phenomena can pop up, and I like to be optimistic. More