Public Release: 

NSF selects Penn State to establish, lead Center for Trustworthy Machine Learning

Nearly $10 million grant focuses on managing and mitigating machine learning risks

Penn State

Patrick McDaniel, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and the William L. Weiss Chair in Information and Communications Technology, Penn State College of Engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Frontier grant to establish and lead the Center for Trustworthy Machine Learning.

Awarded through the NSF's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, the five-year, $9,979,647 grant will allow members of the multi-institution, multi-disciplinary Center to develop a rigorous understanding of the security risks of the use of machine learning and to devise the tools, metrics and methods to manage and mitigate security vulnerabilities.

"NSF's investments in SaTC are advancing knowledge to protect cyber systems from malicious behavior, while preserving privacy and promoting usability," said Jim Kurose, NSF's assistant director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. "Our goal is to identify fundamentally new ways to design, build and operate secure cyber systems at both the systems and application levels, protect critical infrastructure and motivate and educate individuals about security and privacy."

Machine learning is fundamentally changing the way everyone lives and works. From autonomous vehicles, digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Siri, to robotic manufacturing, computers are performing complex reasoning in ways considered science fiction just a decade ago.

While machine learning is very accurate when the machine is given expected inputs, it can be exposed to adversarial behavior, causing the systems built upon them to be fooled, evaded and misled in ways that can have profound security implications. As more critical systems employ machine learning, such as financial systems, self-driving cars and network monitoring tools, it is of vital importance to develop the rigorous scientific techniques needed to make machine learning more robust to attack.

"We seek to develop a new science of safe machine learning that will provide a basis for applying intelligent algorithms in new domains," explained McDaniel. "This science will ensure that these new technologies cannot be exploited in ways that will hurt the people who use them."

The Center, consisting of a broad cross-disciplinary group of researchers from many different fields in technology and math, includes Dan Boneh and Percy Liang, Stanford University; Kamalika Chaudhuri, University of California San Diego; David Evans, University of Virginia; Somesh Jha, University of Wisconsin; and Dawn Song, University of California Berkeley.

"The membership of this new Center consists of some of the most accomplished senior faculty as well as rising stars in security, machine learning and statistics," said McDaniel. "Interaction across these communities will lead to new thinking and ultimately enable the Center to achieve its long-term vision of safer machine learning."

The Frontier project also consists of several planned outreach and education efforts, including a joint summer school for underrepresented students, graduate students and researchers; a massive open online course (MOOC); an annual conference; webinars for She++, an organization dedicated to exposing high school girls to the magic of computer science; and outreach to policy makers.

"This project shows how Penn State has become one of the leading institutions in the world addressing cybersecurity and privacy," said McDaniel. "Our leadership also provides opportunities for faculty and students to have a major influence on how one of the most impactful technologies of our lifetime will be used. In so doing, Penn State is positioned to have substantial impacts on all of our digital futures."

"I am very proud to once again congratulate Patrick McDaniel on his leadership in building this new Center and securing the NSF funds for him and his outstanding team of collaborators to advance the security of our society," said Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. "Our mission at the Penn State College of Engineering is to impact the world though transformative research and education that enhances human life. The technologies of tomorrow are increasingly more dependent on secure information transfer between devices of all sorts; the research of Professor McDaniel and his collaborators is thus fundamental to the security of our future everyday lives."

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