USC’s Biggest Computing and AI Wins – USC Viterbi

USC has been a driving force in computer research since the late 1960s.

With the advent of USC’s Institute of Information Science (ISI) in 1972 and the Department of Computer Science in 1976 (spawned from Ming Hsieh’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), USC played a propelling role in everything from the Internet to the Oculus Rift to recent Nobel Prizes.

Here are seven of those victories reimagined as cinemagraphs – photographs brought to life by subtle but remarkable movement.

Cinemagraph: Birth of .Com

1. The birth of .com (1983)

While working at ISI, Paul Mockapetris and Jon Postel pioneered the domain name system, which introduced the Internet naming standards .com, .edu, .gov and .org.

As Wired noted on the 25th anniversary, “Without the Domain Name System, it is unlikely the Internet could have grown and prospered as it has.”

The DNS works like a telephone book for the Internet, automatically translating text names that are easy for humans to understand and remember into the numeric addresses that computers need. For example, imagine trying to remember an IP address such as “” instead of just “”.

In a 2009 interview with NPR, Mockapetris said he believed “the first domain name he ever created was ‘’ for his employer, the Institute for Information Science (USC ). This domain name is still in use today.

Len Adleman and the DNA calculation

Grace Park, BS and MS ’22 in Chemical Engineering, recreates Len Adleman’s famous experiment.

2. The Invention of DNA Computing (1994)

“In a drop of water, a calculation took place.”

In 1994, Professor Leonard Adleman, who coined the term “computer virus”, invented DNA computing, which involves performing calculations using biological molecules rather than traditional silicon chips.

Adleman – who received the 2002 Turing Prize, often called the Nobel Prize in Computing – saw that a computer could be something more than a laptop or a machine that used electrical impulses. After visiting a USC biology lab in 1993, he recognized that the 0s and 1s of conventional computers could be replaced by the four DNA bases: A, C, G, and T. As he later wrote later, a “liquid computer” may exist in which interacting molecules perform calculations.

As the New York Times noted in 1997: “Currently, the world’s most powerful supercomputer spans nearly 150 square meters in the US government’s Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. But a DNA computer has the potential to perform the same calculations at breakneck speed in a single drop of water.

“We have shown by these calculations that biological molecules can be used for distinctly non-biological purposes,” Adleman said in 2002. “They are miraculous little machines. They store energy and information, they cut, paste and copy.

Maja Mataric

Professor Maja Matarić with Blossom, a cuddly robot companion to help people with anxiety and depression practice breathing and mindfulness exercises.

3. USC Interaction Lab Pioneers in Social Work Robotics (2005)

Named #5 by Business Insider as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women Engineers in Tech, Maja Matarić directs the USC Interaction Lab, a pioneer in the field of social service robotics (SAR).

As Matarić and his then graduate researcher David Feil-Seifer defined it 17 years ago, assistive robotics was “envisioned as the intersection of assistive robotics and social robotics”, a new field which “focuses on providing social support to help people overcome challenges”. in the fields of health, well-being, education and training.

Social work robots have been developed for a wide range of user communities, including infants with movement delays, autistic children, stroke patients, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and the otherwise healthy elderly.

“We want these robots to make the user happier, more capable and better able to help themselves,” said Matarić, Chan Soon-Shiong Chair and Emeritus Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience and pediatrics at USC. “We also want them to help teachers and therapists, not take away their focus.”

The field has inspired investments from federal funding agencies and tech startups. The assistive robotics market is expected to reach $25.16 billion by 2028.

Daniel Lidar

Is the ball red or blue? Is the cat alive or dead? Professor Daniel Lidar, one of the biggest quantum influencers in the world, demonstrates the idea of ​​superposition.

4. First operational quantum computing system in academia (2011)

Before Google or NASA got into the game, there was the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center (QCC).

Led by Daniel Lidar, Viterbi Chair in Engineering, and Robert F. Lucas (now retired) from ISI, the center was launched in 2011. With the world’s first commercial adiabatic quantum processor, the D- Wave One, USC is the only university in the world to host and operate a commercial quantum computing system.

As USC News noted in 2018, quantum computing is “the ultimate disruptive technology…it has the potential to create the best possible investment portfolio, solve urban traffic jams, and bring drugs to market faster.” It can optimize batteries for electric cars, weather forecasts and climate change models.… Quantum computing can do this, and much more, because it can process massive data and variables and do it quickly with a advantage over conventional computers as problems get worse. ”

Recently, QCC upgraded to D-Wave’s Advantage system, with over 5,000 qubits, an order of magnitude larger than any other quantum computer. The upgrades will allow QCC to host a new Advantage generation of D-Wave quantum annealers and will be the first Leap quantum cloud system in the United States. Today, in addition to Professor Lidar – one of the world’s biggest quantum computing influencers – the QCC is led by Research Assistant Professor Federico Spedalieri, as Chief Operating Officer, and Research Associate Professor Stephen Crago, Associate Director of ISI.

David Traum

David Traum, an executive at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), talks with Pinchas Gutter, a Holocaust survivor, about New Dimensions of Testimony.

5. USC ICT allows us to speak with the past…into the future (2015)

New Dimensions in Testimony, a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), in partnership with Conscience Display, is an initiative to record and display testimonies in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners. far in the future.

The project uses ICT’s Light Stage technology to record interviews using multiple high-end cameras for high-fidelity playback. ICT Dialogue Group’s natural language technology enables fluent and open conversation with recordings. The result is a compelling and moving interactive experience that allows viewers to ask questions and hear the answers in realistic real-time conversation, even after the survivors have died.

New Dimensions in Testimony debuted at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in 2015. Since then, more than 50 survivors and other witnesses have been recorded and featured in dozens of museums across the United States and around the world. It remains a powerful application of AI and graphics to preserve the stories and lived experiences of culturally and historically significant figures.

Bistra Dilkina and Eric Rice

Eric Rice and Bistra Dilkina are co-directors of the Center for AI in Society (CAIS), a remarkable collaboration between USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

6. Among the first “AI for Good” centers in higher education (2016)

Launched in 2016, the Center for AI in Society (CAIS) has become one of the pioneering “AI for Good” centers in the United States, bringing together USC Viterbi and the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

In the past, CAIS used AI to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among homeless youth. In fact, a pilot study demonstrated a 40% increase in the number of homeless youth seeking HIV/AIDS testing through an AI-assisted intervention. In 2019, the technology was also used in the world’s largest deployment of predictive AI to thwart poachers and protect endangered animals.

Today, CAIS merges AI, social work, and engineering in unique ways, such as working with the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority to address homelessness; fighting opioid addiction; mitigate disasters such as heat waves, earthquakes and floods; and help with the mental health of veterans.

CAIS is led by co-directors Eric Rice, professor of social work at USC Dworak-Peck, and Bistra Dilkina, associate professor of computer science at USC Viterbi and holder of the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Early Career Chair.

Craig Knoblock, Mayank Kejriwal, Pedro Szekely

Pedro Szekely, Mayank Kejriwal and Craig Knoblock of the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) are at the forefront of using computers to combat human trafficking.

seven. The AI ​​That Fights Modern Slavery (2017)

Beginning in 2017, a team of ISI researchers led by Pedro Szekely, Mayank Kejriwal, and Craig Knoblock created software called DIG that helps investigators scour the Internet to identify possible sex traffickers and begin the capture process, of indictment and conviction.

Law enforcement agencies across the country, including in New York City, have used DIG along with other software created by Memex, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded program to develop search tools on the Internet to help investigators thwart sex trafficking. , among other illegal activities. The specialized software has sparked more than 300 investigations and helped secure 18 sex trafficking convictions, according to Wade Shen, program manager at DARPA’s Office of Information Innovation and Memex program manager. It also freed several victims.

In 2015, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced that DIG was used in all human trafficking cases brought by the district attorney’s office. “With technology like Memex,” he said, “we are better able to serve victims of trafficking and build strong cases against their traffickers.”

“It’s the most rewarding project I’ve ever worked on,” Szekely said. “It really made a difference.”

Posted on July 28, 2022

Last updated July 28, 2022

Sherry J. Basler