Looking back on 2019 for MS&E has to include some looking forward. That’s because a significant part of the past two years involved a department-wide effort to establish a vision for the future—a 10-year plan named “MS&E 2030.”
We were so inspired by the process that we made MS&E 2030 the theme of the 2019 MS&E reunion lecture series. At that event, Department Chair Nicholas Bambos introduced the vision statement to alumni: People and Algorithms.
Prof. Bambos talked about MS&E becoming a place of co-designed engineering platforms and social systems “where it won’t be clear where engineering stops and humans and social aspects begin.” He described deeply networked spaces where humans and robots could move together harmoniously.
What does this future look like? We see the seeds of it in the work of our talented faculty and students from this past year.
Professor Basse discussed his research into causal inference and experimental design. He talked about historical design flaws in major research studies (such as the now infamous aborted HRT study in post-menopausal women) and the key learnings from those mistakes that will lead to more optimal research for critical societal problems. His current work looks at the effects of various police interventions on crime rates in Medellin, Columbia.
Market design practices were the subject of Professor Lo’s presentation, and covered her work for school choice systems in New York City and Boston, and other research directed at minimizing wasted time and resources in Indonesian farming communities.
Professor Sharad Goel shared his group’s investigation of the claim that millions of fraudulent double-votes were cast in the 2016 election. His team used well-designed algorithms to determine that double voting is extremely rare. Goel is the director of the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, which just received a $2.3 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to use machine learning to design better risk assessment strategies to reduce the number of people in jail awaiting trials.
Computer-aided decisions by healthcare professionals could lead to better health outcomes for all of us in the future.
One example from this year is Professor Ross Shachter’s work (with Daniel L. Rubin, Jiaming Zeng, Francisco Gimenez and Elizabeth S. Burnside) to use artificial intelligence to help doctors identify breast cancer more accurately during mammograms.
Professor Margaret Brandeau's work designing and deploying mathematical models to combat the opioid epidemic made national news this past year. She was recently profiled as one of ten “powerful, pragmatic pioneers” in an INFORMS article about women who “blazed trails, broke barriers and busted down doors for others to follow.”
As for security, AI could play a role in safeguarding our troves of sensitive data. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Faber (MS&E PhD ’19 who was a student of Professor Elisabeth Paté-Cornell) proposes the model discussed by Professor Bambos at reunion—of humans and machines working together seamlessly—as a means of protecting us from data security breaches.
Since MS&E’s vision for the future suggests that engineering systems and social systems will be co-designed and fully-integrated, research to better understand social networks will be of critical importance.
Also this year, Professor Ramesh Johari and Nikhil Garg (Stanford EE PhD Candidate) sought to investigate online ratings inflation and why a five star review often doesn’t mean what it should.
As we look to a new year, we’re excited about seeing more examples of how algorithms will shape our daily lives. With two new faculty members and talented MS&E PhD students, we can’t wait to see their innovative work in 2020 and beyond.