Robot coworkers: How AI impacts the future of work

November 8, 2019

What happens when technology advancements threaten to automate people’s jobs?

That question is on the minds of many as research and development in artificial intelligence and machine learning rapidly advances. man working with a robot in a lab Pulkit Verma, a graduate student member of Siddharth Srivastava’s research team, helps with efforts to reprogram autonomous robots using artificial intelligence. The new robots will not only be more adaptable to the manufacturing industry as it evolves, but they will also be equipped with intelligent tutoring systems to train factory workers to operate the robots. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

A new project led by Siddharth Srivastava, an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University, aims to help alleviate this concern.

Srivastava and his multidisciplinary team are creating autonomous systems that are not only more adaptable and efficient in manufacturing environments, but also have built-in intelligent tutoring systems that will cooperate with factory workers and retrain them to use AI technology so they are not displaced from their jobs.

Funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation as one of its Convergence Accelerator awards, the project is highly focused on using AI to augment the workplace rather than replace workers.

“Suppose you have this new robot, it’s very efficient, but you need to hire five computer science graduates to operate and maintain it instead of five current factory workers,” Srivastava said. “That’s not feasible, first of all because we don’t have that many computer science graduates in society. Our idea is that instead of getting people to enroll in a new college program again, what we can do instead is design our AI systems, our robots, in a way that will help people to come on board.”

Srivastava is collaborating with ASU faculty members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society to bring the project to life.

“We have 10 team members, including experts in robot control, tutoring systems and human systems engineering — a field that involves thinking about how the robot and the human would interact and how you would build a situation where the human trusts the robot,” Srivastava said. “We also have experts in law to help solve the sociotechnical aspects of the problem.”

How artificial intelligence can preserve jobs

Traditionally, AI has mostly been developed with a mind to automate human-performed tasks — that is, to perform tasks in place of a human. For example, machines play chess better than humans do and are also faster at distinguishing patterns and performing calculations. One example of AI working to augment human-performed tasks rather than replace them can be found in intelligent tutoring systems.

The ASU team is focusing on this interaction, particularly in implementing the intelligent training systems for factory workers. This eliminates the concern about driving up the demand for highly educated workers to unsustainable levels and also empowers human workers to incorporate AI into their work.

According to Subbarao Kambhampati, a professor of computer science, this education-based relationship is the key to successful collaboration between AI and humans. In particular, the AI systems need to learn to model the mental states of the humans they collaborate with, and use those models to guide their interactions with the humans.

“We are now considering scenarios in which the AI system teaches humans on the job,” Kambhampati said. “If you are using one machine, and there is a big technological advancement, then the question is what is the best way to get people to come up to speed in using these new machines?”

This retraining process is essential to helping factory workers in the evolving manufacturing industry keep their jobs. It’s a necessary transition into a future when machines can augment human activities without replacing the people who have traditionally performed them.

In that scenario, workers would be able to assign robots a wider variety of tasks while the robots teach workers how to use the robots and why robots are making the decisions they do.

“(Robots) are more adaptable in that their behavior adapts to the changes in their environment, they adapt to the tasks that you give them and at the same time they can answer your questions,” Srivastava said. “A worker who doesn’t know the internals of the robot can ask it, ‘Why did you go along this path when I think you should have just gone straight?’ And the robot can answer, ‘If I go this way then my hand might collide with that table.’ So, in that process, the worker learns about the robot’s constraints and how to operate it.”

Moving toward a more robotic future

Could machines ever replace humans? Is it cheaper to have an all-robotic workforce?

The answer is complicated, said Katina Michael, a professor jointly appointed in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools.

“At face value, initially it seems that robots would do better than the operational expenditure of the human labor force,” she said, “but when you look at this quite clinically, you’re almost shifting costs from the human labor force to the robotic labor force. It’s quite debatable as to whether costs will be reduced.”

While robots can operate 24/7, people need breaks, time off, insurance coverage and compensation. However, robots must be updated and maintained, and they also need power to operate — human workers are still extremely necessary in the workplace.

Although the research project is focused on AI development, it is ultimately centered around training human workers and ensuring job security. The team wants to enhance communication between both humans and robots to obtain the best of both worlds in the manufacturing industry.

“Sadly, training diminishes with the increased cost of the capital investment,” Michael said. “Many corporations are trying to save money somewhere, but training is where we need to invest more money in order to have a successful integration of workers and autonomous systems so we can minimize safety risks. If we don’t have adequate training, we don’t have adequate responses to reducing the incidence of on-the-job disasters.”

An interdisciplinary interaction

In highly multidisciplinary projects involving diverse skill sets and expertise in multiple areas, there are many factors to consider when humans team up with robots.

“We’re interested primarily in how humans and robots work together,” Michael said. “With the humans doing their bit and the robots doing their bit, we want to see if there is any incongruousness or congruousness that can be observed. I’m also looking not only at the economic impact but also the societal impact, seeing if the workers who are interacting with these robots are receiving adequate training.”

Erin Chiou, an assistant professor of human systems engineering at The Polytechnic School, one of the six Fulton Schools, is studying the interactions of humans and machines for data to guide the design of systems that prioritize the collaboration of humans and robots.

“Ultimately, it’s getting that multidisciplinary conversation going between people who actually build the machines and people who think very critically about job design and human workers,” Chiou said. “It is relatively easy to optimize technology when you aren't thinking too deeply about how to involve people, because once you involve people, you introduce variation into the system. This makes the problem much more difficult. At the same time, this variation — or the ability for a system to adapt to different situations — is crucial for technology acceptance and for overall system performance.”

The ASU team also has experts looking at the legal, social and economic implications of implementing such technology in the workplace, all of which will be considered when designing the new systems.

“It’s not about changing the hardware, it’s about how to change the software,” Srivastava said. “We’re thinking about how it should act and what it should do. We are rethinking how a robot’s ‘mind’ should work in order to make it more amenable to providing on-the-job training and collaborating with humans.”

Karishma Albal

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Robot arms building in space

October 1, 2019

Joint ASU-NASA project seems straight out of science fiction

A rocket launches into space. It escapes the Earth’s atmosphere and falls away from the payload. The nose cone peels away. The main payload, a 15,000-pound satellite, deploys.

In the space between the satellite and the rocket, a big ring holds smaller payloads. They’re components for something larger — a solar array or a radio antenna perhaps. One by one they’re ejected off the ring into space. Sometime later, another rocket delivers a set of cubesats — spacecraft the size of a large shoebox.

These cubesats have small arms, about the length of a 6-year-old child’s. They orient themselves in space, spot the floating components and begin assembling them.

The arm is a creation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the arm’s task of locating and reaching out for components is being developed in a joint project between JPL and Arizona State University.

The cubesats have global positioning systems, star trackers (optical devices that determine position and attitude by measuring the positions of stars) and cameras to locate the components they will assemble.

The cameras will compute the position and three-dimensional orientation of the components floating nearby.

“Once the robot has that information, it knows how to move its arm to pick up the part at the right place,” said Renaud Detry, a robotics technologist with JPL’s computer vision group. “For us, it seems so natural and intuitive. When we see something, we just reach out for it. We don’t even realize the complexity of the problem our brain is solving. When you try to implement that behavior on a robot, it’s extremely complicated.”

“Effectively satellites in space would not just be passive observers any more,” said Heni Ben Amor, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. “They could engage in all sorts of tasks.”

Couldn’t astronauts assemble things in space? Something big — sure. A lot of little things? That’s a job for a robot. How about remote control by someone in a ground station? Ground control is expensive. And the time delay from Earth gets longer and longer the farther away from the planet you are.

“For a simple task like moving a part from A to B, (robots) are probably more reliable than humans are at this point,” Detry said.

Building this is anything but simple. The object of the project is to prove all of the artificial intelligence and robotics technology can fit into a tightly constrained, energy-efficient form.

“We saw this idea where we can do all of these crazy things of detecting an object, going and grasping it, and assembling it into another object on relatively low-compute hardware,” Ben Amor said. “You have problems that cover the whole complexity range in space. You have problems that are aligned with the complexity of assembling a car on Earth, where you have a robot that executes the same motion again and again. It doesn’t need a lot of intelligence. That requires us to have an extremely good knowledge of the place where the different parts are located.”

What Ben Amor, Detry and two students — Shubham Sonawani and Siva Kailas — are working on is, according to the project abstract, “a rendezvous and proximity operations software package that works within the avionics and power constraints of a CubeSat form factor (to) leverage state-of-the-art machine vision, motion planning and motor control.”

Normally you would need a desktop or larger computer to do the computation for a robot like this. That’s not possible in space. It also has to be radiation-hardened.

“Your computer at home is probably much more capable than many of the computers in space,” Ben Amor said. The team cracked that problem with a small and cheap off-the-shelf model used in engineering education.

“The idea is to use real-time computer vision on low-compute hardware to localize objects,” he said.

The arm was developed by four technologists at JPL: Rudranarayan Mukherjee, Ryan McCormick, Spencer Backus and Kris Wehage.

The team has been working on the project for almost a year. It will be presented in a November conference at JPL. The project is funded by JPL's Strategic University Research Partnership program.

Top photo: A mockup of a cubesat robotic arm developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reaching for previously launched components. The arm's controlling "brains" are being developed at ASU's School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, led by Assistant Professor Heni Ben Amor. The arm will be attached to the cubesats and will locate and assemble components in space. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Engineering more efficient health care management

September 11, 2019

ASU researchers working with Mayo Clinic hospitals devise effective needs-based patient prioritization

Even the most high-quality health care delivered by conscientious providers can fall short of optimal performance when hindered by inefficient patient access management.

The problem, says Arizona State University industrial engineer Esma Gel, is that many hospitals remain largely mired in “the traditional first-come, first-served routine” that can waste physicians’ time and effort and fail to most effectively serve patients.

What’s needed to remedy the faulty process is “data-driven, needs-based prioritization,” said Gel, an associate professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

In the past four years, Gel has worked on separate projects at Mayo Clinic hospitals in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Rochester, Minnesota, to test machine learning and operations optimization methods for developing an advanced intelligent decision-making system to guide such prioritizing efforts.

esma gel

Using advanced data analysis tools and operations optimization methods, Associate Professor Esma Gel and Mayo Clinic researchers are refining the system they’ve developed to improve patient access to health care services. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Gel says use of such advanced analytics tools to understand patient behavior and treatment needs will help ensure better decisions are made about giving patients what she calls “3R health care access” — making sure the right patient sees the right provider at the right time to receive the best treatment.

In her first project at Mayo Clinic Arizona’s neurosurgery department, Gel and two graduate students studied a large volume of data and found, for instance, that neurosurgeons were spending significant time with patients whose conditions did not require surgical intervention or even immediate care.

“It’s a big waste of valuable resources when patients are not routed to an entry point into the system that matches the level of their need for care,” Gel said.

Encouraged by results showing that improved routing of patients through the health care system can result in more timely access — especially for patients with critical surgical needs — Gel and industrial engineering doctoral student Derya Kilinc developed methods to extract highly accurate decision tree algorithms from data to predict the need for surgical intervention for patients with lower back pain.

“This algorithm can be used even by an appointment scheduling agent without medical training to make sure that patients with urgent care needs can be prioritized, resulting in better patient health outcomes,” Gel said.

Findings from their work with collaborators at Mayo Clinic Arizona’s Department of Neurosurgery motivated her to pursue a new research agenda to improve patient access management. After that first project, she began collaborating with faculty members Dr. Kalyan Pasupathy and Dr. Mustafa Sir in the Department of Health Sciences Research at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to construct a comprehensive plan to develop the data-driven patient access management system.

“Currently, the huge amounts of data collected on health care systems are not being used to improve the way that we provide patient access,” Gel said. “Our vision is to create a set of analytical tools and algorithms to learn patient preferences and behavior, accurately assess treatment needs and provide effective recommendations on how each patient should get timely access, given resource and provider constraints, to maximize patient health outcomes and minimize waste.”

Derya Kilinc

Derya Kilinc helped to develop the predictive algorithm and key protocols used to develop a novel patient access prioritization system. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Through a two-year collaboration, Gel, Pasupathy and Sir have achieved several milestones they set for the project. They have jointly filed an invention disclosure on the various components of their system they are developing as a step to explore the need for patent protection. They also produced two research manuscripts, with the help of Kilinc, who earned her doctoral degree this summer and has joined Pasupathy’s group at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as a postdoctoral researcher.

The team’s results are receiving positive reaction from Mayo Clinic leadership, which Gel says should help attract federal funding and commercial investment to continue research and development of new patient access management system models.

“Our goal is to develop a novel set of integrated technologies to transform the current practice in health care access," Gel said. “Our work over the past four years has yielded several proof-of-concept results, which we are currently working to expand on.”

Top photo by Pixabay

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Smart security for kids

Two ASU researchers talk about security approaches they take with their own kids

August 22, 2019

Just as it’s increasingly common to find a smart home assistant on a countertop or an internet-connected camera at the front door, smart toys are also becoming ubiquitous in the playroom. But along with all the entertaining and interactive features come the same security and privacy concerns as other smart devices. 

“Kids can’t make these decisions for themselves,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. “They don’t have a good sense of what personal information is and what it’s going to mean for them in the world that’s coming.”   Illustration by Changwha Kyung Download Full Image

With more and more interactive, connected toys coming to market, parents need to be especially vigilant about what kind of information these devices ask from children. For instance, many smart toys collect personal information in service of a customized experience.    

“How delightful does your child find it when a device knows the name of their teddy bear and their dog and their best friend? But it’s all very personal information that is not necessarily being protected by toy manufacturers,” Winterton said.  

In 2015, a security researcher discovered that millions of user profiles were easily accessible on the website of interactive toy company VTech. These accessed profiles, which contained photos, email address, names of parents and children and chat logs, weren’t encrypted. As a result, VTech was fined by the FTC. 

Winterton’s guideline for her kids? Lie. In a piece she wrote for New America, she outlines why obscuring your age, name and other information online is a good internet safety for kids. 

Formulating a “secret identity” for every device and internet account has become second nature for Winterton’s children. Before a new toy or device has even come out of the box, there’s a new name, birthday and personal details created for it.  

“We started out by talking about why personal information is important,” Winterton said. “What could someone do with it? Does it feel right to share? Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them your name and birthday? We talk a lot about physical safety with kids, and I think there are a lot of analogies with internet safety we can make to help them understand why it’s important.”

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Global Security Initiative Director Nadya Bliss and Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for GSI, take different approaches when it comes to their children and the internet of things. While their strategies differ, the goal is the same: keeping their kids safe in a connected world. Photo by Andy DeLisle/ASU

READ MORE: 7 tips everyone can use to protect their privacy and security.

Global Security Initiative Director Nadya Bliss is wary of the implications carried with smart, personalized toys. Toys that come equipped with microphones and speakers to talk to children are of particular concern. 

“This essentially tells me, something in your child’s bedroom is recording your child and sending information back to a server, doing some analysis and responding,” said Bliss, a computer scientist and a professor of practice in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. “That creates all kinds of weird questions. For example: Who is listening to your child? Who can tap into that info and learn about your child? Also, if your child says they’re being hurt, is there a legal responsibility to report abuse?” 

Bliss isn’t the only one troubled by the implications of smart toys. In 2017, the FBI released a consumer notice outlining privacy concerns surrounding toys with “sensors, microphones, cameras, data storage components, and other multimedia capabilities.”  

Bliss is also focused on ensuring her daughter feels empowered down the line. 

“I want her to have some control over her own digital footprint,” she said. “Right now, you can see the entire lives of some kids on the internet. By the time they get to the point where they can make their own decisions, they might not want that.” 

Pete Zrioka

Managing editor, Knowledge Enterprise


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ASU professors share their advice for your best school year yet

August 21, 2019

ASU faculty members are pretty smart — and we don't just mean being experts on carbon capture, space exploration or Shakespeare and race.

Here, they share their advice for students on making the most of the new school year. Students, feel free to take notes — this may or may not be on the final.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

• Need to find your professor? Search ASU's iSearch directory

Top image: Clinical Associate Professor Dawn Augusta of ASU's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

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Study reveals how phone phishing catches its prey

August 14, 2019

New ASU research identifies how scammers use social engineering to exploit victims' vulnerabilities

Consumers have increasingly become victims of telephone scams — including the recent proliferation of Social Security number suspension ploys — to gain access to their personal information. But what aspects of these calls makes us willing to hand over our private details?

Adam Doupé, an Arizona State University assistant professor of computer engineering, and his team conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of scam calls, determine what factors can influence their success and identify what areas research should be addressed to safeguard against them.

Findings of the study were presented at the USENIX Security Symposium this week in Santa Clara, California.

Voice “phishing” is a form of phone fraud that uses social engineering principles to trick recipients into sharing sensitive personal information. Scammers use visual cues, like an altered caller ID and alarming voice content, to persuade a target to comply.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The researchers examined the visual and voice attributes of these calls to determine what characteristics encourage information sharing in order to design solutions that can help protect consumers. The team evaluated 150 successful, real-world samples and created its own IRS and human resources phishing scams, including an IRS tax lawsuit, an unclaimed tax return, a payroll withholding event and an HR bonus.

For the test scams, the team used the following components:

  • IRS scams used spoofed area codes originating in Washington, D.C., or a toll-free number; HR scams used the local business area code.
  • Caller IDs replicated a government or business.
  • Male and female voices, either synthesized or a prerecorded human, all repeated the same message.
  • A variety of accents were used.

The scam scenario that generated the greatest breach of personal security, 20% (of 60 people who continued with the call), used a company human resources caller ID with a synthesized American male voice. The second largest, at more than 17% (of 58 people who continued with the call), used a phone number that looked like a company number, but did not have an identifiable caller ID. 

The research included 10 specific experiments fielded to 3,000 recipients during a single work week in late March 2017. 

“Overall, the results were quite surprising: 3.7% of people possibly entered their Social Security numbers into an automated telephone scam,” Doupé said. “However, the most effective telephone spam campaign, which tricked 10.33% of the callers, was specifically targeted at people in their workplace, in what is known as a ‘spearphishing scam.’”

ASU Assistant Professor Adam Doupe

Assistant Professor Adam Doupé. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now 

The experiment spoofed the caller ID of the phone call to appear to come from an internal employer system and used a company-specific scam scenario — an approaching payday. 

After the initial announcement about the nature of the call, the recipient was asked to enter the number “1” to continue to the next message, followed by a request to enter the last four digits of their Social Security number. The study notes that in the real world, the last four digits of a Social Security number, together with the recipient’s phone number, presents a pathway to financial and identity fraud.

Those who entered their Social Security digits were then presented with a “debriefing survey” which explained the experiment and inquired about the recipient’s motivation for responding. The ending message provided researchers’ contact information. (No Social Security numbers were actually collected during the test.)

Across all 10 experiments to a total of 3,000 recipients, 256 (8.53%) continued listening to the scam announcement, and 112 (3.73%) called back in response to a voicemail. Among those who listened to the entire announcement, 148 (4.93%) entered at least one digit of their Social Security numbers.

In the survey, 35 (1.17%) said they were convinced by the scam, and for those who heard the final message and responded to the survey, 27 (1.23%) stated they were not convinced. Both messages involved a threatened payroll withholding.

The most significant finding is that impersonating an internal entity, like an HR department, had a significant effect on the success of a phone phishing scam. Individuals who entered a Social Security sequence and responded to the follow-up survey indicated that the company caller ID was a convincing factor, though the majority remained suspicious and exercised vigilance in protecting their personal information.

Most recipients of the tax-related calls who completed the survey said they already knew the IRS would not make calls like those in the test, with some indicating that a foreign accent added to their suspicions.

"This study shows that telephone scams are quite effective, and therefore countermeasures should be developed to counteract effective techniques, such as spoofing caller ID," Doupé said. “Users must be educated on the dangers of telephone scams, and that caller ID cannot be trusted.”

The paper, “Users Really Do Answer Telephone Scams,” was presented at the 28th USENIX Security Symposium on Aug. 14, by Huahong Tu (University of Maryland), Adam Doupé and Gail-Joon Ahn (Arizona State University), and Ziming Zhao (Rochester Institute of Technology).

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Hacking with elite white hats

August 6, 2019

ASU to play lead role at DEF CON conference, considered to be the Super Bowl of hacking

North Korean hackers squeeze $2 billion out of cryptocurrency networks. Russian hackers breach networks using "internet of things" devices. An American woman sneaks into Capital One’s network and steals the personal information of more than 100 million people.

We need heroes. At the world’s largest hacking conference starting Thursday in Las Vegas, some of the top hackers around will compete for the highly coveted black badge only the best earn.

Arizona State University is playing a leading role at DEF CON, where attendees include cybersecurity professionals, students, security researchers, journalists, lawyers, hackers and federal officials. The conference runs Aug. 8–11.

“This is the pinnacle of hacking,” said Adam Doupé, associate director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics in the Global Security Initiative. “As far as ASU, this is our way to be leaders and innovators in the cybersecurity area. We’re the lead organization running this DEF CON Capture the Flag along with other colleagues from other schools, but the core group is at ASU. This gives us as professors a great way to attract undergrads, master’s and PhD students because people can see ASU is at the epicenter of cybersecurity.”

Hackers compete in security competitions where teams hack against each other and try to steal digital information called the flag (like the schoolyard game Capture the Flag).

“Here you have computer systems where they are trying to break into the other team’s systems while defending their own,” said Doupé, who is helping to lead the competition efforts at DEF CON. “It’s considered either the Olympics or the Super Bowl of hacking. Capture the Flag has turned into this really cool way where students or professionals can work and improve their offensive security skills in a really safe environment.”

For organizers, it’s like setting up an obstacle course. They create custom software with one or two bugs. The teams have to look at it and study it like a puzzle. They have to reverse-engineer to understand what’s going on, find the vulnerabilities and exploit the other team’s while patching theirs. It takes months to write the software for the competition.

“It’s exercising a lot of real-world security skills,” said Doupé, an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. “The market for what they call vulnerability researchers — people who do this for a living — is incredibly in demand. ... This is putting those skills to the test. ... It’s like trying to push the bounds of what people can do and the kinds of things they can hack.”

Adam Doupe ASU cybersecurity expert

Adam Doupé, an assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, will help lead the Capture the Flag competition efforts at DEF CON. Photo by Deanna Dent / ASU Now

Almost everyone in cybersecurity got into the field through playing Capture the Flag games.

“It’s a great way for students to try out their security skills in a safe environment, and it can also get people hooked on thinking, ‘How can I get this to break?’” Doupé said. “Software is everywhere, and software has vulnerabilities and hackers can demonstrate the flaws in systems so we can ultimately make things more secure.”

ASU’s team consists of 18 people, including engineering faculty Yan Shoshitaishvili and Tiffany Bao. Twelve hundred teams compete to qualify. The top 16 teams are invited to DEF CON. There are no cash prizes, but the winning team earns lifelong free passes to the event. The passes are black.

“It’s about the respect,” Doupé said. “These are like the badge of you being an elite hacker.”

A popular game at DEF CON is Spot the Fed. A note on the conference’s website reads:

“If you see some shady MIB (Men in Black) earphone penny loafer sunglass wearing Clint Eastwood to live and die in LA type lurking about, point him out. ... If enough people think it's a true fed, or fed wannabe, or other nefarious style character, you win a 'I spotted the fed!' shirt, and the I.F. (Identified Fed) gets an "I am the fed!" shirt.”

“It’s pretty well known that a lot of the government agencies are there looking for people, but also they want to be on the cutting edge,” Doupé said. “It’s not about trying to prosecute anyone; it’s more about sharing information and understanding what’s going on.”

The feds are also recruiting for heroes. And how do you get in? DEF CON only accepts cash.

“They don’t want to trace anybody,” Doupé said. “You show up with $300 in cash and you can attend DEF CON for four days.”

Top image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Sun Devils honor professors who go the extra mile for students

July 22, 2019

ASU prides itself on having faculty who care about their students and wish to help them succeed inside and outside of the classroom. These exceptional professors warrant recognition from the ASU community for their outstanding leadership, instruction and mentorship. The Centennial Professorship Award is an award designed to do just that.

The Associated Students of Arizona State University, made up of both Graduate and Undergraduate Student Government, established the award in 1984 and has presented it each academic year since as a means to attract and retain the highest quality leaders and teachers at ASU. Centennial Professorship Awards ceremony Vice President of Professional Development for GPSA Amelia Miholca speaks at at the Centennial Professorship Awards. Photo courtesy of Amelia Miholca Download Full Image

Amelia Miholca is vice president of professional development for GPSA and a graduate student pursuing a PhD in art history from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. As the head of the Centennial Awards Committee and one of the judges of the 37 submissions, she told ASU Now why the Centennial Professorship Award is important. 

“The award demonstrates ASU’s appreciation and recognition of high-achieving faculty members who are leaders in their respective fields and in classroom learning and innovation,” Miholca said.

Each award recipient receives a cash prize of $5,000 and an additional $5,000 to be used for the benefit of the students in classroom instruction and teaching innovation.

This year, three different professors and lecturers were chosen as recipients: Matthew Buman, Marianne Moore and Javier Gonzalez-Sanchez.

Buman, an associate professor in the College of Health Solutions at the Downtown Phoenix campus, cites his passion and his ability to make an impact on his students as a reason he was set apart from other candidates. 

He learned the importance of professor-student relationships firsthand by staying after class to ask one of his undergraduate professors a question, which eventually led him to performing a research project with her. 

“It was this experience, which simply started with a question, that inspired me to pursue a career in academia,” Buman said. “I learned that the best professors strive to inspire their students.”

Buman plans on using the money to fund a “citizen science” project, where the students will work in collaboration with the general public to gather data on the neighborhood environments of downtown Phoenix to see what supports or detracts from healthy living habits for those who live there. The data will then be released to local stakeholders and policymakers to help create a healthier living space for the neighborhoods downtown. 

Moore is an assistant professor on the Polytechnic campus in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts who teaches for the applied biological science degree. As a professor, Moore understands how showing enthusiasm for the subject and care for the students is important to students’ success and has demonstrated this by being a mentor for 22 undergraduate and four graduate students. She has developed an ecology, physiology and immunology research program centered on student involvement in the program, which her grant money will support. 

Gonzalez-Sanchez, a lecturer from the School of Computing Informatics and Decisions Systems Engineering, is another recipient of the Centennial Professorship Award. He comes from an interdisciplinary science background of software engineering and human-computer interaction, which plays into his diverse teaching practices and application-learning for his students. 

One of Gonzalez-Sanchez’s key teaching practices is the use of new technology in the classroom. He exposes his students to emerging technologies through applied learning, so they can be comfortable and confident with the technologies that are vital in their field and the future of the science. 

“Today, it is not enough for our students to learn programming or software engineering methodologies just by achieving the implementation of computer applications or mobile applications alone,” Gonzalez-Sanchez said.

Gonzalez-Sanchez plans on using the award money to further this endeavor and bring more smart objects, such as sensors and embedded and autonomous devices to classroom projects. The incorporation of the new technologies will help his classroom stay cutting-edge in the field and open up new industry opportunities to the students.

“It isn’t just this new piece of technology and hardware that is bringing new opportunities to these industries — it’s software,” Gonzalez-Sanchez said. “And I plan to have students solving problems and doing projects using these emerging technologies.”

Ultimately, the Centennial Professorship Award is a thank you from ASASU to all of ASU’s outstanding faculty for enriching students’ academic experiences and setting them up for success in the future.

Story by Lindsay Lohr

Inspiring equality in STEM for International Women in Engineering Day

June 21, 2019

International Women in Engineering Day, celebrated June 23 and founded by United Kingdom-based charity Women’s Engineering Society, is an opportunity to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the types of careers available to aspiring engineers.

It is also a glaring reminder of the need to attract more women into STEMScience, technology, engineering, math. fields. According to the U.S. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, only 13% of engineers in the workforce are women.

Brielle Januszewski working in the lab of Professor Bruce RIttman for a Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative project to determine the short-term ecological toxicity of ozonation byproducts on seed germination and on the mutagenic properties of bacteria. Januszewski plans to pursue a doctoral degree in environmental engineering. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

As the day approaches, we talked with faculty and students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University to find out what they view as hurdles to attracting more women into engineering.

Inspiration comes from anywhere

Some people realize early in life they want to be an engineer, while others draw inspiration from unexpected places.

“Engineering as a career option first piqued my interest while watching an episode of 'Oprah' as a teen,” said Erin Chiou, an assistant professor in The Polytechnic School, one of the six Fulton Schools. “The episode was on dream jobs and featured a company whose early employees were a mix of industrial designers and engineers. I thought conducting human-centered research to create things that improved people’s lives was the most fun anyone could have in a job.”

Erin Chiou

Erin Chiou is working to understand how people might use or disuse a decision aid — for example, how pedestrians and other drivers cooperate with autonomous vehicles. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Chiou found a way to channel her desire to help people through human systems engineering, an emerging field that combines engineering and psychology to design systems that account for human capabilities and limitations.

Kristen Parrish, an associate professor of construction management in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, also discovered engineering in high school when she fell in love with kinematic equations, which describe how objects move.

“I decided that I wanted a job where I could do kinematic equations all day, every day,” explained Parrish. “I was already in love with buildings, so I started to look for a career that involved (both). My high school sweetheart’s older brother said, ‘Huh. That sounds like structural engineering.’ And so it began.”

With their intentions set during their teens, Chiou and Parrish went on to pursue undergraduate and advanced degrees in their respective fields.

That same passion, along with the need to prove naysayers wrong, is inspiring at least one undergraduate student to persist in her journey to become an engineer.

Kristen Parrish

“Growing up in elementary school, I was exposed to a lot of gender bias from my small hometown that steered me away from engineering,” said Elizabeth Jones, a third-year student studying electrical engineering. “However, I really enjoyed math and science, and I liked solving problems. It wasn’t until high school that I even considered engineering to be something that I had the option of pursuing. Once I realized that it was an option, I knew I wanted to be and could be an engineer.”

In college, Jones is helping to ensure other young women feel welcome in engineering spaces as the outreach coordinator for the ASU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, an organization that advocates for inclusion and community among women in engineering and technology.

Success in STEM

STEM-related fields are open to everyone, especially students who want to make a difference and have an impact on the world around them.

Andrea Richa, a professor of computer science in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, offers the following advice to students entering STEM fields: “First of all, be passionate about it,” Richa said. “Second, enjoy math and other science subjects and have an analytical mind. In computer science and engineering in general, it is important to combine creativity and problem-solving skills.”

A penchant for finding solutions is a key to success for any aspiring engineer.

“(Have) a desire to solve problems and, in my view, a desire to change the world,” said Parrish. “If you have a problem that STEM can help to solve, try to stick it out through the classes you may not love. What’s important in the end is that you love what you do.”

When asked what she thinks students need to be successful, Brielle Januszewski, a Barrett, The Honors College student majoring in civil engineering, said, “There are really no specific qualities that spell success for engineering. Anyone can do it if they are passionate and dedicated.”

Elizabeth Jones

Samantha Janko is a graduate student in The Polytechnic School studying systems engineering. She believes change begins with instilling confidence in women who’ve chosen to pursue engineering.

“Women need to feel comfortable and confident working and expressing their ideas with men, and vice versa,” said Janko. “Breaking down the stigma starts with fostering open communities and communication, and less with providing special opportunities that encourage only one particular group.”

Recognizing the disparities among women in engineering is on people’s radar, and more than ever, conversations about recognizing bias and how to combat it are underway.

“Making both women and men aware of things like implicit bias and barriers, both real and perceived (will help get more women in STEM careers),” said Sydney Schaefer, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering. “For example, there is often implicit bias in recommendation letters for male versus female postdoctoral applicants. I think most people want to create an equitable environment and support inclusion, but really are just unaware of unilateral policies and work culture.”

Changing the landscape one woman at a time

Despite efforts by universities, recruitment teams and community organizations to draw more underrepresented minorities to STEM programs, engineering-related industries are still male-dominated.

“We still have a long way to go,” said Richa. “When you look at the percentages of women in engineering and STEM fields, those are still very low and have not changed much as a whole in the past two to three decades.”

Sydney Schaefer

Part of finding success in STEM careers is making sure engineering students cross the finish line by earning and going on to use their engineering degrees.

“Institutions should focus on early pathways to STEM, and not only on recruiting but also retaining women in STEM,” said Chiou. “Retention is not just about structures of support, but also about the organizational culture and ensuring that the environment they are working in allows women to thrive.”

Retention is not just a problem in women studying to become engineers — it remains an issue as women enter the workforce. More than 30% of women who leave their engineering careers do so because of workplace culture. Schaefer believes diversifying leadership in organizations and industry can help keep women in STEM.

“It seems as if there are more women getting into engineering, but the challenge remains in upper-level management and administrative positions,” said Schaefer. “These are the positions that call the shots, influence policies and create work environments, so it will be exciting to see how these positions level off in the future.”

Andrea richa

Andrea Richa is working on a team to understand the algorithmic and physical underpinnings that drive collective behavior such as schooling in fish and rafting and bridging in ant colonies. She hopes to apply that knowledge to physical materials that can autonomously change their properties as a reaction to their surroundings. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Transform the future

New pathways for entering the field may also allow women to explore their varied interests because of the array of cross-disciplinary opportunities. Professor Nancy Cooke, who has a background in cognitive and experimental psychology and chairs the human systems engineering graduate program, knows this firsthand.

“As a child I thought I would never want to be an engineer,” said Cooke. “It seemed boring and nerdy. However, I have found a career that balances my techno nerdiness with social science that enables me to improve people’s lives.”

Cooke believes areas like human systems engineering, sustainability and biomedical engineering — ones that demonstrate an immediate impact for individuals — have helped attract more women by combining social or biological science with engineering.

Samantha Janko

No matter what field of engineering women choose to pursue, the ability to solve problems with others is rewarding.

“I love being with a group of people who may not have otherwise worked together and sharing ideas towards a common objective,” said Janko. “We can all learn from each other.”

As engineering and computer science programs grapple with ways to include and increase the number of women in these fields, Januszewski feels it’s important to remind women they belong in these spaces.

“Men and women have the same capabilities when it comes to intelligence and academic success, so the barriers that hold women back from realizing this need to be broken down — teaching children, especially women, to be bold, to take risks, to be confident in themselves,” said Januszewski. “No matter the path that is taken towards equality, it must be done with everyone: men, women, gender nonbinary … everyone!”

women in engineering

Professor Nancy Cooke (left) conducts research on human capabilities and limitations to help make technology work better with people. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU 

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Detecting Fake News on Social Media

In the past decade, social media is becoming increasingly popular for news consumption due to its easy access, fast dissemination and low cost. However, social media also enables the wide propagation of "fake news," i.e., news with intentionally false information. Fake news on social media can have significant negative societal effects. Therefore, fake news detection on social media has recently become an emerging research area that is attracting tremendous attention.