Jack Keil Wolf Lecture Series

Codes for Speed: Large-Scale Computation, Signal Recovery, and Learning

Date: October 5th, 2017, Thursday @ 10 am

Location: 5 MetroTech Center, 4th Floor, Brooklyn, NY


Kannan Ramchandran
Professor, EECS Department, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract -     Seven decades after Claude Shannon's groundbreaking work, codes are now an indispensable part of modern communications and storage systems.   But do they have a role in today's information age that is witness to exponential data deluge?  Can codes help address the challenge of scale in computation, inference, and learning by exploiting underlying structure such as sparsity?  In this talk, we will explore how coding theory can go well beyond traditional communications applications, and can indeed offer an unconventional and valuable playground for some of these problems, with an emphasis on speed.

Specifically, we will view a diverse class of problems through the lens of sparse-graph codes.  They form the core of a unified architecture featuring a divide-and-conquer strategy built on simple guess-and-check primitives, and fast peeling-based decoding.  This allows for real-time sparse-structure recovery involving large datasets, in contrast to popular convex relaxation based optimization methods that can be computationally difficult to scale.  We will illustrate our approach to computational tasks such as massive-scale sparse Fourier and Walsh transforms, sparse polynomial learning, support recovery in compressed sensing, phase-retrieval, and group testing, while unveiling insightful connections between sampling theory and coding theory.  The application space is broad, encompassing MRI and optical imaging, hyper-graph sketching, fast neighbor discovery in IoT, spectrum sensing for cognitive radio, and learning mixtures of sparse linear regressions.  Time-permitting, we will also highlight how codes can speed up machine learning in today's distributed cloud computing systems by rendering them robust to system noise in the form of  `straggling' compute nodes.

Bio-  Kannan Ramchandran has been a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley since 1999.  He was on the faculty at the University of Illinois from 1993 to 1999. Prof. Ramchandran is a recipient of the 2017 IEEE Kobayashi Computers and Communications award for his contributions to the theory and practice of distributed storage coding and distributed compression.  He is a Fellow of the IEEE, has published extensively in his field, and holds over a dozen patents.  He has received several awards for his research and teaching including an IEEE Information Theory Society and Communication Society Joint Best Paper award for 2012, an IEEE Communication Society Data Storage Best Paper award in 2010, two Best Paper awards from the IEEE Signal Processing Society in 1993 and 1999, an Okawa Foundation Prize for outstanding research at Berkeley in 2001, and an Outstanding Teaching Award at Berkeley in 2009.  His research interests lie at the broad intersection of signal processing, machine learning, coding and information theory, and peer-to-peer networking.

High Capacity Wireless Network Architectures Through Collaboration And Intelligent Information Storage

Date: April 27th, 2017, Thursday @ 11 am

Location: 2 MetroTech Center, 8th Floor, Brooklyn, NY

Leandros Tassiulas, Yale University

Electrical Engineering & Institute for Network Science

A significant portion of today's network traffic is due to recurring downloads of popular content (e.g., movies, video clips and daily news). It has been observed that replicating the latter in caches installed at the network edge -close to the users- can drastically reduces network bandwidth usage and improve content access delay. The key technical issues in emergent caching architectures relate to the following questions: where to install caches, what content and for how long to cache,  and how to manage the routing of content within the network. In this talk, an overview of caching is provided, starting with generic architectures that can be applied to different networking environments, and moving to emerging architectures that enable caching in wireless networks (e.g., at cellular base stations and WiFi access points). Novel challenges arise in the latter due to the inadequacy of wireless resources and their broadcast nature, the frequent hand-offs between different cells for mobile users, as well as the specific requirements of different types of user applications, such as video streaming. We will present our recent results on innovative caching approaches  that (i) harvest idle user-owned cache space and bandwidth, (ii) leverage the broadcast nature of the wireless medium to serve concurrent requests for content (iii) exploit the regularity of user mobility patterns, and (iv) apply advanced video encoding techniques to support multiple video qualities (e.g., screen sizes, frame rates, or signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) qualities). These are cutting-edge approaches that can achieve significant performance and cost-reduction benefits over the state-of-the-art methods.


Leandros Tassiulas is the John C. Malone Professor of Electrical Engineering at Yale University.   His research interests are in the field of computer and communication networks with emphasis on fundamental mathematical models and algorithms of complex networks, architectures and protocols of wireless systems, sensor networks, novel internet architectures and experimental platforms for network research. His most notable contributions include the max-weight scheduling algorithm and the back-pressure network control policy, opportunistic scheduling in wireless, the maximum lifetime approach for wireless network energy management, and the consideration of joint access control and antenna transmission management in multiple antenna wireless systems. Dr. Tassiulas is a Fellow of IEEE (2007). His research has been recognized by several awards including the IEEE Koji Kobayashi computer and communications award 2016, the inaugural INFOCOM 2007 Achievement Award “for fundamental contributions to resource allocation in communication networks,” the INFOCOM 1994 best paper award, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Initiation Award (1992), an NSF CAREER Award (1995), an Office of Naval Research  Young Investigator Award (1997) and a Bodossaki Foundation award (1999). He holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park (1991). He has held faculty positions at Polytechnic University, New York, University of Maryland, College Park, and University of Thessaly, Greece.

The Road to 5G

Date: September 28th, 2016, Wednesday

Location: MakerSpace, 6 MetroTech Center, Brooklyn, NY

Roberto Padovani

Roberto Padovani, Qualcomm


The standardization efforts for next generation cellular technology or 5G is now at full throttle with early commercial deployments expected for 2020. I will present Qualcomm's view and efforts on 5G as we approach the final stretch of yet another generational cycle.


Dr. Roberto Padovani is Executive Vice President and Fellow at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. He joined Qualcomm in 1986 and served as the company's Chief Technology Officer from 2002 to 2011.

During his tenure at Qualcomm, Dr. Padovani has been involved in the research and development of digital communication systems with particular emphasis on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless technology systems. He was involved in the initial design, development, and standardization of IS-95 CDMA systems. His research and inventions in this field have led to the worldwide standardization and commercialization of CDMA technology for second- and third-generation cellular systems. He has also led the design and development of CDMA2000 1xEV-DO, an IP-based, high-speed wide-area wireless data technology, which led to the deployment of high speed data services on third generation wireless networks across the globe.

Dr. Padovani holds more than 80 patents on wireless systems. He has published numerous technical papers in the digital communications field and was the co-recipient of the 1991 IEEE Vehicular Technology Society Best Paper Award for a fundamental paper on the capacity of CDMA cellular systems. In 2009 he received the IEEE Eric. E. Sumner Award “for pioneering innovations in wireless communications, particularly to the evolution of CDMA for wireless broadband data,” and in 2016 the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal “For innovations enabling efficient, wideband, wireless access to the Internet, that is central to all third-generation cellular networks.” He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2006.

Dr. Padovani received a laureate degree from the University of Padova, Italy and MS and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, all in electrical and computer engineering. He is an IEEE Fellow and an Affiliate Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego.

Liquid Cloud Storage: A New Approach to Large Scale Data Storage

Date: April 14th, 2016, Thursday

Time/Location: 11 am, 5 MetroTech Center, LC 400


Thomas Richardson, Qualcomm


Large scale data storage is evolving as the amount and value of stored digital content continues to rapidly expand.  Reliable distributed storage systems consist of hundreds to tens of thousands of potentially unreliable storage nodes. To protect the data from node failures current systems use replication or erasure codes that protect data objects by redundantly spreading them over a small number of nodes.  We introduce a new solution that spreads data objects over a large number of nodes.  Our solution offers exceptional object durability, minimizes storage overhead and repair traffic, and provides fast predictable access to data objects.


Tom Richardson received his Ph.D. from the Laboratory for Information and Systems in MIT in 1990.  From 1990-2000 he was a member of the Mathematical Research Center in Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies (originally AT&T Bell Labs). In 2000 he joined Flarion Technologies, which was spun out of Lucent and developed a pioneering IP based cellular system.  In Flarion he held the title of V.P. and Chief Scientist and focused on the design and implementation of the physical layer.  In 2006 Flarion was acquired by Qualcomm Inc., where he is currently employed with title V.P. Engineering.  Dr. Richardson’s main research area is iterative coding systems. He is co-author, with Ruediger Urbanke, of a book on the subject entitled "Modern Coding Theory" and was co-winner of the 2002 and the 2013 Information Theory Paper award.  He is a fellow of the IEEE, co-winner of the 2011 IEEE Koji Kobayashi award and the 2014 IEEE Hamming medal, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

How To Teach An Old Code A New Trick

Date: October 8th, 2015, Thursday 

Time/Location: 11 am, 5 MetroTech Center, LC 400

Rüdiger L. Urbanke


Abstract:  Our digital lifes depend heavily on our ability to efficiently and reliable transmit information over long distances. It is therefore not surprising that much effort has been dedicated to devising clever schemes to accomplish this. I will go back in time to Reed-Mueller codes, one of the pioneering codes discovered in the mid fifties and I will ask the question: "What do you get when you combine these classical algebraic codes, EXIT functions from iterative coding, and the fact that monotone symmetric Boolean functions have sharp thresholds?”

[Based on joint work with S. Kudekar, S. Kumar, M. Mondelli, H. D. Pfister, and E. Sasoglu]

Bio: R. Urbanke has been obsessed with questions in coding theory for the past 20 years. Fortunately his progress has been slow so that there are many problems left for him for the next 20 years. He enjoys sabbaticals and dreams to run the NYC marathon some day but does not like to practice.

Insights from Modeling the Internet’s Social Impact In an Engineering Framework


Date: May 19th, 2014, Tuesday 

Time/Location: 11 am, 5 MetroTech Center, LC 400

Debasis Mitra

Department of Electrical Engineering

Columbia University

ABSTRACT:  What are the Internet’s essential characteristics, what are the responsible mechanisms and how may these be preserved? To answer some of these questions, we formulate and explore mathematical models, and attempt to draw insights.

We begin with the point of view that Best Effort Service has been an essential contributing factor in the Internet’s explosive growth, and in the spawning of innovations and applications. While there are no QoS guarantees, BE Service has enjoyed reasonable QoS, a low flat subscription fee for broadband connection, and free usage. In the current discussion on Net Neutrality, a central question is whether the ISPs on being allowed to offer Managed Service, will withhold bandwidth for the BE Service with the goal of inducing subscribers to pay a premium price for Managed Service. This would undermine the Internet.

In our models we assume a monopoly ISP which offers both BE Service for free use and MS with guaranteed QoS for a fee per use, and a common portfolio of applications available to customers of both services. Consumers optimize their utility in deciding whether to subscribe to the broadband network, which service (BE or MS) to use, and the usage of the chosen service.  The consumers’ decisions depend on the average delay in Best Effort service, which in turn depends on the ISP’s bandwidth allocation to the service. We also assume that BE usage is responsible for the birth of new applications, a point of view commonly asserted in the Net Neutrality debate. We have developed a set of models, which depend on whether the total bandwidth is fixed or extendable through ISP investments, and whether the profit-maximizing ISP is myopic or strategic in its decision-making.

Our results suggest that to preserve a robust offering of BE Service, the regulator may not need to disallow Managed Service. Rather, a strategic ISP will find it in its interest to exploit the power of BE usage-generated applications in conjunction with the MS offering. Joint work with Qiong Wang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

BIO: Debasis Mitra joined Columbia University as Professor of Electrical Engineering in 2013. Prior to joining Columbia he worked at Bell Labs for 44 years. His current research interests are in the scientific foundations of policies that impact engineers. Instances are network neutrality, network economics, and the future of industrial laboratories.

Debasis Mitra served as Vice President, Mathematical and Algorithmic Sciences Research Center, in Bell Labs during 1999-2007. He directed work in fundamental mathematics, algorithms, complex systems analysis and optimization, statistics, information & communication sciences and operations research. During 2008-2013 he served as Vice President, Chief Scientist’s Office, Bell Labs.

Debasis Mitra is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Bell Labs Fellow and a Life Fellow of the IEEE. He is a recipient of the 2012 ACM SIGMETRICS Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2012 Arne Jensen Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Teletraffic Congress, 1998 IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award, the 1993 Steven O. Rice Prize Paper Award and the 1982 Guillemin-Cauer Prize Paper Award of the IEEE, among other awards.

Debasis Mitra has been on the editorial boards of the IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, the IEEE Transactions of Communications, the IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems, Queueing Systems (QUESTA) and Operations Research. He is the author of over 100 journal publications and holds over 20 patents. He has served as member, National Academies Panel on Information Sciences (and its predecessors) at the Army Research Laboratory during 2009-2015. In 2011-2012 he chaired the panel and served on the Army Research Laboratory Technical Assessment Board.

Information Theory: Old and New--A Personal View

Date: October 23th 2014, Thursday 

Time/Location: 11 am, 5 MetroTech Center, Auditorium


Professor Shlomo Shamai

Department of Electrical Engineering
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

ABSTRACT:  The presentation starts by demonstrating in a descriptive way the origin of information theory in Shannon’s 1948 monumental work, and pointing some interdisciplinary aspects within general areas of electrical engineering and beyond. We discuss a change of paradigms in information theory from being a pure mathematical theory of communications to a theory with widescope direct practical implications and applications. To demonstrate the rich aspects of the problems considered and their implications as well as some inter disciplinary connections, we focus on a simple matrix based linear additive Gaussian model. We elaborate on the information-estimation intimate connection, mentioning its impact on non-linear filtering and on recent views of efficient coding in single and multi-terminal channels. Possible  extensions to general channels and a short outlook conclude the presentation.

BIOGRAPHY: Shlomo Shamai received the B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, in 1975, 1981 and 1986 respectively. Since 1986 he is with the Department of Electrical Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, where he is now a Technion Distinguished Professor, and holds the William Fondiller Professor of Telecommunications chair. His research interests encompass a wide spectrum of topics in information theory and statistical communications.

Dr. Shamai is an IEEE Fellow and a Member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Engineering.  He is the recepient of the 2014 Rothschild Prize in Mathematics/Computer Sciences and Engineering and the 2011 Claude E. Shannon Award. He has been awarded the 1999 van der Pol Gold Medal of the Union Radio Scientifique Internationale (URSI), and is a co-recipient of the 2000 IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award, the 2003, and the 2004 joint IT/COM societies paper award, the 2007 IEEE Information Theory Society Paper Award, the 2009 European Commission FP7, Network of Excellence in Wireless COMmunications (NEWCOM++) Best Paper Award, and the 2014 EURASIP Best Paper Award for the EURASIP Journal on Wireless Communications and Networking.  He is the recipient of the 2010 Thomson Reuters Award for International Excellence in Scientific Research and is listed in the 2014 Thomson Reuters "The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds". He is also the recipient of the 2000 Technion Henry Taub Prize for Excellence in Research. He has served as Associate Editor for the Shannon Theory of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, and has also served on the Board of Governors of the Information Theory Society. He has served on the Executive Editorial Board of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory'.


Randomness, Everlasting Security, and Undetectability

Date: May 5th 2014, Monday 

Time/Location: 11 am, 5 MetroTech Center, LC 400    



Don Towsley

Department of Computer Science
University of Massachusetts - Amherst

ABSTRACT:  Security and privacy are fundamental concerns in today’s world.  These concerns have become particularly prominent with Snowden’s revelations of the presence of the NSA in our daily lives.   These revelations have shown that traditional cryptographic techniques do not provide as was expected.  This has called into question how security and privacy can be provided. In this talk we investigate how randomness in the environment can be used to provide everlasting security and undetectability (privacy) in wireless communications.  In the first part of the talk we describe a practical way to harness this randomness to provide and improve the security of wireless communications. We introduce the notion of "dynamic secrets", information shared by two parties, Alice and Bob, engaged in communication and not available to an adversary, Eve. The basic idea is to dynamically generate a series of secrets from randomness present in the in wireless environment. These dynamic secrets exhibit interesting security properties and offer a robust alternative to cryptographic security protocols.  We present a simple algorithm for generating these secrets and using them to ensure secrecy.

In some situations, Alice and Bob may want not only to secure their communications but to keep it private.  In the second part of our talk we focus on the use of randomness to conceal the communications. Here the challenge is for Alice to communicate with Bob without an adversary, Willie the warden, ever realizing that the communication is taking place. Specifically, we establish that Alice can send 0(sq root t) bits (and no more) to Bob in time t over a variety of wireless and optical chanels.  Moreover, we report experimental results that corroborate the theory.

BIO: Don Towsley holds a B.A. in Physics (1971) and a Ph.D. in Computer Science (1975) from University of Texas.  He is currently a Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts in the Department of Computer Science.  He has held visiting positions at numerous universities and research labs. His research interests include networks and performance evaluation.

He currently serves as a Co-Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Modeling and Performance Evaluation of Computer Systems (TOMPECS) and previously as Editor-in-Chief of IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, and on numerous editorial boards.  He has served as Program Co-chair of several conferences including INFOCOM 2009.

He has received numerous awards including the 2007 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Award, and numerous paper awards including a 2008 ACM SIGCOMM Test-of-Time Paper Award and the 2012 ACM SIGMETRICS Test-of-Time Award.  Last, he has been elected Fellow of both the ACM and IEEE.


Jack Keil Wolf

An information theorist whose pivotal contributions to digital communication and data storage technology helped shape our networked world, was a member of the Electrical Engineering Department at New York University from 1963 to 1965, and the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn from 1965 to 1973.

Dr. Jack Wolf received the B.S.E.E. degree from the University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, in 1956, and the M.S.E., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, in 1957, 1958, and 1960, respectively. He was Chairman of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, from 1973 to 1975, and he was Professor there from 1973 to 1984. Since 1984, he has been a Sephen O. Rice Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a member of the Center for Magnetic Recording Research at the University of California-San Diego. He also held a part-time appointment at Qualcomm, Inc., San Diego. From 1971 to 1972, he was an NSF Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, and from 1979 to 1980, he held a Guggenheim Fellowship. His research interest was in signal processing for storage systems.

Dr. Wolf was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1993. He was the recipient of the 1990 E. H. Armstrong Achievement Award of the IEEE Communications Society and was co-recipient of the 1975 IEEE Information Theory Group Paper Award for the paper "Noiseless coding for correlated information sources" (co-authored with D. Slepian). He served on the Board of Governors of the IEEE Information Theory Group from 1970 to 1976 and from 1980 to 1986. Dr. Wolf was President of the IEEE Information Theory Group in 1974. He was International Chairman of Committee C of URSI from 1980 to 1983. He was the recipient of the 1998 IEEE Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award, "for fundamental contributions to multi-user communications and applications of coding theory to magnetic data storage devices." In May 2000, he received a UCSD Distinguished Teaching Award. In 2004 Professor Wolf received the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal for "fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of information transmission and storage". In 2005 he was elected by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Fellow, and in 2010 was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Wolf was the co-recipient with Irwin Jacobs of the 2011 Marconi Society Prize, recognizing “lasting scientific contributions to human progress in the field of information technology.”