Provost's Lecture Series on Women in Leadership Launches with Google Research’s Corinna Cortes


Corinna Cortes, head of Google Research, NY, was the inaugural speaker in Stevens’ new Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership, which kicked off on Friday Oct. 26, 2012 with Cortes’ talk, “Finding Similar Items in Web Time.”

The Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership – launched this year by Stevens Provost George Korfiatis – is designed to showcase prominent and successful women in leadership positions and motivate the next generation of women leaders.

“The series brings to Stevens women researchers, scholars and leaders in science, engineering and business to share their experiences with the Stevens community,” said Stevens Provost George Korfiatis. “The goal is to inspire our community, especially our female faculty and students.”

Data proves that women are extremely underrepresented in computer science, and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in general. Cortes, a leading expert on machine learning, defies statistics by pushing the boundaries of her field.

According to Stevens Associate Professor of Computer Science Adriana Compagnoni, who helped launch the Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership, Cortes is a role model for aspiring female scientists at Stevens and across the world.

Cortes is well-known for her contributions to the theoretical foundations of support vector machines (SVMs). As the head of Google Research, NY – and the first woman ever hired to Google’s New York office – she has worked on a broad range of theoretical and applied large-scale machine learning problems. Prior to Google, she spent more than ten years at AT&T Labs-Research, formerly AT&T Bell Labs, where she held a distinguished research position.

Cortes received the 2008 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award with Vladimir Vapnik for SVM work and the AT&T Science and Technology Medal in 2000 for work on data-mining in very large data sets.

“Dr. Cortes’ research deals with a very recent problem with great implications,” said Korfiatis. “This is the manipulation and extraction of intelligence from extremely large sets of data – the so called 'big data.’ Several Stevens researchers are working on this subject and we just launched a new graduate program on Business Intelligence and Analytics.”

In her lecture in front of a packed house, Cortes discussed how Google makes its search function and the user browser experience both efficient and high-quality through machine learning.

Machine learning gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed by enabling them to acquire and integrate knowledge automatically and then learn by experience to self-improve.

Cortes said machine learning is used in many of Google’s applications, including Image, Video and Structure Data Search. It is how Google can make music recommendations by using your own music uploads to guess your future preferences. It is also how YouTube recommends videos for you based on your online history and user profile.

Cortes said the vast amount of data online today, plus the desire by users to get search results in “web time” – or less than 200 milliseconds – requires Google to create ever more advanced algorithms to classify and segment similar types of data.

“From billions of bits of data, we are able to find out where there are similarities in content – whether it is text, pixels, music, video or images,” Cortes said. “Then we group similar items together and give users back the closest representatives matches based on their search.”

The Provost’s Lecture Series on Women in Leadership will be held three to four times per year, with future speakers being announced soon. It is one of many women-focused initiatives at Stevens, including the Presidential Commission on the Advancement of Women, led by Compagnoni, which was launched in conjunction with Stevens’ ten-year strategic plan and which will recommend policies, actions and programs to enhance the status and support of women at Stevens and increase the number of female faculty and students.

Stevens also provides other outlets and programs for women on campus. Women's Programs, a unit of the Office of Student Life, provides programming to increase awareness of and sensitivity to women's issues and builds a more supportive, dynamic atmosphere on campus. Activities include health and wellness seminars, professional development, social opportunities, guest lectures on gender issues, and more. Stevens is also home to chapters of the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Pharma and other female professional organizations, as well as three sororities and women-only residence houses.