Research & Innovation

Stevens Department of Computer Science Makes Heavy Investments in the Future of Artificial Intelligence

A new master’s program, new researchers, and new technological resources highlight an emphasis on the rapidly expanding field that could change the world

abstract depiction of machine learning

Certain scientific discoveries have the capability to evolve society to a whole new level of technological and industrial advancement. The wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, the computer. Inarguably, artificial intelligence (AI) has that capability.

With applications for nearly every aspect of our existence, we depend more and more upon AI with each passing day. Time will tell if it is among the most pervasive, life-altering technologies we have ever seen, but with global implications in every industry imaginable, it is critical to prepare a new generation of students, researchers, and ultimately a workforce that is skilled in developing and working within this field. Simply put, we need leaders—leaders who put thought, training, and innovation into action.

As demand for training in AI and, specifically, machine learning, grows—with applications as diverse as social media, national security, and finance—the Department of Computer Science at Stevens Institute of Technology is investing in the future with unique new AI-related educational programs, additional faculty with research experience in critical areas related to AI, and the installation of a state-of-the-art AI machine on campus.

New computer science faculty bring coveted expertise to campus

With the implications of AI transforming the ways we interact with technology each new day, a new generation of experts is becoming even more specialized in subfields within AI. In the last two years, eight new faculty members have joined the world-class team at Stevens’ Department of Computer Science in a faculty expansion plan spearheaded by dean Jean Zu.

These up-and-coming faculty are contributing inventive research to the growing field of AI in areas as diverse as machine learning, language processing, software engineering, security, data mining, computer vision, and more. In connecting leading computer scientists with students, Stevens is equipping tomorrow’s AI experts with the skills and tools they will need to solve pressing challenges and become effective leaders in a rapidly developing, far-reaching field.

Giuseppe Ateniese, chair of the Department of Computer Science at the Schaefer School and ranked as the seventh top cybersecurity expert in the world by AMiner, attributes the strength of the department and its rising rankings to the expertise of its growing faculty.

“Both veteran and new faculty are more productive,” said Ateniese. “New faculty enter an environment that allows them to focus on their research.”

Assistant professor Jia Xu, who joined Stevens in October 2019, is excited about her career at Stevens.

"Stevens is a very dynamic place. This is something I witnessed the first time I talked to faculty and students,” she said. “I find the research environment very inspiring. Before coming to Stevens, I worked in other influential research labs and universities, including Tsinghua University in China. I find Stevens to be on par with top institutions with respect to how much value and effort are put into the work we do here to boost both education and research.”

Xu, a graduate of RWTH-Aachen University in Germany, one of the top-ranking technical universities in Europe, brings to Stevens expertise in building competitive natural language processing (NLP) systems, which “teach themselves” by looking through big datasets of examples of how humans speak and communicate.

“My group focuses on devising general machine learning methods, including ensemble learning and geometric techniques for structured prediction. We employ these methods in building competitive NLP systems,” she said.

“My students and I aim to build one of the best NLP systems in academia by introducing innovative AI approaches."

A powerful new AI machine installed at the Schaefer School

The AI system NVIDIA DGX-2, designed by NVIDIA to solve complex AI challenges, was installed by Microway at Stevens this past November. This computer has 16 graphic cards, a system memory of 1.5 terabytes, and weighs 400 pounds. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous gifted this machine to Ateniese, with a donation of $400 thousand, for his research in cybersecurity.

The department’s investment in this new technology reflects its leadership at the forefront of research—leadership that is attracting new faculty and students alike.

The machine acts as a parallel computer, simulating the way neural networks in the brain work. With fast connections between its graphic cards, the machine has capabilities that cannot be achieved even by combining multiple computers.

By running neural networks in parallel at fast speeds, the machine enables experiments that would otherwise take days or weeks to be completed in just minutes.

“Sometimes you cannot even run an experiment because you need so much storage space and memory,” said Ateniese. “With this machine you can run certain experiments that were not possible before.”

For the next year, Ateniese will use NVIDIA DGX-2 to continue two projects investigating AI and cybersecurity. For one project, his team has built an AI-powered system that cracks passwords at a higher frequency than the best known hacking tools. In another project, Ateniese has demonstrated how AI could be utilized by rogue actors to create powerful breaches of our private personal or financial data.

Of his research, Ateniese says, “AI and machine learning have no future if we do not address their privacy and security concerns. Machine learning models could hide malicious code or backdoors, and leak private information about users. Researchers should devise the next generation of machine learning algorithms to be reliable and trustworthy.”

After his experiments, the powerful AI machine will be available for other projects in the CS Department.

“This is a game-changer for us because this machine is extremely powerful, considered among the most powerful machines for AI in the world. Overall it will give us a big boost,” said Ateniese.

In addition to this new technology, the Department of Computer Science is settling into a new physical home at the Gateway Academic Center, the campus’s newest, state-of-the-art building. The center offers expanded room for laboratories, offices, and meeting spaces, as well comfortable classrooms for a growing student body. Each space was custom-designed to foster collaboration and productivity in research and learning.

A new master’s degree in machine learning gives students a competitive edge

A new machine learning master’s program, upon popular request from Stevens students, was launched last spring. Before the launch, all classes in machine learning were consistently filled. As interest in this timely area of study has skyrocketed, Stevens president Nariman Farvardin pushed for the formation of this program within the Schaefer School.

The fast-growing field of machine learning can be understood as the study of algorithms that computers use to perform tasks without the need for explicit instructions. Rather, these systems work by relying on patterns and inference.

Having a workforce trained in this new arena will be critical in a world where AI touches virtually every aspect of our lives, and where our reliance on machine learning will only continue to deepen.

“Machine learning is a very difficult area,” said Ateniese. “You can find a lot of machine learning courses on the web; the issue there is that you learn how to build AI models, but you don’t understand the inner workings of these algorithms.

“There was a need to [be able to] look inside the ‘black box,’ so [students can] understand why computers make decisions in a certain way, why machine learning algorithms work. The value attached to this program is that [students can] understand what’s inside this black box, how to use it properly, and how to adapt it for future needs. You can’t find that on websites.”

Ateniese has assembled faculty to teach an online master’s degree that focuses on both machine learning and cybersecurity—two areas in which Stevens is a world leader. The degree will target professionals in industry, rather than those whose primary interest is research. In turn, a professionally oriented faculty is instructing the courses. The hope is that students across the world will benefit from this unique program.

New rankings position Stevens at the forefront of education in computer science

The US New Best Online Programs rankings announced the best online master’s programs today, positioning Stevens as seventh in the nation for “Best Online Computer Information Technology Master’s Programs,” as compared to a ranking of eighth last year. This measures Stevens’ performance in its following master’s programs: enterprise and cloud computing, computer science, and machine learning.

Computer Science Rankings (CSRankings.com), a leading source for evaluating university computer science programs, now ranks the department as 38th in computer vision, 37th in security, 25th in programming languages, 42nd in cryptography, and 27th in logic and verification—reflecting Stevens’ reputation as a forerunner in these fast-developing fields.

In the debut year of this master’s program, the Department of Computer Science at Stevens is already ranked within the top 100 programs in machine learning. Rankings in other specializations remain very strong.

CSRankings is a metrics-based ranking of top computer science institutions around the world, measuring the number of papers a university secures in top-tier conferences. The site is updated daily, providing a real-time, global snapshot of an institution’s performance.

Continued leadership in computer technologies

Preparing a workforce that is skilled to develop and work within AI, in terms of programming languages and software, and then translating these to real-world applications, is of the utmost importance if we are to meet the growing possibilities that AI and machine learning represent.

In this era when computer science and AI are making rapid advancements, Stevens continues to be on the forefront of research and education. With new resources, a new degree, and high rankings, the Department of Computer Science is committed to keeping up with the transformations of our technology-driven world.