Spring 2021 CITRIS Research Exchange Seminar Series Begins

CITRIS Research Exchange - Spring 2021 - Cristina Davis, Sara-Jayne Terp, Sam Markolf

Save the date! The CITRIS Research Exchange Seminar Series for spring 2021 will begin on January 27 and run through March 3. 

This spring, speakers include Brian Christian, author of “The Most Human Human” and “Algorithms to Live By,” Cristina Davis, UC Davis Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor, Sara-Jayne Terp, Founder of Bodacea Light Industries, Tom Harmon, UC Merced Civil & Environmental Engineering Professor, Morgan Ames, UC Berkeley School of Information Adjunct Professor, and Sam Markolf, Assistant Professor at UC Merced.

CITRIS Research Exchange delivers fresh perspectives on information technology and society from distinguished academic, industry, and civic leaders. Free and open to the public, the CITRIS Research Exchange Seminar Series is a weekly dialogue highlighting leading voices on societal-scale technology challenges. Each one-hour seminar takes place on Wednesdays and starts at 12 pm.

Learn more about our upcoming talks below: 

January 27 – The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values with Brian Christian 

With the incredible growth of machine learning (ML) over recent years has come an increasing concern about whether ML systems’ objectives truly capture their human designers’ intent: the so-called “alignment problem.” Over the last five years, these questions of both ethics and safety have moved from the margins of the field to become arguably its most central concerns. The result is something of a movement: a vibrant, multifaceted, interdisciplinary effort to address the alignment problem head-on, which is producing some of the most exciting research happening today.

February 3 – Using exhaled breath to diagnose COVID-19 with Cristina Davis

The extent of the COVID-19 pandemic is still truly unknown due to the unavailability of SARS-CoV-2 tests. The development of new types of diagnostics will greatly increase the global testing capacity. Additionally, there are no methods available to track an individual’s health during COVID-19 infections outside of a clinical setting that could be predictive of prognosis, such warning if mild cases are turning severe and require clinical intervention.

Davis’ research team has been developing rapid, non-invasive diagnostic platforms for pulmonary viral infections through analysis of a person’s exhaled breath. Exhaled breath contains thousands of metabolites that not only provide diagnostic capabilities but also can be used to assess pulmonary health, tracking disease progression and severity with samples that can be collected at home.

February 10 – Disinformation Risk Reduction using Information Security Methods with Sara-Jayne Terp

In just 4 years, disinformation has evolved to the point where it is now being used by a spectrum of actors, from activists to nation-states, and is difficult to counter with fixed methods. CogSec Collab, and its predecessor MisinfoSec, designs and tests real-time response to disinformation incidents. The Collab applies information security principles to defenses against disinformation, builds processes and tools for this, and runs or mentors response teams including the CTI league’s covid19-focussed disinformation team. This talk covers our recent research on disinformation risk management and Cognitive Security Operations Centers.

February 17 – Labor and Automation in California Agriculture: Equity, Productivity, & Resilience with Tom Harmon

An agricultural revolution driven by automation, big data, and artificial intelligence is upon us. This presentation will introduce an exciting new research effort being undertaken by an interdisciplinary team from the University of California Merced, Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside campuses and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. California is an agriculturally rich state, yet its food system remains vulnerable to climate change, regulatory change, water availability, labor shortages, and unexpected disturbances. We know that automation improves efficiency. However, to create a sustainable California agri-food system, we must create a new model for agricultural technology (AgTech) design. This new design paradigm support more and better food while creating a vibrant future for workers and a healthy environment for future generations.

February 24 – The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child with Morgan Ames

During this talk, Ames will discuss her book, “The Charisma Machine,” named Best Information Science Book of 2020 and explore the life and legacy of the One Laptop per Child project and explain why—despite its failures—the same utopian visions that inspired OLPC still motivate other projects trying to use technology to “disrupt.” Announced in 2005 by MIT Media Lab cofounder Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop per Child promised to transform the lives of children across the Global South. Even as the project fell short in many ways, it remained charismatic to many who were enchanted by its claims of a global transformation. Drawing on archival research and an ethnographic study of a model OLPC project, Ames offers a cautionary tale about the allure of technology hype and the problems that result when utopian dreams drive technology development.

March 3 – Toward Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Systems in the Anthropocene with Sam Markolf

Samuel Markolf is an Assistant Professor within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Merced, where his research broadly focuses on applying systems-thinking to sustainability and resilience challenges facing cities and infrastructure systems. Prior to joining UC Merced, he was an Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University and a Research Fellow within the NSF sponsored Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN). Sam earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, Masters in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, and a joint-Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

Each CITRIS Research Exchange seminar is available for viewing after the event on our YouTube channel


The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.

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