Computer Science Students to Present at Major Conferences

Sep 2 2016

Five NYU Shanghai undergraduate students have had their Computer Science research papers accepted by prestigious international conferences.

Class of ‘17 students Che (Watcher) Wang, Yanqiu (Autumn) Wu, Carson Nemelka, Cameron Ballard and Kelvin Liu have been invited to present their papers at the highly competitive Annual AAAI Conference in San Francisco, the ACM Internet Measurement Conference in Santa Monica, and the International World Wide Web Conference in Florence, Italy, which have acceptance rates between 14% and 25%.

The research, co-authored with academics at New York University and NYU Shanghai, investigates novice AI planning algorithms in real-time strategy games, the vulnerability of anonymous social media platforms, and risks to children’s privacy online.


A StarCraft-Worthy Algorithm

Che (Watcher) Wang’s article “Portfolio Online Evolution in Starcraft,” which was co-authored with NYU’s Pan Chen, Yuanda Li, Christoffer Holmgard, and Julian Togelius, details a new method for playing real-time strategy games through “evolutionary search in the space of assignments of scripts to individual game units.”

The evolutionary algorithm, Wang says, is “based on and inspired by natural selection” and was test-proven to outperform previous methods in a combat simulator for Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft game.

“I was inspired by my advanced course called AI in Games. I only had a little over one year’s experience in programming before I got AI, but now I plan on taking on a DURF project this summer with a focus on reinforcement learning,” said Wang.

The paper has been accepted for oral presentation in The Twelfth Annual AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment (AIIDE-16) this October.


Can You Really Yak in Private?

Popular on college campuses, Yik Yak is an app that lets users post anonymous short messages -- a “yak”-- which can be seen by other users in the vicinity. However, anonymous social network services like Yik Yak 4chan and Whisper, are likely to come under scrutiny after the publication of You Can Yak but You Can’t Hide: Localizing Anonymous Social Network UsersPDF icon [pdf] by seniors Ballard, Liu, Nemelka, and Wu.

Co-authored by NYU Shanghai Dean of Computer Science and Engineering Keith Ross and Minhui Xue and Haifeng Qian from East China Normal University (ECNU),  this paper investigates whether the app is “susceptible to localization attacks, thereby putting user anonymity at risk.”

Ballard worked with Nemelka on collecting data for the project. One of their experiments was able to determine the correct dorm out of nine UC Santa Cruz dorms from where a ‘yak’ message was generated -- proven with 100% accuracy each time.

Reflecting on the collaboration, Ballard said it had taught him how to better communicate his work: “When collaborating you have to make sure another person can pick up your work wherever you left off. For Carson [Nemelka] and I, that meant making our programs easily usable by the other members of the team who weren't necessarily as versed in computer programming," he said.

The group’s paper has been accepted by the 2016 ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC), which takes place in Santa Monica, California, in November.

“It's not often that you get the opportunity to generate knowledge, and the "Information Age" we live in is the perfect time to delve into any aspect of life that draws you,” said Ballard. "This research solidified my interest in academia. Having this experience under my belt made me confident enough to apply for the Dean's Undergraduate Research Fund (DURF) grant this summer, and I've been researching Twitter and the 2016 election as a result.”

How Posting Baby Photos Could Endanger Your Child

The vulnerability of online privacy was also the subject of research published by Liu and Ross, along with NYU Tandon’s Tehila Minkus, in February 2015.

Children Seen But Not Heard: When Parents Compromise Children's Online Privacy exposed the risks of adults sharing children’s personally identifiable information on platforms like Facebook and Instagram and was accepted by the 24th World Wide Web Consortium 2015 (WWW'2015) in Florence, Italy. Read more here.

Professor Keith Ross said he was proud of the students’ achievements.

“To have their research accepted as undergraduates at these conferences is an accomplishment of which they should be very proud,” he said. “It shows that they are already thinking and asking questions at an advanced level and will help them secure places in top postgraduate research programs. The NYU Shanghai CS faculty also have high hopes for the class of 2018 students.”