UCI Magazine Fall 2020 -- AI at UCI

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Fall 2020



Artful Respite The Maya Lin Water Table provides a soothing calm in the heart of UCI’s Arts Plaza. Designed by the renowned architect and artist who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the fountain and plaza were unveiled 15 years ago on Oct. 25.

Fall 2020


Steve Zylius / UCI


Fall 2020 Vol. 5, No. 3

Artificial Intelligence at UCI



In the Know: Students in the burgeoning AI@UCI Club form

fast friendships while sharing knowledge and mentoring each other in the applications of artificial intelligence

Building Tomorrow’s AI: UCI researchers forge local and international partnerships to make artificial intelligence smarter and fairer









About This Issue: We first began this edition in January, but as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., we shifted gears – like most of the world – and published a special “COVID-19: A Call to Action” report (spring 2020). Then we turned our focus back to artificial intelligence, a forward-looking technology that researchers across UCI are actively seeking to improve and employ for the benefit of society in myriad ways. Some of the photos in this issue predate the pandemic, so practices such as social distancing and using face coverings had not yet been recommended by public health agencies. The AI club’s group photo (above), for example, was taken at its last meeting, one day before the campus turned to remote instruction. This magazine captures an eight-month period of flux, and yet, as Chancellor Howard Gillman wrote in his letter last issue, the university is not closed but actively continuing its mission of teaching, research and public service. We hope that you enjoy this in-depth coverage of “AI at UCI” – and perhaps a glimpse of brighter days ahead.


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36 32 Thinking Big: The Precision Health Through Artificial Intelligence Initiative uses leading-edge big-data approaches to advance the frontiers of medicine







From the Sky Above to the Sea Below: UCI scientists use artificial intelligence to unravel some of nature’s mysteries



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Letter From the Chancellor In the few short decades since its founding in 1965, UCI has been at the forefront of two of the major scientific/technical revolutions of our time, advancements so transformational that they changed not only their disciplines but how we live, work and view ourselves. The first was the development of information technology. In 1965, a computer – such as those used by the forerunner of what is now UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, the only school of its type in the UC system – was a room-sized mainframe that employed vacuum tubes, required punch cards and basically performed only mathematical functions. Today, to illustrate the difference, I am writing this on a computer tablet I can lift with two fingers, and we each carry in our pocket more computing power than was even dreamed of in 1965, giving us the ability to connect with anyone on the planet and work and play in a virtual world. The second sea change was in the biological sciences. Using advanced computing techniques, the human genome was sequenced in 2000, and since then, whole new fields of cross-disciplinary study have opened up – fields such as biophysics, bioinformatics, astrobiology, genetic engineering and computational genomics. Our new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building, which will come into use later this fall, is designed to promote and facilitate such multidisciplinary convergences. And now a third scientific/technical revolution is forming, one that promises to have life-changing – and, it is hoped, life-enhancing – effects similar to those of its predecessors. Artificial intelligence can be broadly defined as the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like people and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with the human mind, such as learning and problem-solving. UCI has been studying AI since its early days, but now the entire campus is pursuing its development and use in different ways. As you will read in the following pages, it’s hard to think of an academic unit in any school that is not exploring how AI can be incorporated in its work. The School of Law’s AI Policy Laboratory at UCI is investigating how law, policy and ethics keep up with this rapidly emerging technology. The Precision Health Through Artificial Intelligence Initiative is expanding the use of AI across all medical specialties at UCI. The Department of Earth System Science is utilizing AI to forecast the spread of wildfires. The School of Education is employing AI to improve the digital learning experience, and the School of Social Ecology is applying it to upgrade water protocols for refugee camps in Bangladesh. The list goes on and on. I hope you enjoy reading about how UCI is using AI to make the world a better place.

UCI Magazine Vol. 5, No. 3 Produced by the University of California, Irvine Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Chancellor Howard Gillman Associate Chancellor, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs Ria Carlson Assistant Vice Chancellor, Public Affairs Sherry Main Managing Editor Marina Dundjerski Design Vince Rini Design Visuals Steve Chang and Steve Zylius Copy Editor Kymberly Doucette Editorial Advisory Committee Jennie Brewton, Mandi Gonzales, Stacey King (athletics), Will Nagel, Brian O’Dea (health), Janna Parris (advancement), Mara Schteinschraber and Lisa Zwick (alumni) Contributing Writers Greg Hardesty, Tom Kertscher, Cathy Lawhon, Rosemary McClure, Kristin Baird Rattini, Roy Rivenburg, Shari Roan and Jim Washburn Contact Have a comment or suggestion? Address correspondence to: UCI Magazine UCI Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs 120 Theory, Ste. 100 Irvine, CA 92697-5615 949-824-6922 • ucimagazine@uci.edu communications.uci.edu/magazine UCI Magazine is a publication for faculty, staff, alumni, students, parents, community members and UCI supporters. Issues are published in winter, spring and fall.

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Donald Bren School of Inf ormation & Computer Sciences


Computing UCI’s AI Roots

CI and artificial intelligence go way back. In 1968, the campus opened the UC system’s first computer science department. At the helm was Julian Feldman, who had co-edited a groundbreaking anthology of AI research articles five years earlier. Almost immediately, the fledgling department began offering graduate seminars and workshops in artificial intelligence. But the lessons were largely theoretical. “A lot of the ideas we’re using now were around then,” says Padhraic Smyth, Chancellor’s Professor of computer science and founding director of the UCI Center for Machine Learning & Intelligent Systems from 2007 to 2014. “But they couldn’t pursue them in the 1960s because computers were too primitive.” Indeed, when Feldman’s book was reissued in 1995, co-editor Edward Feigenbaum wrote the preface on an Apple Macintosh that he said possessed “far more processing power, more RAM, and more disk memory than the sum of all the computers that were being used by all the AI researchers [from] 1956-62.” From those humble beginnings, ICS faculty and alumni have helped pioneer some of the computing world’s most important advancements, including HTTP and the domain name system, two cornerstones of the internet.

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Back to School



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Photos by Corey Tull / UCI and Steve Zylius / UCI

UCI leaders have been preparing for the start of fall classes ever since the initial transition to remote operations back in March. Working with state, local and campus health experts and evaluating how universities across the country are faring with their opening plans, the campus has implemented safety protocols such as screening all on-site students for coronavirus on a regular basis. The 4,900 undergraduates who, as of press time, intended to return to campus will be placed in single rooms in the residence halls – at about 38 percent capacity. (Another 2,200 students will live in graduate or family housing.) Common areas have been converted to encourage physical distancing by limiting occupancy while allowing students to remain connected. Here, student workers with housing services test out some of the shared spaces and stage a mock move-in. “Whether you join us virtually or in person, I want to welcome our new and returning students to UCI,” said Willie L. Banks Jr., vice chancellor for student affairs, in a message to Anteaters. “What we can tell you with certainty is that the student experience will look and feel different for everyone.”

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World-Class Healthcare The UC Board of Regents has approved funding and construction of the $221 million UCI Health Center for Advanced Care, which will be home to the Center for Children’s Health (rendering above), adult specialty care, urgent care and other services needed in the region for the entire family. The 168,000-square-foot UCI Health Center for Advanced Care will be located in Irvine on Jamboree Road at the Birch Street intersection, in an undeveloped part of UCI’s North Campus area. It will break ground in 2021 and is expected to be completed in late 2022, pending all legal and regulatory approvals.


A Prescription for Healthcare

On Aug. 4, UCI announced the establishment of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the first public pharmacy school in the Los Angeles-Orange County region and a pillar of UCI’s expanding Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences. “We’re thrilled to launch the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences as the next step in UCI’s bold reimagining of healthcare, one that shifts the focus of patient care from treating ailments to preventing them,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Infused with that spirit, the


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school will concentrate on the whole patient, spanning the continuum from drug discovery to clinical practice.” According to Founding Dean Jan Hirsch, professor of clinical pharmacy, the new school will be a driving force for advancing the health and wellness of individuals and society. “The school will provide innovative, integrative, learnercentered education; cutting-edge pharmaceutical and biomedical research; and national leadership in interprofessional, patient-centered healthcare,” she said. “We will educate pharmaceutical scientists and clinical pharmacists who will be integral to discovering and implementing new solutions to optimize medication usage, patient outcomes and cost-effective healthcare.” UCI’s school – which was approved by University of California regents on July 30 – will be the third such venture in the UC system and California’s first new public pharmacy school in nearly two decades.

BY THE NUMBERS Pharmaceutical sciences program is in U.S. top 10. UCI is the No. 1 feeder school for pharmacy schools. Students in B.S. programs: 579 Students in M.S. program: 21 Students in Ph.D. program: 33 Faculty members: 28

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You Are Your Microbes In addition to your individual face and personality, you have a unique microbiome – the collection of tiny organisms that influences health in big ways. Microbiomes also play a role in the natural environment, governing the functions of soil, plants and water. Now, thanks to two UCI biologists, the nation’s burgeoning number of microbiome scientists have a place to share their work, a development that will advance the exploding field. The Microbiome Centers Consortium was created late last year by Jennifer Martiny, UCI professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, and Katrine Whiteson, UCI assistant professor of molecular biology & biochemistry. The group has grown from scientists at 28 centers – who met for their first conference at UCI in 2019 – to more than 40 today. Microbiome science has become a hot field because newer genetic sequencing and other technologies allow researchers to see microbes and explore their functions. Martiny is examining microbes in soil, while Whiteson is exploring their role in the human colon. Scientists from nine different disciplines are part of the UCI microbiome center. Projects include studying changes in the skin microbiome of patients treated for atopic dermatitis and the role of microbes in lake ecosystems.

“We didn’t pay attention to the microbiome much before because we didn’t know what was there,” Martiny says. “Now we can see the incredible diversity and abundance of microbes everywhere we look. Microbiome research opens this black box to reveal interactions between our cells and microbiomes that have been going on for so long.”

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Courtney Hinrichs (left), a registered polysomnographic technologist and clinical supervisor for the UCI Health Sleep Medicine Center, instructs an individual on how to put on the home sleep testing equipment.


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In today’s America, a restorative night’s sleep has become something of a luxury. Sleep is critical to optimal physical and mental health, but as many as 1 in 5 people have a serious sleep disorder, says Dr. Ruth Benca, chair of the Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at the UCI School of Medicine. UCI, however, can boast of having one of the most technologically sophisticated sleep treatment centers in the country for people who are tired of being exhausted. “Sleep problems can impair your ability to get things done. Longer term, untreated sleep problems have very significant health risks,” Benca says. Treating sleep disorders has never been easier: Rather than taking a pill for insomnia, for example, try proven behavioral therapies, she says. Telemedicine appointments are available, and instead of spending the night in the UCI Health Sleep Medicine Center’s eight-bed, 6,000-square-foot sleep lab, some patients can use an at-home diagnostic monitor for assessing conditions such as sleep apnea. Complaining about poor sleep – especially common in older adults – won’t fix it. “People say, ‘I don’t sleep well, but it’s just because I’m getting old,’” Benca says. “Aging is not a reason to have bad sleep.”

ZOT! ZOT! ZOT! MR. PRESIDENT Congratulations to Dr. Michael V. Drake on his appointment to lead the University of California’s 10 campuses into a brilliant future. At UCI, where he served as chancellor from 2005 to 2014, Dr. Drake oversaw the creation of California’s first new public law school in 40 years, championed diversity and dialogue, boosted UCI’s enrollment and national rankings, and led the launch of programs in public health, pharmaceutical sciences and nursing science, as well as the formation of our School of Education. The list goes on, and we’re excited to see him take that spirit of innovation, curiosity and inclusive excellence to new heights as president of one of the finest research university systems in the world. Welcome back to the UC family.


Human-Computer Improvisation For the past quarter-century, Christopher Dobrian, professor of integrated composition, improvisation & technology in UCI’s Department of Music, has focused his research on human-computer interactivity in live performances. He develops AI software for computer cognition of music, enabling a human and a computer to improvise together. The “gestural� software, shown on screen here, characterizes sounds created by the musician as sonic shapes and uses that information to play musically appropriate responses on the computer-controllable piano.


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Fall 2020


Steve Zylius / UCI



Cox’s Bazar


Water Wise Waterborne diseases such as cholera pose the greatest mortality risk to the more than 70 million displaced individuals living in temporary settlements worldwide. But new AI technology implemented in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, may provide a simple yet revolutionary breakthrough. The UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, led by urban planning & public policy professor Richard Matthew, is contributing to the development of the Safe Water Optimization Tool through a partnership led by former Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) aid worker Syed Imran Ali, a research fellow at York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research. The key is to calibrate the chlorine in the camps’ tanks to optimize water quality and produce enough free residual chlorine so that the quality remains high until the water is consumed. SWOT applies advanced machine learning and numerical modeling techniques to analyze water quality monitoring data and generate site-specific chlorination targets. The tool was tested in December at 10 water supply networks operated by Médecins Sans Frontières in the Camp 1 area of the Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site (at right) and is working incredibly well, Matthew says, adding: “It’s exciting to be part of this international group of people who are trying to bring big data and machine learning and spatial analysis together to solve these common problems related to water – solutions that could be replicated in many regions of the world.”


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P E R S P E C T I V E Pierre Baldi Distinguished Professor of computer science Director, Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics

The Pulse of AI “What can I help you with?” “Directions to Bren Hall, University of California, Irvine.” If you’ve had that conversation with Siri, or asked Alexa to play KUCI, or hailed an Uber or Lyft, you’ve availed yourself of research pioneered by Pierre Baldi. A UCI Distinguished Professor of computer science with joint appointments in biological chemistry and mathematics, among others, Baldi is also founding director of the Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, one of the earliest multidisciplinary research centers on campus. He and his team recently created an artificial intelligence system that taught itself to solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than one second. A deep learning machine that can crack a puzzle involving mathematical, symbolic and abstract thought brings us a step closer to developing one that can think, reason, plan and make decisions. Baldi earned a doctorate in mathematics at the California Institute of Technology in 1986. Today, from his office on the fourth floor of Bren Hall, he is tackling some of the most difficult challenges in artificial intelligence and applying AI to problems in physics, chemistry and biology. In 2019, he was named one of the top 100 AI leaders in drug discovery and advanced healthcare by Deep Knowledge Analytics, a global company in the deep learning industry. In an interview with UCI Magazine contributing writer Cathy Lawhon, Baldi recently discussed the genesis of his interest in AI and its biological, technological and ethical implications for the future.


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What attracted you to UCI? I arrived here in 1999. The campus and the information and computer sciences school were young; ICS became the first school of its kind in the University of California system in 2002. I was attracted by the opportunities for growth and collaboration. In 2001, I was able to establish the Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics, which has applications in biochemistry and biomedical sciences. And still today there are few barriers to collaborating. Were you interested in science as a child?

aware of the problems and pitfalls and be careful with the technology. I’m going to be offering a new ethics class on the societal issues of AI for graduate students and talented undergraduates. We need to look at such things as whether computers can be conscious or have a sense of self-awareness and ethics. Ethics is a messy field, even for humans. These are concepts established over 2,000 years ago by the Greeks and others, and today they gain new meaning. They’re such big questions – understanding consciousness and intelligence – but it’s also fascinating.

I knew at age 10 that I wanted to be a scientist. I remember overhearing a conversation my parents were having about Einstein, and they were speaking about him with great admiration. It was at that point that I said, “That’s what I want to do.” It’s silly looking back. It’s like a little kid on the basketball court saying he wants to be Kobe Bryant. But that conversation stuck with me. I love the elegance of math and thinking about problems and developing helpful systems.

How accurate are depictions of AI in cultural contexts – movies, novels, etc.?

When did computers enter the picture?

“We need to look at such things as whether

I did my first computer work in college, and I hated it. I’m not particularly fond of writing programs, although it’s absolutely necessary, and I’m fortunate to have people on my team who like it. People understand uses of artificial intelligence in their daily lives – Siri, Alexa, etc. What can they expect in the future? Yes, Alexa, Siri, self-driving cars. Every time you do a Google search, you’re using AI. For the future, robots have been shown to be really effective in working with children with autism; they seem to have an easier time trusting robots than human strangers. And we’re excited about the applications for AI in reading and analyzing biomedical imaging such as ultrasound, microscopy – anything where we need to interpret images. It saves money. It could be used in remote places or in a pandemic, when we need to process images rapidly. In fact, some AI applications are already in development for COVID-19. [See story on page 32.] We have that technology now. What we need are the data – real images – to train the machines to read the images. Hospitals and doctors have issues with privacy in sharing that data. So the deployment lags behind the technology, but we’ll work it out. Some people find it a bit scary to have machines thinking, planning and making decisions for us. What do you say to them?

Well, it depends on the movie and the novel. If they’re portraying AI as a method of traveling to another galaxy, that’s not coming from reality. But in terms of robots taking care of the elderly, for example, that is reality. Robots have infinite patience.

computers can be conscious or have a sense of self-awareness and ethics. Ethics is a messy field, even for humans.”

This is heavy stuff. How do you unwind? [Pointing to an acoustic guitar case and amp in his office] I like flamenco and jazz. I’m in a little band, and when we perform, we play the standards, like Santana. And I enjoy sports – a little bit of everything. Lately, I’ve been researching the benefits of stretching, and I’m doing a lot of that. I think it’s extremely important as we age. If you could answer one big question with your work, what would it be? Understanding intelligence and consciousness are the big questions. We work a lot with our colleagues in neurobiology to understand their data. What can we take from what we understand about how the brain works and apply it to taking machine deep learning to the next level? There are lots of pieces to this, and we’re not there yet.

I understand the worries – that robots will take over and remove us all – but we are far from that. We have to be

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Professor of computer science Alex Ihler (center), academic adviser of the AI@UCI Club, is flanked on March 12 by student leaders (from left): Omkar Pathak, Monish Ramadoss (standing), Anthony Luu, Iman “Amy” Elsayed, Jason Kahn, Andrew Laird (standing), Shivan Vipani and Satyam “Sam” Tandon (standing).


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Steve Zylius / UCI

In the Know Students in the burgeoning AI@UCI Club form fast friendships while sharing knowledge and mentoring each other in the applications of artificial intelligence By Greg Hardesty


onish Ramadoss, a computer science & engineering major with a keen interest in artificial intelligence, recalls hearing about the then-new AI@UCI Club in spring 2017. That first meeting, held in a windowless basement room of the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, attracted a dozen or so like-minded undergraduates who wanted to discuss machine learning, computer vision and other aspects of AI. Ramadoss kept attending the meetings for the new friendships he made as well as the stimulating subjects covered. “The idea of the club was to create an open forum for everybody to communicate their ideas about machine learning and other different topics – an area where people could come together and develop new projects or even just connect,” says Ramadoss, now a senior and one of 15 leaders of the AI@UCI Club. The student-run organization currently has a mailing list of around 2,000 members. During the academic year, 100 or so students gather twice a month for free workshops in which they get hands-on experience designing such things as chatbots – think Alexa and other services that simulate conversations with humans by leveraging AI and natural language processing – and fake online dating profiles, to illustrate the concept of generative adversarial networks (see definitions below). Once a quarter, guests speak at AI@UCI Club meetings about real-world applications of artificial intelligence. Anthony Luu, a computer science major who, along with Ramadoss, is a group leader (they call themselves mentors), is interested in an AI-related career in the

medical or cybersecurity field. At one club seminar, he talked about an app he’s developing for UCI Dining Services: “UCI is focused on zero waste. I’m working on an app that allows users to take a picture of their trash, and then the app will tell them what bin to throw it in, along with instructions on how to properly dispose of it.” Club President Iman “Amy” Elsayed, a fifth-year computer science & engineering major, works closely with the group’s academic adviser, Alex Ihler, a professor of computer science who teaches many of UCI’s undergraduate machine learning classes. “AI encompasses so many different fields,” Elsayed says, “but at the end of the day, it’s all math. And I really enjoy math.” Says Ihler: “The students approached me. The undergraduates wanted to have a club so they could get together and learn about different projects. A few years ago, AI clubs at universities were somewhat unusual. One reason is that machine learning in the past has not been very accessible to undergraduates. Now it’s starting to become more accessible and more relevant.” Shivan Vipani, a junior majoring in computer science, joined the AI@UCI Club when he was a freshman. “I was interested in the workshops, and I wanted a little head start on being introduced to the world of AI,” Vipani says. “I thought it’d be a cool way to learn and get my hands dirty.” To Andrew Laird, another club member and computer science major, AI “feels like magic.” He adds: “It’s super impressive what people have done with AI on the internet. When you get down to it, it’s all math and such, but it’s nice to be the magician.”

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Inside Intelligence With AI terminology a veritable alphabet soup of head-scratchers for the uninitiated, UCI Magazine asked mentors of the AI@UCI Club to explain in their own words what some of the key phrases mean. Artificial Intelligence “‘Artificial intelligence’ is a broad term that means for a machine to demonstrate intelligence similar to humans or animals. The field encompasses several subfields such as computer vision, machine learning and natural language processing. While AI in the media often depicts a doomsday scenario, such as in ‘The Terminator,’ machines don’t have their own conscience and really only excel at what the programmer tells them to do. I like to describe programs as really smart 5-year-olds. They do exactly what you tell them to do.” Iman “Amy” Elsayed Fifth-year senior, computer science & engineering Career plans: computer vision/robotics engineer Mantra: “Oreos are life.”


Evolutionary Computation

(genetic algorithms, genetic programming) “Think of this as a computerized version of Darwinism. ‘Evolutionary computation’ refers to a machine learning method of optimization and learning inspired by genetics and evolution. Starting with a large group of possible solutions, we take the characteristics of the best-performing ones and produce a new set to eventually end up with the ‘fittest.’ It’s much like finding the best recipe for homemade cake: You try multiple different methods and find which aspects of each attempt produce the best-tasting cake. On each subsequent attempt, you only use methods that you’ve found create the best flavor. Over time, you end up with the perfect cake, making all your friends crown you the Cake Master.” Jason Kahn Fifth-year senior, computer science and business information management Career plans: software and development and operations engineer Mantra: “There is a time and place for decaf: never and in the trash.”


Computer Vision

(object recognition and visual understanding) “Face ID on iPhones is a popular application of computer vision, which allows technology to make sense of images, such as recognizing objects. When you open your iPhone, computer vision allows the phone to ‘see’ you and unlock the phone once it recognizes you.” Amy Elsayed


Speech Processing

(speech recognition and production) “Virtual assistant technologies like Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant are great examples of speech processing AIs. When a user says ‘Hey Siri,’ the iPhone employs speech recognition to understand what the user said. Then the AI’s response is converted back to sound using speech synthesis, giving a more natural way to interact with your phone.” Omkar Pathak Senior, computer science & engineering Career plans: machine learning software engineer Mantra: “Enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy.”


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Natural Language Processing (machine translation)

“Natural language processing is the intersection between computer science and linguistics, dealing with how computers process and analyze human language. When your phone guesses what you’ll type next or Google answers a question for you, that’s NLP hard at work to understand your sentence structure and the inherent meaning behind it. NLP is how systems like chatbots and Google Translate are able to run. As the volume of text information increases over time, NLP will play a key role in making sense of it all.” Shivan Vipani Junior, computer science Career plans: machine learning engineer Mantra: “If you aren’t happy doing it, is it worth it?”


Explainable AI “Currently, AI is a ‘black box’ where we don’t always understand how an AI program makes a decision or comes to a conclusion. Explainable AI tries to extract and communicate why the AI program makes its decision in a way that humans can understand.” Amy Elsayed


Reinforcement Learning (scheduling, game playing)

“Reinforcement learning is the process of learning by interacting with an environment. Games are excellent examples of reinforcement learning. In 2016, Google DeepMind’s AI, AlphaGo, beat the human world champion of Go – an ancient Japanese game significantly more complex than chess. However, RL techniques are being applied to more than just games. Researchers are using RL to control robotic systems, optimize business strategies and even predict protein folding, which helps biologists fighting diseases, including COVID-19.” Andrew Laird Senior, computer science Career plans: machine learning software engineer Mantra: “Work hard, play hard.”


Machine Learning “Machine learning is a subfield of AI that uses statistical methods to make AI perform better with experience, or examples. We can ‘teach’ a machine to recognize puppies by showing it many images of puppies and non-puppies (an example of supervised learning). The more examples of puppies we feed the machine to learn on, the better it will be at recognizing a puppy in a new image.” Amy Elsayed


Supervised Learning “Most of the machine learning that you hear people talk about is supervised machine learning. Supervised learning uses labeled data and maps it between some observable information, or features (x) and output (y). This mapping allows the algorithm to take in something it’s never seen before and apply the mapping it learned from the data to produce a prediction of the ‘correct’ output.” Anthony Luu Senior, computer science Career plans: use machine learning in the medical or cybersecurity field Mantra: “Learn something new every day.”

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Data Mining “Data mining is pretty great, despite its bad rap in popular media. (Remember how Target got slammed for being able to deduce, based on her purchases, that a teenage shopper was pregnant before her father knew it?) Instead of mining the Earth, data mining operates on large raw datasets, and instead of pickaxes, it uses tools like machine learning and statistics. In both, the goal is to chip away the surface and uncover hidden value – in this case, patterns, trends and information. Such information can then be used for tasks ranging from providing better music recommendations to more accurately detecting cancer in X-rays.” Satyam “Sam” Tandon Fifth-year senior, informatics, with a minor in statistics Career plans: data scientist/machine learning engineer Mantra: “There are those who think pineapple goes on pizza and then there are those who are wrong.”


Generative Adversarial Networks “Think of the classic ‘cops and robbers’ scenario. In games, AI agents can use self-play to improve their skills. Generative adversarial networks are a similar idea used for supervised learning. We build two neural networks: a ‘generator’ to make fake outputs and a ‘discriminator’ to evaluate how real they are. Together they make a ‘cops and robbers’ relationship in which the generator tries to fool the discriminator by creating more realistic outputs and the discriminator searches for ways to tell the difference. An example of this application is image upscaling, where a generator is trained to take a low-resolution image and upscale it to a higher resolution; the discriminator makes sure that the results look realistic.” Monish Ramadoss Senior, computer science & engineering Career plans: kernel engineer for AI accelerators Mantra: “Live life and drink coffee.”


Recurrent Neural Networks “Recurrent neural networks are robust learning models that have found their application in various complex systems. Unmanned vehicles and robots defying gravity opened avenues in research in science and technology. Similarly, businesses benefit a lot from these methodologies in helping them analyze their data and everyday activities better. RNN serves as the state-of-the-art approach for determining future states of objects and data based on objects that happened earlier. Google Translate, Google Finance and Amazon’s Alexa chatbot all use such intuitive tools at the heart of their software.” Anurag Sengupta First-year graduate student, computer science Career plans: building software for machine learning applications Mantra: “Love for sweets for any mood I happen to be in.”


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Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences




With more than 100 faculty and 800 graduate students currently in its ranks, UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences has been on the forefront of the information revolution for more than 50 years. We are committed to teaching and exploring the foundations and applications of computing across a broad spectrum of domains, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, big-data systems, data science, digital media and learning, health informatics, human-computer interaction, security, software engineering, and vision and visualization. Push the boundaries of information technology through one of our graduate programs: PH.D./M.S. RESEARCH PROGRAMS • Computer Science • Informatics • Networked Systems • Software Engineering • Statistics

PROFESSIONAL MASTER’S PROGRAMS • Computer Science • Data Science • Human-Computer Interaction and Design • Software Engineering

Visit www.ics.uci.edu/grad/admissions to learn more.

Jeffrey Krichmar, professor of cognitive sciences and computer science, leads UCI’s Cognitive Anteater Robotics Laboratory, where mechanical systems that mimic the mammalian brain are being developed. Shown here with a socially assistive robot designed to interact with autistic children, Krichmar is blending neuroscience, robotics and AI to “reproduce the underpinnings of dynamical learning.�


UCI Magazine

Building Tomorrow’s AI: Smarter and Fairer


UCI researchers forge local and international partnerships to make artificial intelligence work better for actual people in real life By Cathy Lawhon


ith sensors around their wrists and on their fingers, a cohort of pregnant women in underserved Orange County communities will soon begin transmitting their vital statistics via smartphones to researchers at UCI who aim to stem a 30-year upward trend in the U.S. maternal mortality rate. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is led by UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, where moms and babies may seem an odd fit with algorithms and machine learning. But Nikil Dutt, Distinguished Professor of computer science and principal researcher on the Unite project, heads a multidisciplinary team that includes the schools of nursing, social ecology and education along with nonprofit agencies, hospitals and local support organizations to test the efficacy of community-based, self-managed health monitoring among expectant women. The work is one example of how UCI’s artificial intelligence research is revolutionizing many aspects of how we live. In 1968, when UCI faculty began delving into nascent AI, it was largely as theoretical discussions limited by primitive computers. The field has since exploded into an enterprise encompassing everything from financial services to healthcare, from shopping to education. It has also spurred an examination of the legal, ethical and social justice quandaries posed by AI. This fall, for example, the UCI School of Law is launching a first-of-itskind policy institute devoted to AI issues. The campus has the only school of information and computer sciences in the University of California system, and its expertise was validated earlier this year when the

Photos by Steve Zylius

Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany announced that it would open its newest research school, the HPI Research Center in Machine Learning and Data Science, at UCI. “This international collaboration creates an unparalleled research environment for exploring artificial intelligence technologies that have a positive impact on our world,” says ICS Dean Marios Papaefthymiou. Closer to home, Dutt and his Unite team are supplying underserved local women expecting babies with devices that will monitor and report their physical activity, stress levels, sleep habits and more. This data will then prompt AI-generated suggestions on their smartphones: “Could you take more steps today?” or “Try to get more sleep.” “The challenge is building a personalized model that incorporates all the biological and physical signals along with the changing contextual parameters that influence pregnancy directly,” says Unite member Marco Levorato, associate professor of computer science. Amir Rahmani, an assistant professor of nursing and computer science who’s also on the team, ran a similar study in his native Finland on obesity management during pregnancy. “This model is a lot more sophisticated,” he says. The project touches on key emerging issues in AI research: community involvement and social justice. Yuqing Guo, associate professor of nursing, has involved potential study subjects in the development of the technology itself. She and fellow researchers interviewed 11 women and surveyed 114 more about their preferences – whether they liked the technology, what kinds of questions should be asked, etc. “In August, we launched the first part of our study, the Two Happy Hearts app, which suggests mindful breathing and safe exercise,” Guo says.

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Annie Qu, Chancellor’s Professor of statistics, who joined the UCI faculty earlier this year, is striving to make AI smarter by enabling it to integrate data from multiple sources and apply it in individualized modeling in fields including precision medicine.

Making Machines Smarter Not far from where the Unite team conducts its work, in the warren of computer science labs encompassing three buildings and 12 floors on campus, Annie Qu, Chancellor’s Professor of statistics, studies how to make these kinds of recommender systems more efficient. “Machines are a little bit dumb,” she says. “Right now, they have to look at everything – all the data. We want them to be quicker and more relevant, informative and accurate, which is particularly important in medical diagnosis and prognostics.” Qu is working to enable data integration from multiple sources – for example, allowing AI technology to generalize or borrow data from

a patient with more medical information and apply it to a patient with less information but certain correlations or dependencies. In addition to precision medicine and health, this individualized modeling could have applications in social media, entertainment, shopping, marketing and sales, she says. Jeffrey Krichmar, professor of cognitive sciences, is investigating whether AI can “think” more like animals. One project aims to enhance the “vision” of self-driving cars by copying the way primates perceive and predict motion. Current AI has trouble traveling through an environment in which surrounding objects are also moving, says Krichmar, who has partnered with machine vision expert Charless Fowlkes, professor of computer science and cognitive sciences. Another Krichmar endeavor, in collaboration with Emre Neftci, assistant professor of cognitive sciences, and Xiangmin Xu, professor of anatomy & neurobiology, seeks to design a robot navigation system that mimics how rodents create mental maps to find their way around. Apes and rats “can achieve these feats with minimal energy usage,” Krichmar says. “The goal is to push AI systems beyond the state of the art … and the common thread is inspiration from biology.” Padhraic Smyth, Chancellor’s

“Machines are a little bit dumb. Right now, they have to look at everything – all the data. We want them to be quicker and more relevant, informative and accurate, which is particularly important in medical diagnosis and prognostics.”


UCI Magazine

Memorable Moments in AI History

1939: ....................................... At the New York World’s Fair, General Motor’s Futurama exhibit envisions self-driving cars.

1950: ....................................... Alan Turing, an English math whiz, devises a test to determine whether a machine shows human intelligence.

1955: ....................................... The term “artificial intelligence” is coined by John McCarthy of Dartmouth College as part of a proposed research project in the nascent field.

1956: ....................................... General Motor’s Firebird II concept car is built with an autopilot system designed to be controlled by sensorembedded roads.

1963: ....................................... Julian Feldman, who would go on to found UCI’s Department of Information & Computer Science, joins Edward Feigenbaum to publish Computers and Thought, the first anthology of AI articles.

Professor of computer science, agrees that AI could be smarter. Its main problem, he says, is that it doesn’t have common sense. But AI is much better in some applications than others, he adds. “It’s operating behind the scenes in multiple fields,” Smyth says, citing criminal justice (to match fingerprints and determine bail and parole), banking (to detect fraud), insurance (to assess risk), marketing (to decipher consumer data) and medicine (“It can learn to be a radiologist pretty quickly,” he notes). Not satisfied with the status quo, UCI is producing a new generation of researchers who strive to incorporate community desires, accountability, accessibility and social justice into AI design.

Designing Fair, Ethical AI One of UCI’s most prolific AI innovators is Pierre Baldi, Distinguished Professor of computer science, who employs electronic brains to discover drugs and predict chemical reactions, decode circadian rhythms, detect heart disease with

mammograms, identify polyps in colonoscopy videos, track climate change and even solve the Rubik’s Cube. Many UCI students will end up working as entrepreneurs, designers and programmers for self-driving cars, drones, loan application systems and more, he says, and “it’s very important that they be aware of and sensitive to bias and other issues.” Roderic Crooks, assistant professor of informatics, investigates how skewed technology affects Black, Latino and working-class communities, specifically in the deployment of AI by government and civic institutions. Bias is most egregious, he says, in predictive policing, which has resulted in discriminatory over-policing. “Putting technology in place and assuming it will work is harmful when you haven’t involved the impacted community in the development and scoping of that technology,” he says. “And that’s difficult and time-consuming because minoritized communities have good reason to distrust

1968: ....................................... UCI launches its ICS department, a first in the UC system.

1979: ....................................... The Stanford Cart, a pioneering autonomous vehicle, takes five hours to navigate a chair-filled room.

1987: ....................................... Doctoral student David Aha creates the UCI Machine Learning Repository, an ever-expanding collection of datasets now used by AI researchers worldwide.

1997: ....................................... IBM’s Deep Blue beats world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Roderic Crooks, assistant professor of informatics, has been investigating how biases in AI impact marginalized communities and how to better include affected groups in the development of AI technology.

2001: ....................................... Steven Spielberg directs the film “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” about a robot boy.

2002: ....................................... UCI’s ICS department is elevated to a school, the first of its kind in the UC system. Two years later, the school is named after benefactor Donald Bren.

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academic research and technology. There’s a long history of the working class being poorly served by researchers.” The fact that it’s difficult, however, is irrelevant, Crooks says. He hosted a conference last year on datafication and community activism that drew researchers from Data for Black Lives, The Bronx Defenders, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Our Data Bodies, the Urban Institute, Measure and IRISE dedicated to fair and just development and deployment of AI technology. “The community,” Crooks says, “should be able to say ‘I don’t want this’ and ‘We shouldn’t use it in this way.’” That’s exactly what parents with visual impairments are saying to Kevin Storer, a Ph.D. candidate in informatics, about AI voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa reading to their children. “My research has shown a strong desire by blind parents to be able to read to their children,” he says. “Current technology automates them out of that process, which is antithetical to their goals.” With a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, Storer is working to develop a voice-based application that supports such parents in reading their children’s favorite stories from memory by prompting page turns, describing illustrations

and forecasting what’s coming next. Co-designing the app with blind parents ensures that their voices are part of the process and that they won’t be handed another technology that’s useless or even harmful. Storer’s fellowship is part of an $895,000 GAANN award that, combined with $222,875 in costsharing funds from the UCI Graduate Division, supports seven students researching socially responsible AI. Paul Dourish, Chancellor’s Professor of informatics, who led the GAANN awards application efforts, says he’s optimistic that GAANN fellowships will lead to novel research. “By examining people’s technology experiences through the lens of cultural values and individual experiences,” Dourish says, “we can understand the role that technology plays in people’s lives and what they might want it to do next.” Similarly, the HPI Research Center in Machine Learning and Data Science at UCI, which funded threeyear fellowships for 15 graduate students, is dedicated to research solving what center director Erik Sudderth, professor of computer science, calls the “black box” nature of AI and machine learning. In loan applications, for example, data goes in and a recommendation on loan funding is produced, “but there’s nothing that says why a recommendation was reached, no transparency,” Sudderth says. “So we need to improve the

“By examining people’s technology experiences through the lens of cultural values and individual experiences, we can understand the role that technology plays in people’s lives and what they might want it to do next.”


UCI Magazine

2011: ....................................... Apple unveils its Siri virtual assistant and In a “Jeopardy!” showdown pitting former champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter against IBM’s Watson computer, the humans lose.

2015: ....................................... UCI creates the first data science undergraduate degree program in the UC system.

2019: ....................................... UCI’s DeepCubeA breaks the human record for solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

2020: ....................................... UCI’s Precision Health through Artificial Intelligence Initiative begins efforts to revolutionize healthcare, and the UCI School of Law announces the first-of-its-kind AI Policy Laboratory.

Sources: UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, Live Science, Wired

Dean Song Richardson has made artificial intelligence a priority at the UCI School of Law, recently launching the AI Policy Laboratory at UCI to explore the profound legal and ethical issues raised by the new technology.

fairness of AI and machine learning systems, because even if we do a good job replicating decisions of the past that were made by humans, those humans may have been biased based on race, gender or other factors.” The aim is not to eliminate mistakes – which are inevitable, he says, because we never have perfect information about the future – but to equalize the rate at which mistakes are made in different groups. Once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, Sudderth says, he envisions a robust exchange of ideas with German research partners that will increase UCI’s global reach.

AI and the Law UCI’s School of Law initiated its emphasis on AI fairness shortly after Dean Song Richardson took the reins in 2018. “I wanted to think about what a legal education for the 21st century should encompass,” she says. “All these new technologies were raising profound legal and ethical questions.”

A significant number of faculty members are doing some sort of research on the topic, and first-year students are exposed to AI in every course, Richardson says. They confront such questions as: Who is liable if an autonomous vehicle causes a crash – or if AI radiology software overlooks a fatal tumor? When artificial intelligence composes music or invents new pharmaceuticals, who owns the copyright or patent? “No matter what the application is, sooner or later it will be subject to legal oversight,” says Dan Burk, Chancellor’s Professor of law. This fall, he’s teaming up with law school lecturer Neil Sahota to lead the new AI Policy Laboratory at UCI, which will sponsor public talks; moot court competitions; and workshops for judges, legislators, legal firms, law enforcement agents and others. Adds Richardson: “We want to make sure our students are prepared for whatever comes down the pike.” Roy Rivenburg contributed to this article.

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At a Glance: A Sampling of AI Projects at UCI

n Enabling a computer to improvise

with a person during live music performances (Claire Trevor School of the Arts) n Creating AI-infused art installations

that interact with viewers, providing new avenues for creativity and engagement (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

Commerce Startups n Developing AI-driven Wing, a virtual

assistant app service that can book vacations, make doctor appointments, summon Uber, find repairmen, shop and perform other tasks (Wayfinder, UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s startup incubator)

Economy n Applying AI in the tracking of supply

chains (Program in Public Health)

n Assessing how AI might transform

fields such as law, translation, human resources and diagnostic health (School of Humanities)


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Education n Using cutting-edge approaches to

better understand students’ learning processes, from preschool to graduate school, as well as designing and developing new tools and resources to improve digital learning opportunities (School of Education, School of Social Ecology)

Preschool n Partnering with PBS Kids TV network

to develop interactive videos that teach science to preschool children through the inclusion of an AI powered character (School of Education) Elementary School

n Investigating children’s

understanding of hyperbole, understatement and sarcasm (School of Social Sciences, Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

Higher Learning n Supporting a training program for

underrepresented minority STEM students at Cal State Los Angeles (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, School of Physical Sciences, The Henry Samueli School of Engineering)

n Answering reference inquiries and

questions about UCI Libraries via chatbot (UCI Libraries)


All across the university, UCI faculty are working to improve AI and harness it for good. The Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, for example, has partnerships with almost every school on campus and collaborates with numerous external entities – ranging from nonprofits such as CHOC Children’s Hospital and the Allen Institute for AI to high-tech companies including Google and SAP – to translate AI technology into ways of helping society. At UCI Health, AI software is already being used in some colonoscopies to detect small precancerous growths sooner and is aiding emergency physicians in predicting which COVID-19 patients may require ICU care. Yet AI is still in its adolescence. Says Pierre Baldi, Distinguished Professor of computer science: “It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the universities that will play a leading role in the 21st century will be those that invest broadly in AI now.”

Environment n Using an AI model to classify

vegetation types (trees, bushes and grasses) based on Google Street View images (Program in Public Health) n Forecasting how wildfires spread

(School of Physical Sciences)

n Testing new theories on how the

universe works (School of Physical Sciences)

n Using machine learning models

to improve air pollution exposure assessment at a high spatiotemporal resolution (Program in Public Health) n Using AI to develop better water

protocols for refugee camps in Bangladesh (School of Social Ecology)

Media n Analyzing the effectiveness of

advertising (The Paul Merage School of Business)

Medicine n Using machine learning to improve

risk prediction for cardiovascular outcomes among U.S. adults with diabetes (Program in Public Health) n Detecting cellular patterns of

neuroinflammation across the entire brain (School of Biological Sciences)

n Using computer-driven pattern

recognition analyses to identify abnormal waveform patterns to select arrhythmias in ECGs (Program in Public Health)

n Detecting and quantifying brain

bleeds (School of Medicine) n Identifying heart disease in

mammograms (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

n Using an AI-based platform to

automatically analyze pediatric heart MRIs (The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, CHOC Children’s Hospital)

n Helping paralyzed individuals and

stroke patients regain movement by enabling them to control robotics or muscle stimulators through AI-infused computers that learn brain wave patterns (The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, School of Medicine)

n Using a smartphone app to enable

people to detect oral cancer (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, Beckman Laser Institute)

Military Defense n Equipping unmanned aerial vehicles

with software that allows them to switch between different radio signals, provide real-time data during flight and have their ranges extended (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

Physical Fitness n Mixing AI with augmented reality

to design smart clothing that tracks muscle movements and senses dehydration, giving instant feedback to potential wearers such as athletes and military personnel (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

Privacy and Security n Assessing the role of cyber

insurance and how AI and emerging technologies impact cybersecurity (School of Law)

Public Health n Designing tools and interventions to

support adolescent wellness (School of Social Ecology) n Using an AI-enhanced smartphone

app to predict episodes of depression (School of Social Ecology)

n Creating models for managing

long-term health and longevity (UCI Enterprise, Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, Program in Public Health, Institute for Clinical & Translational Science)

Public Safety n Using an AI-enhanced app to help

financially strapped domestic violence victims obtain temporary restraining orders (School of Law) n Matching crime scene shoe prints

to a footwear database (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences) n Predicting the effectiveness of

hazard warning and alert messages (School of Social Sciences)

Social Justice n Tackling the ethical and legal

quandaries posed by AI (School of Law) n Demystifying the legal rights and

obligations that new parents have in California regarding job-protected leave from work (School of Law) n Coordinating better maternal care

in underserved communities (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, School of Social Ecology, School of Education)

n Creating discrimination-free

algorithms to analyze loan applications (School of Social Sciences)


technology in stem cell research (Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center)


n Incorporating robotics and

Transportation n Using AI to study how crowdsourced

traffic information – from such apps as Waze – could get ambulances to crash scenes more quickly (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, School of Medicine) n Enhancing the vision of self-driving

cars (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

n Designing a robot navigation system

that mimics how rodents create mental maps (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, School of Medicine)

Urban Planning n Modeling smart systems for urban

environments (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

Workplace n Streamlining workplace training –

especially in manufacturing jobs – with a combination of AI and augmented reality to take one-tenth the time of in-person instruction (Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences)

n Empowering skilled workers to

have greater autonomy and decision-making responsibilities (California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology)

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UCI Magazine





The Precision Health Through Artificial Intelligence Initiative uses leading-edge big-data approaches to advance the frontiers of medicine By Kristin Baird Rattini


hen UCI announced its Big Ideas Challenge in February 2018, more than 260 individuals submitted their biggest, boldest and most audacious multidisciplinary ideas that could have a truly transformational impact. That summer, two proposals, both centered on the same concept, were chosen as the joint winner. Their mutual inspiration and aspiration: the integration of artificial intelligence in providing next-level healthcare. Two years later, that winning initiative, Precision Health Through Artificial Intelligence, is making strides in revolutionizing healthcare delivery and research at UCI. From COVID-19 to stroke care, breast cancer to Huntington’s disease, PHAI’s leadership team is not only creating cutting-edge AI tools but empowering others across specialties to do so as well, expanding the capabilities of medicine for the benefit of patients regionally and globally. According to IBM Research Healthcare and Life Sciences, the average person will generate more than 1 million gigabytes of health-related data in a lifetime. This colossal compilation of information from electronic medical records, radiological and pathological imaging, fitness

trackers, implants, advanced screening techniques and more is the equivalent of 300 million books. And it’s growing at blazing speeds. As of 2020, the amount of health data is estimated to double every 73 days. How can UCI researchers sift through these vast quantities to extract and develop not just useful but targeted treatments for patients? Enter PHAI, a merging of the minds of two relatively new institutes on campus: the Center for Precision Health and the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine. “PHAI is bringing together the clinical and basic scientists on campus, the experts who understand where the biggest problems and opportunities are, with the machine-learning tools,” says Dr. Peter Chang, a member of PHAI’s leadership team and co-director of CAIDM. Chang is uniquely qualified to bridge the medical and AI worlds. He’s a radiologist by training but a self-taught software engineer who, throughout medical school, wrote algorithms for machine learning as a hobby. He has created several AI startups and worked closely with such Silicon Valley stalwarts as Amazon and Nvidia. Chang was on the verge of pivoting completely from medicine to industry when UCI Health offered him an opportunity

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he couldn’t refuse. He would join UCI radiologist Daniel Chow – a longtime friend – in launching CAIDM, a multi-specialty initiative to develop and integrate AI technology across UCI’s healthcare system. “What makes CAIDM unique is that we’re not focused on just the really cool technology and seeing where we can apply it,” says Chow, CAIDM’s co-director and also a member of the PHAI leadership team. “Instead, we’re asking, ‘What are the clinical challenges?’ and seeing where we can apply our knowledge of AI to fix these specific problems. It’s the opposite of that idiom about too many hammers looking for a nail. We figure out what the nail is and then design an appropriate tool for it.”

Picture(s) of Health Where machine learning excels – and leaves our mere human minds in the dust – is in finding patterns. By sorting through thousands, if not millions, of data points, AI can detect the finest of distinctions that might influence a patient’s course of treatment, its speed and how well he or she responds. Some of the earliest AI applications in medicine have been developed in the radiological field, due to the wealth of images and data available. Because Chang and Chow are both radiologists, it’s natural that CAIDM’s initial

focus has been on imaging-related research. For example, one AI tool under development would use imaging to more precisely stratify early breast cancers into those that need monitoring versus treatment. Another would evaluate radiological images for renal cell carcinoma, a disease often incidentally detected when an individual has a scan for a different reason. One of CAIDM’s tools is now helping to save the lives of stroke patients in UCI Medical Center’s emergency department. “Stroke care is very time-sensitive,” Chow says. “You need to administer therapy for strokes within three to four and a half hours of onset. But it can take two to four hours for a radiologist to review a head CT before therapy can begin. The challenge, or nail, that we saw was: How can AI expedite triage of stroke patients?” CAIDM’s tool can analyze a CT scan and detect in about 20 seconds the existence and extent of any cerebral hemorrhages, which directly influences the course of treatment.

Collaborating on COVID-19 One of PHAI’s primary goals is to expand the application of AI across all specialties on the UCI campus. The coronavirus crisis has jump-started that plan, as PHAI leaders collaborate with colleagues in numerous

The leadership team of UCI’s Precision Health Through Artificial Intelligence Initiative includes (from left) Suzanne Sandmeyer, Dr. Peter Chang, Leslie Thompson and Dr. Daniel Chow.


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“PHAI is bringing together the clinical and basic scientists on campus, the experts who understand where the biggest problems and opportunities are, with the machine-learning tools.”

departments – ranging from computer science to pathology – to develop and apply AI tools specifically for COVID-19. “It’s through entities like PHAI that critical connections are made among researchers across disciplines, and it’s exciting to see the administration so supportive and aligned behind this initiative,” says Suzanne Sandmeyer, the Grace Beekhuis Bell Chair in Biological Chemistry and vice dean of research in UCI’s School of Medicine and a member of the PHAI leadership team. For the COVID-19 AI tools, Chow and radiologist Jennifer Soun – with the help of a large group of students – are recording data from the electronic medical records of all UCI Health patients with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. Chang is using that data to create predictive models to better estimate the disease’s progression and identify individuals who might need escalated care. The focus of the project’s second stage is to establish a public web portal so that physicians and caretakers worldwide can employ the models to run risk predictions for their own patients. Those results, in turn, will enter a huge real-time database of COVID-19 patients that can be used to continuously improve the models. “Over time, with enough aggregated data,” Chang says, “the machine-learning algorithm has the potential to uncover disease signatures and personalized recommendations for care.”

Analyzing Biomarkers with AI Tools Facilitating such personalized care recommendations is another primary goal of PHAI. A key tool in the fastevolving field of precision health is MultiOmyx, a big-data approach that can peer into a single cell and analyze dozens of proteins and DNA biomarkers at once as potential targets for existing or new therapies.

As UCI’s Center for Precision Health started building out the technical infrastructure required for MultiOmyx, its leaders – Sandmeyer and Leslie Thompson, Donald Bren Professor of psychiatry & human behavior as well as neurobiology & behavior – recognized the tremendous synergies between their work and that of CAIDM. Those synergies resulted in their shared win of the Big Ideas Challenge and the creation of PHAI. “As investigators generate data through MultiOmyx and other methods, PHAI can help them use that data more effectively by applying AI tools,” says Thompson, also a member of the PHAI leadership team. “Those tools can inform the investigator on which samples to select for further screening, such as at UCI’s Genomics High-Throughput Facility.” An expert on Huntington’s disease, Thompson is putting her own data through the AI paces. “Huntington’s disease is caused by a single genetic mutation, but the symptoms of this incurable neurodegenerative disease can vary across individuals and even within families,” she explains. “If we could identify meaningful biomarkers to stratify patients, that could help identify which patients might, and might not, respond to intervention and help improve the design of clinical trials.” Chang and Chow are currently using AI to analyze hundreds of CT scans of Huntington’s patients’ heads for distinctive radiological patterns that could indicate the onset and progression of the disease. Once those results are in, Thompson anticipates putting AI to work on her MultiOmyx data. “These single-cell approaches are so new that we’re just now getting to the point of having enough data to apply AI,” she says. “So even though AI has been around a while, the opportunities for its application in health are increasing. That’s what drives PHAI.” Indeed, the short list of potential PHAI projects is thrilling. But the one most representative of PHAI’s mission is a crowdsourcing challenge that will invite everyone affiliated with UCI to brainstorm how AI can analyze pathology images to detect and classify brain plaques in Alzheimer’s patients. “PHAI is meant to be a resource for the whole UCI community, to bring together people with any domain expertise and leverage that knowledge together,” Chow says. “Sometimes you don’t know there’s someone else on campus doing the same thing or who has a similar interest as you. Those are the kind of connections that we want to create.”

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UCI Magazine




From the Sky Above to the Sea Below UCI scientists use artificial intelligence to unravel some of nature’s mysteries

By Rosemary McClure


he UCI researchers who probe the Earth and sky for answers to momentous questions about the environment, the oceans and the atmosphere have gotten smart about unlocking solutions. The key: They turn billions of pieces of data into insights by embracing artificial intelligence and machine learning. AI – with its growing presence on campuses worldwide – has already transformed what computers can do for scientists and is now being touted as potentially revolutionizing academic research in the next few years. “The excitement is palpable,” says James Bullock, dean of the School of Physical Sciences and professor of physics & astronomy, describing the effect machine learning has had on basic physical science research. “There is a sense that we’re about to experience a phase change in the way science is done.” Roughly half of the school’s faculty are using or developing machine learning algorithms to drive new discoveries, he says, in areas that include climate change, particle physics, quantum simulation and materials science.

“Probably the most oversubscribed talk series in the School of Physical Sciences is our Machine Learning Nexus seminar, which brings together researchers from all of our subfields – astronomy, chemistry, climate science and physics – to share techniques and ideas in this domain,” Bullock notes. In addition to its uses in academic research, machine learning equips students with the expertise to pursue a variety of careers in well-established companies or in industrial research. Shane Coffield, a Ph.D. candidate in Earth system science, says that the university’s machine learning program influenced his decision to choose UCI for his graduate education. “It started a really fruitful collaboration,” he says. “I get to work with experts who help me understand the best tools to apply to my science.” Coffield and his UCI research partners received international media coverage for their wildfire predictions. The group is just one of several UCI Earth system science teams that have had studies utilizing machine learning tools published recently.

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But clouds frustrate climate scientists: It’s difficult to factor them into predictive models because of their size and variability. “They can be formed by eddies as small as a few hundred meters, much tinier than a standard climate model grid resolution of 50 to 100 kilometers, so simulating them appropriately takes an enormous amount of computer power and time,” Pritchard says. It’s hard to know if a warmer world will bring more low-lying clouds that shield Earth from the sun, cooling the planet, or fewer of them, warming it up, he says. AI, which Earth system scientists find masterfully efficient, could make a difference. “If we try to simulate the whole planet’s atmosphere, we’re horsepowerlimited, because we have to simulate it for a hundred years,” Pritchard says. “But with machine learning, we could speed that up – maybe we only have to simulate three months of atmosphere. Then we could really do justice to detailed cloud physics.

James Bullock, dean of physical sciences, says that half of the school’s faculty are working with AI to propel new discoveries – changing how science is conducted.

Steve Zylius / UCI

Factoring Clouds in Climate Modeling Another such team includes Associate Professor Michael Pritchard, who calls AI “a big game changer” in his field. He’s a cloud guy, with office walls that sport posters of swirling white satellite images. “I remember being enamored with clouds when I was 5 or 6 years old,” he says. “My family moved around, and I went on a lot of international flights. I fought with my brothers because I always wanted to be next to the window to look at the clouds.” Pritchard worked with researchers from UCI, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Columbia University to develop deep machine learning tools that would factor clouds into climate models. Their research was published in September 2018 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Clouds play a major role in the Earth’s climate by transporting heat and moisture, reflecting and absorbing the sun’s rays, trapping infrared heat rays, and producing precipitation,” says Pritchard, a next-generation climate modeler. He is particularly fond of stratocumulus clouds – the marine layer – common in Southern California. “They’re the beautiful clouds you see out your window if you fly from here to Hawaii. They’re unbroken, ripply, a dazzling bright layer,” he says.


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Phytoplankton and Global Warming While Pritchard looks to the sky for his field of study, his colleague Adam Martiny, professor of Earth system science as well as ecology & evolutionary biology, focuses on the deep blue sea. “AI offers a new way of doing science that’s very exciting,” says Martiny, noting that it can present the unexpected. His research has contradicted prevalent views about the effects of global warming on phytoplankton in tropical waters. The study was published in January in Nature Geoscience; his co-author was Earth system science professor Francois Primeau. Martiny, the lead researcher, explains: “AI is a set of tools that are super useful when we’re working with large amounts of data because it helps us see new patterns. In the past, based on our best theories, we had predicted that as the ocean heats, the plankton that lives there would become more stressed.” Instead, using AI, they were able to forecast that phytoplankton populations in low-latitude waters will expand by the end of the 21st century.

“There is a sense that we’re about to experience a phase change in the way science is done.”

“We give the model tons and tons of data,” Martiny says. “Artificial intelligence tools can help us challenge existing paradigms.” That’s exactly what happened in this project. The researchers had a very large dataset describing the abundance of phytoplankton in various regions. “We asked what the relationship was between common environmental factors such as nutrients and temperature,” Martiny says. “Much to our surprise, in the low-latitude regions and tropics, we saw a very significant positive relationship between temperature and abundance of these plankton.” It wasn’t what they expected to find. “We were very puzzled,” he says, “because it essentially offered a very different outcome on how warming and stratification would affect these populations.” One possible explanation for the growth focuses on the life cycle of phytoplankton. “When plankton die – especially these small species – they sit around for a while longer,” Martiny says. “And maybe at higher temperatures, living plankton can more easily degrade them and recycle the nutrients back to build new biomass.” What’s next? “The AI and mechanistic models give such opposite results. I don’t know which one is right,” he says. “That’s for the next round of research to figure out. But AI really opened a door.”

before they get out of control – kind of a triaging system.” “Machine learning is promising because we’re living in a world where there’s so much data,” he says. “You dump in all the data you have, and it figures out the underlying patterns, whereas in the more traditional approach, you know the laws of physics, and you put in the rules and start from the bottom up.” Coffield and the UCI team are now focusing on California fires and forests. “We’re building off some of the things we learned from the Alaska study,” he says, “and are creating a more complex machine learningbased model for predicting fire spread in California.” Machine learning is “a really powerful tool,” Coffield adds. “There’s so much to be learned from it.”

Triaging Wildfires The same is true for doctoral student Coffield and his collaborators, who have been using AI and machine learning to determine which wildfires will burn out of control. The technique they developed helps project the final size of a fire from the moment of ignition, thus allowing firefighters to more efficiently allocate scarce resources. The researchers’ analysis, which focused on Alaskan fires, is highlighted in a study published in September 2019 in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. Coffield worked with an interdisciplinary team and with co-author James Randerson, professor and Ralph J. & Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science at UCI. Alaska was used as the locale for the project because the state has been plagued over the past decade by a rash of concurrent fires in its boreal forests, threatening people and vulnerable ecosystems. “In Alaska, there can be huge numbers of fires burning at the same time,” explains lead author Coffield. “Our goal was to help fire managers predict the largest fires

Shane Coffield, a Ph.D. candidate in Earth system science who was drawn to UCI because of its AI program, is collaborating with colleagues on predictive models for the intensity and spread of California wildfires.

Fall 2020


Steve Zylius / UCI

UCI Beall Applied Innovation

Beneficial Intelligence

Three questions with Neil Sahota


eil Sahota has been involved with artificial intelligence ever since it was just a gleam in a PC’s eye. A lecturer for UCI’s School of Law and Paul Merage School of Business, he earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and political science in 1997, a B.S. in information & computer science in 2000 and an MBA in 2003 – all at UCI. Sahota consults with the United Nations, global Fortune 500 companies, startups, nongovernmental organizations and others, applying his combined tech and business acumen to arrive at solutions ranging from integrating AI into healthcare processes to aiding food distribution in impoverished regions of the world.


UCI Magazine

In his more than two decades in the business world, Sahota co-authored dozens of patents (both granted and pending), leading IBM to name him a “master inventor,” as well as a “remarkable “leader” and other glistening appellations. A longtime active member of the UCI Alumni Association, in 2015, he received the UCI Lauds & Laurels Outstanding University Service award. Sahota, who was recently appointed as the UCI School of Law’s chief innovation officer for global AI initiatives, spoke with UCI Magazine contributing writer Jim Washburn about his career working in AI. (To learn more about the law school’s new AI Policy Laboratory at UCI, see our cover story on page 24).

Artificial intelligence seems to be an increasingly contentious issue, poised between hopes for its possibilities and concerns over its misuse. What is your take on it? There’s a lot of talk about the threat side of AI – from loss of jobs to automation to the “Terminator” scenario – and that deserves our concern and attention, but AI technology is a tool. And it’s really a societal choice how we wield it, whether we’ll use it as a hammer to build or to destroy. It’s on us to figure that out. I think we don’t spend enough time imagining the good things we can do with it. When you think about self-driving cars, for example, people panic about what if one has an accident, but with human drivers, about 20 million people worldwide die or suffer permanent injury in accidents every year. The U.N. has estimated that self-driving vehicles could reduce that by 98 percent. We drive with our eyes, and we’re very distractible. Machines drive with cameras, radar, lidar [light detection and ranging], auditory sensors and other devices, and they can actually be much safer drivers than we are. Along with reducing deaths and injuries, autonomous vehicles could free up your driving time to talk to your family, do some work or relax to music. In healthcare, AI has spurred advances in genomic sequencing, early detection of Alzheimer’s and additional areas. I do a lot of work with the U.N. and helped start its AI for Good initiative. We’re using AI to figure out how to reduce hunger, live sustainably, and give the impoverished or homeless better access to healthcare and justice. Is AI going to take over anytime soon? No. What AI is good at is what someone actually coined as being “urinal cake activities”: very low-level, undesirable, repetitive tasks. We can teach AI to do things that might be commoditized, like processing an auto insurance claim. AI can organize it so a person only has to work 10 minutes on it instead of an hour. AI is really good at that type of activity. Where it struggles is when it’s expected to be more creative. My buddy Ross Goodwin [a creative technologist at Google] created an AI called Benjamin that writes screenplays. It was able to do the basics because, as I understand it, every movie falls into one of 12 archetypes. So you teach the AI 12 archetypes, and about characters and dialogue, and it can commoditize that and write a screenplay. But if you ask AI to imagine an alien life-form for it, you’d have to be able to tell it what life is. And it’s really hard for us to commoditize “What is life?” AI on its own is not going to think about whether there could be silicon-based life or a life-form that could live in the clouds or anything like that.

“AI technology is a tool. And it’s really a societal choice how we wield it, whether we’ll use it as a hammer to build or to destroy. It’s on us to figure that out.”

With four degrees, your years of lecturing and your activities with the UCI Alumni Association, you’ve spent a lot of time on campus. What do you make of your UCI experience? We live in an age of ecosystems, and along with doing a tremendous job at education, I think UCI has a great ecosystem. UCI helped me realize that it’s not about the technology itself; it’s about how you bring people together. Just the exposure at UCI to different ideas and different people’s viewpoints really encouraged me to think about problems more generally: Rather than try to solve the problem at hand, how can I try to solve it across the board as well? Another thing I learned from the classes and instructors I had was effective ways to communicate ideas and share knowledge with people. That’s been crucial in my role as a teacher – and out in the world as well. One thing I’m a little jealous of are the expanded opportunities UCI has been creating for students, alumni, faculty and staff. When I was a student, I didn’t understand some things, like the importance of networking. Now I totally get that. And wow! There’s a lot of wonderful things the campus does to enable people to network, advance their careers, give back or be mentors – not just with other Anteaters, but with the community at large. I think that’s huge.

Fall 2020


Making progress toward a brilliant future for everyone. Thanks to the generous support of our alumni and friends, BRILLIANT FUTURE: The Campaign for UCI is off to a tremendous start. Nearly halfway to our goal, we’ve poured millions into world-changing medical and scientific research, boosted alumni involvement and created new scholarships so students from all backgrounds have access to a world-class education. No matter the size, your gift makes a difference.

Together, we are creating a brilliant future for all.

To learn more about how your support is helping us change the world, please visit brilliantfuture.uci.edu/report

as of August 28, 2020





alumni engaged


for research


new scholarships, fellowships and student award funds

Over half of all gifts are under

estate gifts and other planned gifts


$894M total raised


Mamba Mentality at UCI

.............................................................................................................. By Ryan Badrtalei


an. 26, 2020, was a day that changed my life forever. When I heard the news that Kobe Bryant and eight other individuals – including former UCI assistant baseball coach John Altobelli (1988-92) – had been in the helicopter that had crashed, I stared into space in shock and despair. Memories of my time with Kobe and both what I

had gained over the years and what I had instantly lost surged in my mind. I was

hoping that someone would tell me that this was all a mistake. As we adjust to a different set of circumstances dictated by the COVID-19 virus, we all find friends, family and mentors that we lean on during these surreal times. What I have come to realize is how much I leaned on Kobe when adversity hit. He was someone I could truly count on during uncertain times because of how much I valued his opinion and perspective. He was authentic, intelligent, insightful, and as honest and real as anyone I’ve ever known. He helped me navigate my professional career,


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and we grew as brothers. We experienced the world together as young fathers and husbands, learning from one another every step of the way. I didn’t realize how much impact he had on who I am now, how I think and how I approach my profession. I am just scratching the surface of truly understanding what has been taken away not just from me but from all of us. It was the spring of 2007, and I had just finished my second season at UCI – my first as a full-time employee

“Kobe enjoyed being around the students, an experience he had never had, given his decision to skip college and go straight to the pros. The more time he spent on campus, the more UCI became a part of him.” after spending the prior year as a volunteer. I was ecstatic, an aspiring young coach thrilled to finally have gotten my first break on the long, uncertain path of college coaching. With the season having ended and some downtime on the horizon, I accepted a request from Paul Hope, senior associate athletic director, that I be the department’s contact person for a certain “high-profile” athlete who might have an interest in using our athletic facilities to do some training. What I did not expect was for that to turn into nearly 10 years of Kobe making UCI his home, his place of work and, arguably, a sanctuary for his creativity and expressiveness, which the world came to know as the “Mamba mentality.” UCI became Kobe’s home away from home. He spent most days of every offseason on campus, and I was fortunate to be a part of it. For me, it began as simply opening the doors to the gym for his legendary workouts and quickly turned into sleepless nights obsessively putting together training regimens that the Mamba would approve of and that would help him thrive. The mornings were eerily quiet, sometimes starting as early as 4:30 a.m., before the normally vivacious campus awoke. Kobe would put in the work that led to him being regarded as one of the legends of our game. Often, he would return to campus in the evening for more training when he was strategically preparing for a new season, a new opportunity to chase the championship dream. It came to the point that even after games late in May and June when the Lakers were chasing the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy in the NBA playoffs, Kobe would return to the UCI training room for an ice bath or to perfect a move or a shot on the way home from Staples Center. He came to UCI with three NBA championships under his belt, a career that most players could only dream of. Most players would be content with a career well played, but Kobe’s drive to consistently become the best version of himself resulted in his elusive first and only NBA Most Valuable Player Award, two Olympic gold medals and two more NBA championships. Solidifying his legacy fueled his daily obsession. So why UCI? To know for sure, Kobe would have to answer that himself, but as a Newport Coast resident, training at UCI was as convenient as it was pragmatic.

The campus’s beauty and warmth, facilities and people created an environment that welcomed him with open arms. He was on a first-name basis with faculty, staff, facilities workers, student-athletes and coaches, always shaking hands or fist-bumping as he passed by. Kobe appreciated our community for allowing him to share the space and immerse himself in his craft. He spent hours at the Bren Events Center, Crawford Court, the Anteater Recreation Center, the swimming pools, the track and our training room. Kobe enjoyed being around the students, an experience he had never had, given his decision to skip college and go straight to the pros. The more time he spent on campus, the more UCI became a part of him. After early morning workout sessions on campus, he would often come back in the afternoon and join the UCI basketball teams in their open gym sessions, which became unforgettable experiences for our student-athletes that will be talked about for generations to come. He was even gracious enough to do a Q&A with the UCI student-athletes that turned out to be one of the most candid interviews he had ever been a part of – all to contribute to their experience as athletes and to show his gratitude for them lending their space to him. Kobe was real, authentic, compassionate and appreciative. He will forever be connected with the Anteaters, sharing the characteristics of being innovative, groundbreaking, competitive and as unique as their name. Kobe was dedicated to leaving a lasting legacy. He was committed to leaving the game in a better place than he found it and wanted to have the same effect on our society. Most people see his legacy as solely in the rectangle, but those closest to him know that his impact would have stretched far beyond the hardwood. Right now, we are greatly missing his guidance and assurance during this pandemic and as we attack our social issues. His leadership would have been palpable, and his message would have transcended all genders and races in pursuit of our health, safety and equality. Badrtalei is associate head coach for UCI men’s basketball and is in his 16th season with the team. Aug. 24 was declared Kobe Bryant Day in Orange County.

Fall 2020


The Great Pumpkin The Santa Ana Zoo welcomed its newest anteater last November with the arrival of Pumpkin, as the baby was affectionately dubbed by caretakers. Now grown, at almost 50 pounds, the son of Peter and Heesoo of Troy is awaiting his public debut. The zoo has been closed to visitors since March but as of press time was working toward a safe reopening of its outdoor exhibits in the fall. Giant anteaters, or Myrmecophaga tridactyla, are native to the grassy plains and rainforest borders of Central and South America. “It’s amazing to walk out of my office and see this giant anteater every day,” says zoo manager Ethan Fisher, an Anteater himself, having earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at UCI in 2005. “I can’t wait for the public and other alumni to meet him soon.”


Scott Paulus / Milwaukee Brewers

Field of Dreams

.............................................................................................................. By Tom Kertscher

Disbelief is what Mike Gillespie remembers most about when he and his assistant coaches first saw the kid who would become perhaps the best baseball player ever at UCI. At that point, Keston Hiura, a high school junior in Valencia, wasn’t supposed to be that good. “I’m a little embarrassed to say we really didn’t know him,” says Gillespie, the longtime Anteaters head coach who retired in 2018, recalling the camp UCI held for high school ballplayers. [Gillespie died a few months after this interview. See In Memoriam on page 51.] “In spite of the fact that he’s tearing it up, we started to wonder if this was an aberration,” he says of Hiura. “Finally, we started to believe our eyes.” In contrast, Hiura recalls that he jumped at the offer to come to UCI. He says that at Irvine, he learned to “take pride in everything you do. Whether it’s really small or really big, always give your full attention to it.”


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In 2017, as a junior at UCI, Hiura set an Anteaters record and led the nation with a .442 batting average. He appeared as a starter in all of his 165 games with the Anteaters, hitting .375 during his three-year career. He showed his power: Every third hit was a home run, a triple or a double. In his final game, on May 27, 2017, Hiura went 5-for-5, with one double and three runs batted in. The following month, Hiura entered the Major League Baseball draft and became the highest-ever Anteater pick – and that of a Japanese American – in MLB history when the Milwaukee Brewers selected him ninth overall in the first round. Hiura was assigned to the rookie league in Arizona and then continued to move up through the ranks until reaching the AAA club in San Antonio, Texas. There, he got his first hit off Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who was rehabilitating in the minors from an injury, and continued to impress. Finally, an opening appeared due

Keston Hiura

to injury with the Brewers, and Hiura was called up. On May 14, 2019, Hiura made his debut with the Brewers against the Philadelphia Phillies and went on to have a stellar rookie season, batting .303 and hitting 19 home runs. He was the National League Rookie of the Month in July 2019 and was named to Baseball America’s major league all-rookie team for that season. He was also designated the sixth-best major league second baseman by MLB Network. “Kestdaddy” (he’s not sure where the nickname came from), the son of a Japanese American father and a Chinese American mother, still works out at UCI during the offseason. While the coronavirus pandemic temporarily put things on hold and changed some hallmarks of play,

Full name: Keston Wee Hing Natsuo Hiura

Hiura says, “I couldn’t be happier to be on the field.” “Obviously, it’s a weird year regarding the new protocols, not playing in front of fans and the shortened season,” he adds. “However, it feels so good to be playing again and competing with my teammates. The health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones come first, so we always have that in mind with our actions throughout the day.” Hiura says he’s not worried about a “sophomore slump” – when a standout rookie struggles in his second season. “You’re just going out and competing, being confident in yourself. Trust your instincts, trust the kind of person you are – just have fun with it,” he says. “You’re playing with some of the best players in

MLB draft: Taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round, ninth overall pick; the highest baseball draft pick in Anteater history. MLB debut: May 14, 2019

Nickname: Kestdaddy

Jersey number: 18

Born: Aug. 2, 1996, in Valencia

Position: Second base

High school: Valencia High School

Bats/throws: Right-handed/ right-handed

UCI highlights: As a junior at UCI in 2017, named Big West Field Player of the Year and First-Team All-Big West as he led the conference in batting average (.442), on-base percentage (.567), slugging percentage (.693), doubles (24) and walks (50). Batting average is a UCI record. His batting average and on-base percentage led the nation. Wore No. 22.

Height/weight: 6 feet, 202 pounds Rookie season highlights (2019): Played in 84 of the Brewers’ 162 regular-season games, batting .303 and hitting 19 home runs. 2020 season so far: Tied for 13th among all major league players and No. 1 for National League second basemen in home runs (with 11 as of Sept. 8).

the world. There shouldn’t be a day when you go out and aren’t excited about or aren’t enjoying the day.” Hiura says that being raised Christian helps him maintain a quiet confidence. “Putting my trust in Him is something that I do on a daily basis,” he says. “God’s always been there for me and is going to continue to be there for me. I’m excited to see what He has in store.” Current UCI head baseball coach Ben Orloff, who worked with Hiura as an assistant Anteaters coach, says the young man has, from the beginning, shown the intangibles as well as skills to be great. “It was a treat to watch Keston play every day,” Orloff recalls, “from his second career at-bat being an opposite-field home run to his junior year, in which he led the country in hitting, and everything in between. But as good of a player as he is, he’s a better person. There is zero ego or entitlement; he’s just one of the guys.” Orloff says he looks forward to Hiura having a long and fruitful major league career: “He has already established himself as one of the better hitters in the game, and I know we’ll be watching him play in All-Star Games in the near future.” Hiura keeps tabs on UCI as well. “Keston still follows our program closely and will send a text after an important win for us,” Orloff says. Wherever his future may lead him, Hiura will take his Anteater work ethic along. He says: “Playing at UCI taught me how to play baseball the right way, the hard way. I was able to learn that the little things in games matter as much as the big things – never taking a play off, playing until the final out is called and counting on one another to get the job done.”

Fall 2020


Class Notes

Carl Lenhart ’70, classics At Boston Celtics home games, Carl Lenhart’s Jumbotron antics have earned him the sobriquets “Chest Pump Guy” and “Suit Coat Santa.” Dressed in a maple-colored corduroy jacket that matches the basketball court’s parquet floor, the Celtics superfan also gets called “The Professor,” a nod to his longtime career teaching Greek and Latin to high school students on Cape Cod. Before retiring in 2015, Lenhart also led a summer study abroad program in Greece, conducting language lessons in monasteries, on beaches and amid ancient ruins. The effort won him honorary Greek citizenship from the mayor of Delphi in 2003. Now that Lenhart is no longer tethered to a job, he enjoys daily walks through the woods, reads at least 35 hours per week, visits Colonial history sites, and has begun developing a bilingual course in Latin and Greek for “lifelong learners.”

..................................................... Charla Batey ’07, literary journalism Hooked on UCI, Charla Batey estimates that she applied for more than 30 jobs on campus after graduating. The stream of resumés eventually led to a position as the first communications and events officer for UCI Libraries. There, she worked on a variety of projects, including an Anteater oral history collection and exhibits on Shakespeare costumes, dance instructor Donald McKayle, university athletics and UCI’s 50th anniversary. In 2018, Batey departed for Cox Communications, where she handles media relations, public affairs and other duties. Last fall, the Denver native was elected to serve as the first African American president of the Public Relations Society of America’s Orange County chapter. Batey also sits on the board of UCI’s Black Alumni Chapter and has the title of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” tattooed on her wrist.



UCI Magazine

Eric Wei ’09, Earth system science After stints at the U.S. Census Bureau and assorted retail outlets while searching for a job in environmental remediation, Eric Wei chucked his UCI training and headed down a different path: He enlisted in the California Army National Guard. In addition to being deployed to Qatar for a year in support of U.S. military units, Wei was dispatched to fight wildfires in Northern California. He loved it. Protecting farms and homes “was one of the best experiences of my life,” says the San Marino High School grad. “We saw the immediate effects, and I wanted to continue helping people in crisis.” That led him to join the Los Angeles Police Department, where he serves as a traffic collision investigator. And he’s still with the National Guard as an engineer officer. Wei’s advice to other Anteaters: “Be flexible after graduation, and you might be pleasantly surprised where you end up.”

..................................................... Franchesca Ocasio ’15, Chicano/Latino studies On a whim, Franchesca Ocasio enrolled in a Chicano studies class, hoping it would provide a break from her biology courses. Instead, the diversion became permanent. Enthralled with the subject, she dropped plans to become a veterinarian, switched majors and joined Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán. “In MEChA, I found my family and support system,” says Ocasio, whose involvement with the club encompassed everything from participating in political events to performing as an Aztec dancer during UCI’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. The group also inspired her to pursue a career in education. After graduation, Ocasio was hired as foster youth liaison for the Pasadena Unified School District, where she helps middle and high school students in foster care succeed academically, socially and emotionally. Ocasio, who was raised in San Diego and Chicago, is currently working toward a Ph.D. in education at Claremont Graduate University.

In Memoriam

Mike “Skip” Gillespie, baseball head coach Legendary coach Mike Gillespie, who led UCI’s baseball team for 11 seasons (2007-18) and took the Anteaters to the College World Series in 2014, died at his home in Irvine on July 24. He was 80. Under Gillespie, known as “Skip” to his players, the Anteaters made five postseason appearances, securing regional titles in 2008, 2011 and 2014. He was named National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association in 2014 and Big West Coach of the Year in 2009, when he guided the Anteaters to the conference title. “There are not enough words to describe Coach Gillespie,” said current head coach Ben Orloff, who played for and coached alongside Gillespie. “He’s among the greatest coaches in the history of college baseball. He was a larger-than-life figure on and off the field. Anyone who had an opportunity to be around him is better because of it.” The American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer finished his career as UCI baseball’s winningest coach, at 393, and amassed a 1,156-886-2 record overall in 31 seasons as a Division I head coach. His number, 19, was retired at UCI in 2018. Prior to UCI, Gillespie coached the USC team for 20 seasons, helping the Trojans to the national title in 1998. He also won a title as a player at USC in 1961. Gillespie is one of only two men to have played on and coached a CWS championship baseball team.

Danny Rogers, men’s basketball head coach UCI’s inaugural men’s basketball coach, Danny Rogers, who guided the Anteaters to identical 15-11 records in the first two seasons (1966-67 and 1967-68), died July 7 in Costa Mesa. He was 85. The fledgling UCI team won its first two contests – over UC Riverside and Cal Poly – and strung together a six-game winning streak that first season. Rogers signed to be UCI’s founding basketball coach in 1964 (with the campus opening in September 1965), after a successful playing career and assistant coaching stint at USC. He left UCI after the second season to pursue a career in business and later held positions with the World Hockey Association, World Team Tennis and the World Football League. He was also executive director of the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce and would eventually spend 20 years as president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Orange County. “Danny Rogers was that special role model that all people should emulate,” said Charlie Brande, former longtime UCI volleyball coach who played for Rogers. “He brought knowledge, enthusiasm, and a desire to build success through recruiting and teaching. Imagine recruiting to a school that had not even opened.”

Coach Danny Rogers (back row, left) poses with the 1966-67 UCI men’s basketball team, including Charlie Brande (front row, right).


To submit or view additional Class Notes, go to engage.alumni.uci.edu/classnote.

Fall 2020



Z O T !

Lunar Landscape While resembling a celestial orb, this “Moon Landing,” by Sasha Vyatskikh, a doctoral student in materials science & engineering, actually shows a microscopic, spherical metal particle made by gas atomization. Powders created via this technique are then used for metal 3D printing, which, Vyatskikh says, “has the potential to revolutionize the field of manufacturing.” However, many challenges still need to be overcome, she adds: “We try to better understand why defects are developed in 3D-printed metal parts and how to predict and avoid them.” This photograph was a winning entry in this year’s Science as Art competition, organized annually by the MSE department and the MSE Graduate Student Association to encourage students and postdocs to see the beauty in their own research and share it with others.


UCI Magazine



Annual ICS


Industry Showcase October 13-14 Join Us Via Zoom www.ics.uci.edu/industryshowcase

The Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) invites you to our 2nd Annual Industry Showcase, which brings together our school’s community and industry partners to foster research and recruitment collaborations around explosive growth areas such as machine learning, cybersecurity, software engineering and human-computer interaction. Whether you’re a UCI alum, an HR rep with information technology career opportunities, a technical lead looking to highlight digital innovation and tools, or an executive working to grow company visibility and connections, the showcase offers something for everyone. Highlights include: • Dean’s welcome and kickoff • AI industry panel • Opportunities to support research or collaboration/ partnerships with faculty • Network with UCI and ICS alumni and faculty

For more information about the 2020 ICS Industry Showcase, visit www.ics.uci.edu/ industryshowcase or contact Jason King at Jason.King@uci.edu.

Thank you to our ICS corporate partners who are participating in the 2020 Industry Showcase:

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