Dissertation Defense: Towards Relational Theory Formation from Undifferentiated Sensor Data

Dissertation Defense

Towards Relational Theory Formation
from Undifferentiated Sensor Data

Marc Pickett

10:00am Monday, 18 April 2011
ITE 325b, UMBC

Human adults have rich theories in their heads of how the world works. These theories include objects and relations for both concrete and abstract concepts. Everything we know either must be innate or learned through experience. Yet it's unclear how much of this model needs to be innate for a computer. The core question this dissertation addresses is how a computer can develop rich relational theories using only its raw sensor data. We address this by outlining a "bridge" between raw sensors and a rich relational theory. We have implemented parts of this bridge, with other parts as feasibility studies, while others remain conceptual.

At the core of this bridge is Ontol, a system that constructs a conceptual structure or "ontology" from feature-set data. Ontol is inspired by cortical models that have been shown to be able to express invariant concepts, such as images independent of any translation or rotation. As a demonstration of the utility of the ontologies created by Ontol, we present a novel semi-supervised learning algorithm that learns from only a handful of positive examples. Like humans, this algorithm doesn't require negative examples. Instead, this algorithm uses the ontologies created by Ontol from unlabeled data, and searches for a Bayes-optimal theory given this "background knowledge".

The rest of the dissertation shows in principle how Ontol can be used as the "workhorse" for a system that finds analogies, discovers useful mappings, and might ultimately create theories, such as a "gisty" theory of "number".


  • Tim Oates, Associate Professor, UMBC
  • Tim Finin, Professor, UMBC
  • Rob Goldstone, Professor, Indiana University
  • Sergei Nirenburg, Professor, UMBC
  • Matt Schmill, Research Faculty, UMBC

Serial entrepreneur David Turock to talk at Baltimore Emerging Technology Center

The Baltimore ACM Chapter, the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, and the Emerging Technology Center are hosting a free, public lecture on entrepreneurship by David Turock at 7:00pm, Wednesday 27 April in the ETC Canton facility (2400 Boston St., Baltimore).

David Turock will present a side-by-side comparison of two telecommunications start-ups that he launched: one successful, and one not. He compares and contrasts their funding sources, agility and scalability of their business models, hiring practices, and more. His experience and lessons learned will be valuable for aspiring tech entrepreneurs. He finishes with how his interests have shifted to using technology to promote social and environmental causes.

David Turock is a veteran entrepreneur and currently a Director of Counsel RB Capital. He holds a patent on VoIP, and is an expert on telecommunications technologies and their applications. Mr. Turock began his career working with AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1982 and Bell Communications Research in 1988, and subsequently founded enhanced telephone service provider, Call Sciences. He later formed Interexchange, which designed and operated one of the world's largest debit card systems. Most recently, from 2001 to 2007, Mr. Turock was Chief Technology Officer of Therap Services, a provider of informatics services to disabled patients. Mr. Turock received his B.S. in Experimental Psychology from Syracuse University, his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Cognitive Psychology from Rutgers University, and his M.S.E. in Computer Science from the Moore School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The Baltimore ACM chapter invites attendees for pizza starting at 6:30pm. There is no charge, but please RSVP to Emil Volcheck at

The ETC Canton facility is located at the American Can Company complex, 2400 Boston Street in Baltimore. ETC is on the 3rd floor of the building that houses the Austin Grille restaurant and the entrance is next to the Lenscrafters store. There is a 3 hour visitor parking in front of the building on the Boston Street side.

Cyber Defense Team meeting, Noon 4/4 ITE 325b


The UMBC Cyber Defense Team, aka the Cyberdawgs, will host a technical briefing on Monday April 4 featuring two guest speakers from the DoD. The topic will be the cyber competitions between the service academies, and other cyber-related topics may come up as well. The meeting will be held in the CSEE conference room, ITE 325b, from Noon to 2:00pm.

The Cyber Defense Team is a SGA recognized student organization whose members share a common interest in computer and network security and participating in cybersecurity competitions and events. It is open to everyone regardless of your major or current knowledge level. If you are interested in joining come to this meeting or any of the weekly meetings held on Monday's from Noon to 2:00pm. You can also subscribe to its mailing list by sending a message to

Lecture on Distributed Quantum Algorithms, 2:30pm Web 3/30

Classical computers use binary “bits” of ones and zeros. Quantum computers encode such bits in physical systems where we can also harness the quantum mechanical properties and obtain a more powerful system of quantum bits, or qubits. Thanks to the amazing rules of quantum mechanics, qubits can be in a “superposition” of zero and one simultaneously.

Professor Samuel Lomonaco will present a lecture on Distributed Quantum Algorithms from 2:30 to 3:45 on Wednesday March 30 in room ITE 325b. In the talk, Professor Lomonaco will show how quantum entanglement can be used as a mechanism for controlling a network of quantum computers. The talk is open to all.

Curt Tilmes dissertation defense, Data Provenance, 10am Thr 3/31

Dissertation Defense

Enabling Reproducibility of Scientific Data Flows
through Tracking and Representation of Provenance

Curt Tilmes

10:00am Thursday, 31 March 2011
ITE 325b, UMBC

Reproducibility of results is a key tenet of science. Some modern scientific domains, such as Earth Science, have become computationally complicated and, particularly with the advent of higher resolution space based remote sensing platforms, tremendously data intensive. Over the last few decades, these complexities along with the the rapid advancement of the state of the art confound the goal of scientific transparency.

This thesis explores concepts of data identification, organization, equivalence and reproducibility for such data intensive scientific processing. It presents a conceptual model useful for describing and representing data provenance suitable for very precise data and processing identification. It presents algorithms for creating and maintaining precise dataset membership and provenance equivalence at various degrees of granularity and data aggregation.

Application of this model will allow more specific data citations in scientific literature based on large datasets and data provenance equivalence. Our provenance representations will enable independent reproducibility required by scientific transparency. Increasing transparency will contribute to understanding, and ultimately, credibility of scientific results.


  • Yelena Yesha (co-chair)
  • Milton Halem (co-chair)
  • Tim Finin
  • Anupam Joshi
  • Jim Smith (NASA)

2011 Google Summer of Code open for applications

The 2011 Google Summer of Code pays students $5000 to work on one of a set od approved open source projects

Still looking for a summer internship? Check out the Google Summer of Code (GSoC).

This is a is a global program funded by Google that pays undergraduate or graduate students a $5000 stipend to write code for open source projects. GSoC has worked with the open source community to identify and fund exciting projects for the upcoming summer. The FAQ is a good place to find out more.

A set of open source projects (aka mentoring organizations) has been selected. Students apply to work on one of more of these and each mentoring organization ranks the students interested in working with them. Google facilitates the final selection and pairing. The mentoring organization works closely with the student to define tasks, check progress, help solve problems, etc. Typically the thudent works remotely, interacting with his or her mentor via email, chat, skype, etc.

Students can submit applications via the Google Summer of Code 2011 site from March 28 to April 8. Google says that that the best applications they receive are from students who took the time to interact with one of the participating mentoring organizations and discuss their ideas before submitting an application. Check out the information on the Advice for GSoC Students Page which links to a list of the 2011 mentoring organizations.

I have a plug for a particular project: Elgg. "Elgg is an award-winning social networking engine, delivering the building blocks that enable businesses, schools, universities and associations to create their own fully-featured social networks and applications." One of the people involved with Elgg's GSoC effort works at JHU/APL and may do mentoring locally. They are looking for people who know (or are willing to learn) PHP, JavaScript, and basic web development. Send email to to find out more about the ideas the Elgg project has proposed for GSCO 2011.

Requirements and forms for ENEE and CMPE Ph.D. Comprehensive Portfolio

The Ph.D. programs for Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering have adopted a new comprehensive portfolio process that replaces the old comprehensive examinations process. The requirements and associated forms can be found in the following document: CMPE/ENEE Ph.d. Comprehensive Portfolio Policy Implementation Guidelines.

Cybersecurity graduate program information session

UMBC Cybersecurity graduate MPS program

The UMBC cybersecurity graduate MPS program will host an informal information session from Noon to 1:00pm on Wednesday, April 6 in ITE Lecture Hall 7. Attend to hear the benefits and practical applications of the program and meet staff members who will be available to answer questions.

The program allows students to:

  • Learn from both research faculty and industry practitioners
  • Acquire the latest knowledge and skills and get the preparation you need to make meaningful contributions to the fieldDevelop a network of fellow students and faculty that will benefit you throughout your career
  • Choose either a post graduate certificate or master's degree

UMBC is designated as a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE) as well as a Center of Academic Excellence in Research (CAE-R) by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

The program is now accepting applications for Fall 2011. See the Cybersecurity program Web site more information.

CSEE student Karuna Joshi receives IBM Ph.D. Fellowship

Karuna P. Joshi

CSEE Ph.D. student Karuna Joshi has received a IBM Ph.D. Fellowship award for the 2011-2012 academic year. Ms. Joshi's dissertation involves developing a new framework for automating the configuration, negotiation and procurement of services in a cloud computing environment using semantic web technologies. She is working with co-advisers Professors Yelena Yesha and Tim Finin.

The IBM Ph.D. Fellowship Awards Program is highly competitive and selects exceptional Ph.D. students who have an interest in solving problems important to IBM and their disciplines of study. The award provides a generous stipend and an education allowance covering tuition and other educational expenses and is renewable for up to three years.

UMBC Engineering Management & Systems Engineering graduate info session, 4/13

UMBC Engineering Management and Systems Engineering graduate info session, April 13

Learn about degree and certificate options, course overviews, admission processes and credit requirements at an information session for the UMBC Engineering Management and Systems Engineering graduate programs. The session will be held 12-1pm Wednesday April 13 in room 456 of the Information Technology and Engineering building. Ted Foster, Assistant Dean of the UMBC College of Engineering and IT and Graduate Program Director of both programs, will be there to answer questions. RSVP by sending email to professionals at umbc.edu.

The Engineering Management Program at UMBC combines a practical business approach with an in-depth technical concentration and emphasizes how to manage people and complex projects. Courses are developed and taught by industry experts, and are designed to address real-world problems in the workplace. Both a Master’s Degree a Graduate Certificate program are offered.

The Systems Engineering program couples the experiences of the region’s top engineers with the expertise of UMBC’s world-class engineering faculty. This program designed in colloboration with some of the leading employers in this field balances practical application and theoretical understanding. Systems Engineering students experience a rich curriculum that covers all aspects of a system’s life cycle using state-of-the-art principles, practices, and technologies. Our Systems Engineering graduate programs are designed for working engineers, taught by the region’s top systems engineers from leading defense contractors and overseen by a board of faculty and industry leaders. Both a Master’s Degree a Graduate Certificate program are offered.

Classes in both Engineering Management and Systems Engineering are conveniently offered in the evening on the UMBC campus, located just five minutes from BWI Airport, with easy access from I-95 and the 695 Beltway.

See flyer.

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