It is my privilege to introduce the latest issue of LIDS|All. This is my first introduction as LIDS director — a position I am excited and honored to hold, especially as a LIDS alum and faculty member. I would like to start by thanking the outgoing director, John Tsitsiklis, and outgoing associate director, Eytan Modiano. Their thoughtful leadership paved the way for new initiatives and expansion of the lab, and positioned LIDS with strength as a major research unit in MIT’s Schwarzman College of Computing. I know the shoes I am filling are big ones, and look forward to taking on the challenge.
Since its founding, LIDS has been one of the most prominent places where numerous fields have been transformed from a state of "gadgeteering" to one that proceeds along "well-established scientific lines", as founding director Gordon Brown describes in his book Principles of Servomechanisms. This transformation has occurred through the development of rigorous analytical approaches together with their implementation in real-world applications through truly grand-challenge projects in the lab. Going forward, it is my hope that LIDS will continue to lead in this foundational research in the information and decision sciences, and its impactful applications in many domains, with the flavor that Gordon Brown and his colleagues practiced more than eighty years ago.
In the meantime, I am happy to share all of the terrific work happening at LIDS today. As we made our way through another period marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, you will see a different kind of year at LIDS reflected in the magazine — but a remarkable one nonetheless. Our community continued to work and thrive remotely for much of the year, meeting the challenges of connecting from a distance with grace and creativity. While many traditions had to change direction (both the LIDS Student Conference and LIDS Graduation Celebration were held virtually, for instance) the core purpose of sharing our work and successes was kept beautifully whole, a testament to the spirit of the LIDS community in a time of much change.
I am deeply saddened, however, to report that our community also shared a tragic loss this past year. Graduate student Matthew Brennan, a rising star, generous researcher, and wonderful friend to many, died suddenly in January 2021 of a previously unknown medical condition. Supervised by Professor Guy Bresler, Matt explored theoretical aspects of machine learning and probability theory; at the 2020 Conference on Learning Theory (COLT), he won the Best Student Paper Award — one of many honors he had already received in a promising academic career. Matt brought this same boundless energy and passion to all of his endeavors, especially his friendships. He is sorely missed, and leaves behind a legacy of overwhelming kindness.
You can read more about Matt, who in many ways embodied the best of what it means to be part of LIDS, in this issue. You will also read about other exceptional people in our community including: graduate student Sarah Cen and her work in promoting trust and fairness in AI; faculty member Guy Bresler’s groundbreaking research in high-dimensional statistics; administrative assistant Max Taylor; alum Mengdi Wang’s work in reinforcement learning; postdoc Pallavi Bharadwaj’s vision for a renewable energy future; and graduate student Heng Yang and his research in robot perception.
Sertac Karaman, Director