Amazon-Virginia Tech Initiative showcases innovative approaches to robust and efficient machine learning
“As we move into the second year of our partnership with Amazon, we are looking to expand the initiative into emerging areas of research such as robust large language model deployment, combining large language models with reasoning capabilities, and multimodal interfaces,” said Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering and director of the Amazon-Virginia Tech initiative.
Virginia Tech and Amazon gathered for a Machine Learning Day held at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington on April 25 to celebrate and further solidify their collaborative Amazon–Virginia Tech Initiative for Efficient and Robust Machine Learning.
Announced last year, the initiative — funded by Amazon, housed in the College of Engineering, and directed by researchers at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics on Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg and at the Innovation Campus in Alexandria — supports student- and faculty-led development and implementation of innovative approaches to robust machine learning, such as ensuring that algorithms and models are resistant to errors and adversaries, that could address worldwide industry-focused problems.
The by-invitation-only event, sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Sanghani Center, opened with welcome remarks from Julie Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgerson Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech; Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of the Innovation Campus at Virginia Tech; and Reza Ghanadan, senior principal scientist, Amazon Alexa, and the new Amazon center liaison for the Amazon-Virginia Tech initiative.
University President Tim Sands; Charlie Phlegar, vice president for Advancement; Cal Ribbens, professor and head of the Department of Computer Science; and Naren Ramakrishnan, the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering and director of the Amazon-Virginia Tech initiative, were among those in attendance from Virginia Tech.
“As we move into the second year of our partnership with Amazon, we are looking to expand the initiative into emerging areas of research such as robust large language model deployment, combining large language models with reasoning capabilities, and multimodal interfaces,” said Ramakrishnan. “We are happy to see that enthusiasm for the initiative is rapidly growing across campus. There has been a two-fold increase in the number of students nominated by faculty for an Amazon fellowship as well as an increase in research project submissions.”
Shehzad Mevawalla, vice president of Alexa Speech Recognition, Amazon Alexa; Wael Hamza, senior principal applied scientist, Amazon Alexa AI; and Ghanadan were among the executives and scientists from Amazon who joined in the event.
The daylong program included presentations by the initiative’s inaugural cohort whose research is being funded through the initiative: two Amazon Fellows, Ph.D. students Qing Gao and Yi Zeng; and Virginia Tech faculty Peng Gao, Walid Saed, Ismini Lourentzou, and Rouxi Jia. Their work spans the areas of federated learning, meta-learning, leakage from machine learning models, and conversational interfaces.
Gao and Zeng also presented during a poster session with nine other Virginia Tech Ph.D. students: Hongjie Chen, Si Chen, Zhen Guo, Meghana Holla,Redwan Ibne Seraj Khan, Shuo Lei, Shailik Sarkar, Ann Shen, Afrina Tabassum, and Muntasir Wahed.
The agenda included two research panels: an "Overview of Alexa AI Science" presented by Mevawalla and Hamza and "Best Practices for Collaboration" moderated by Ramakrishnan.
A networking session offered faculty, students, and Amazon researchers the opportunity to meet, share ideas, and explore possible collaborations.
The day culminated with visits to the Sanghani Center and the Center for Power Electronics, housed in the building.
The Sanghani Center provided demonstrations about EMBERS, a fully automated 24/7 forecasting system and other key projects at the Sanghani Center in machine learning, data science, and visual analytics.
Amazon guests also visited the Center for Power Electronics labs, a showcase facility for Virginia Tech that builds on the center’s internationally recognized expertise in developing groundbreaking power electronics technologies. The tour included a demo at the Power Electronics laboratory equipped with the latest testing and measurement equipment capable of achieving several hundreds of kilowatts of power and a demo at the packaging laboratory equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for designing, building, characterizing, and testing advanced power electronics packages.