Blending EE with CS: an Interview with Costis Daskalakis

Constantinos (Costis) Daskalakis

Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering,
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Costis Daskalakis meets with EECS/CSAIL graduate student Yang Cai

Costis Daskalakis meets with EECS/CSAIL graduate student Yang Cai.

Q. How would you describe yourself in terms of CS (and mathematics) and EE? How do you find the blend lends itself to enhancing your teaching and research?

Costis Daskalakis: My PhD was in Computer Science, but my undergraduate studies were in Electrical and Computer Engineering, ranging from Electromagnetism and Analog Devices to Digital Networks, Circuits and Software. Over the years, I found my familiarity with the many layers that make up a computational system–from the physical to the software layer–an important part of my culture as a computer scientist. It helps me understand my colleagues and students, puts my work into a broader context, and presents interesting new opportunities for research.

Last semester, a student in my Algorithmic Game Theory class did a class-project on introducing incentives, monetary and other, in the power grid to encourage balancing of power load. Ultimately this project could become part of the Proto-Amorphous Cooperative Energy Management (PACEM) project here at MIT. I found this class-project to be a nice example of work across the EE and CS boundary. The project required a good understanding of the underlying technology, determining what types of load balancing protocols are feasible to implement. It also required game-theoretic tools for providing the right incentives to the users of the system, together with solid algorithmic design to result in an overall computationally efficient system.

Q. What do you envision ahead for educating students in the cross over areas of EE and CS and particularly from the point of view of your areas of interest?

Costis Daskalakis: The Internet has brought together all sorts of technologies, which often cannot be categorized as strictly EE or CS. The scientist of the future will need familiarity with the mixture of technologies arising “in the wild”, i.e. when there is no central designer putting together all the components making up a system, but the system is evolving independently from our control. Think of how the Internet evolves… Studying such systems will necessarily require going beyond the traditional EE and CS boundary. In fact, I feel that the cross-disciplinary approach will grow outside the EECS department encompassing other engineering fields, the life and the social sciences.

My own research is on the interface of algorithms and game theory. We aim to design systems that are robust against the potential conflict of interest that may arise among the system’s users, owners, or administrators. For such research to be realistic, we need tools from Economics and Algorithms, but also familiarity with the underlying technology, be it digital or analog.

I think I can safely bet that, in generations to come, important research discoveries will come out of a mixture of ideas that go beyond traditional departmental boundaries. Faithful to my bet, I will keep exploring problems at the interface of CS, EE and the other Sciences.

Q. As a member of the EECS faculty, how has your access to EE and CS colleagues been helpful to you?

Costis Daskalakis: While being on the CS side of the department, I have benefited greatly from my contact with EE colleagues, especially in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and the Operations Research Center. I have been part of workshops and research proposals with LIDS and ORC faculty, discovering the many research interests that we share. I always enjoy hearing their perspectives on my research, and am looking forward to developing new classes at the interface of our research. This semester I am having fun co-teaching 6.006, Introduction to Algorithms with LIDS colleague Patrick Jaillet.

Read more about Prof. Costis Daskalakis at his website.

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