A visionary intellectual leader in AI, Timnit Gebru, gave a talk at the University of Chicago that is a much-watch for any computer scientist.

This week, Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher in machine learning, the former co-lead of the Ethical AI team at Google, and the co-founder of Black in AI, gave a talk at the University of Chicago’s Center for Data and Computing Distinguished Lecture Series.

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Academic researchers listen to a lot of talks, perhaps as many as 5–10 every week in “peak season”. Every now and then, there is a talk that profoundly changes the way we think about our entire approach to research, to our philosophy to the types of problems we choose. Timnit’s talk was one such talk. …


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What makes a good Ph.D. dissertation? How do you find a topic? When should you propose?

The crowning achievement of a Ph.D. degree is the dissertation—a document that captures a coherent body of research that contributes to overall knowledge in a particular field.

To many Ph.D. students, a dissertation can sound daunting—it’s a long document (usually at least 100 pages, often approaching 200 pages) that encompasses several years of work. …


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There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

I grew up in northern California, where 40 degrees was considered cold weather. When I moved to Boston for college, I knew I was in for a (literal) phase change when my walks across the Charles River in October felt cold. Now, I live in Chicago, where it’s 15 degrees and negative wind chill as I write—already having finished an 11-mile run outdoors. That sounds cold, but in fact it is essentially never too cold to run outside, if you have (1) the right gear, (2) the right strategy, and (3) the right attitude. Below, I’ll talk about all three…


I visited Chicago Public Schools as part of CS Ed Week to talk about our research on Internet censorship, the urban digital divide, and ethics in computer science.

More than 60 countries around the world perform some form of Internet censorship, according to reports from Freedom on the Net. Those numbers can often be much higher, depending on how censorship is defined, of course.

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CS Ed Week, Virtual Edition for Lincoln Park High School.

To ensure that the Internet remains free and open for all people, our research group has been working on technologies to measure and mitigate Internet censorship for the past two decades. Some highlights of our work include a variety of firsts and breakthroughs in both measurement and circumvention of Internet censorship, including:

  • Infranet (2002), the first system to use a covert channel to circumvent…

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Over the past several years, our research group has been exposing the various privacy risks of Domain Name System (DNS) traffic and developing mechanisms to improve DNS privacy.

Briefly, the DNS is the Internet protocol that maps a domain name like uchicago.edu to an Internet address, such as 34.200.129.209. The DNS has been used for many purposes over the years beyond simply Internet name lookups. …


Professor Feamster gave a keynote to AFRICOMM 2020 today entitled “The Past, Present, and Future of DNS Privacy”.

The talk covered the research group’s work on DNS over the past five years, including:

  • The privacy risks associated with DNS, including the fact that DNS can be used to infer Web browsing behavior and even human activities in a smart home.
  • The recent and ongoing trends towards the encryption and centralization of DNS, in particular the increasing deployment of encrypted DNS in browsers, including Mozilla’s Firefox browser.
  • Our ongoing efforts to reduce the privacy risks of DNS, including the deployment of…

Many consumers use online speed tests to track the download and upload speeds of their home Internet connections. But these tools offer more than just a measurement for how fast one’s network can download files or stream video.

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The data they gather are also used by policymakers — from city governments to the federal agencies like Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — to assess the current state of broadband speeds around the United States and the world, and to make decisions about where (and how) to make investments to improve access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

Although these tests have long been…


Professor Nick Feamster was featured on WTTW Chicago Tonight last Wednesday evening discussing online content moderation. Watch the interview below (interview starts at 7:26), and read on to see Professor Feamster’s take on various questions posed by WTTW.

Is there any approach the companies can take that will satisfy both sides?

There seems to be widespread agreement that content moderation platforms are far from simply “platforms”. In the recent election cycle, in particular, they have certainly crossed over into playing the role of content editor.

Note, however, that this has somewhat always been a matter of dispute. Even before these platforms started flagging content one way or another, there have been concerns…


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Thinking of applying for a Ph.D. in Computer Science? Here’s how to figure out where to apply, find potential advisors, and put together a strong application.

Perhaps you’re thinking of applying to Ph.D. programs in computer science. Before you decide to fill out all of those applications, I’d first encourage you to read my post on whether you need a Ph.D. in the first place.

If, after reading about the benefits (and drawbacks) of Ph.D. programs, you’ve decided you want to give it a shot, the next step is putting together an application and sending it to graduate schools. In this post, I explain how to approach this process, with a bit of an insider view of how I read applications, to help you put together…


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Everything you wanted to know about types of proposals, where to find funding opportunities, and what goes into a proposal—but were afraid to ask.

In a previous post, I offered some thoughts on how to write a winning research proposal. I aimed to gear that advice as much towards graduate students as faculty members, since there are many shared aspects to crafting a narrative for a research proposal and (say) a graduate fellowship application.

In this post, I offer some tips about the logistics of proposal writing in the field of computer science. The audience of this writeup is senior graduate students who are considering a career in academia, junior faculty members, and others who are simply looking for tips on writing research proposals…

Nick Feamster

Neubauer Professor of Computer Science, University of Chicago. The Internet, research, running, & life. https://people.cs.uchicago.edu/~feamster/

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