Computer science graduate student wins Google fellowship

Papernot is one of 39 recipients from North America, Europe and the Middle East

Computer science doctoral student Nicolas Papernot was one of 39 recipients from North America, Europe and the Middle East to be honored as a 2016 Google PhD Fellow.

Google created the PhD Fellowship program in 2009 to recognize and support outstanding graduate students doing exceptional research in computer science and related disciplines, according to the Google research blog. Now in its eighth year, the fellowship program has supported hundreds of future faculty, industry researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Papernot was nominated by his adviser, Patrick McDaniel, distinguished professor of computer science and engineering, for his research on the security of deep learning. Before deciding to pursue his doctorate with McDaniel, Papernot was a computer science and engineering student in a double master of science degree program between Penn State and Ecole Centrale de Lyon in France.

Deep learning is a growing subfield of machine learning, which has led to major breakthroughs in pattern recognition, artificial intelligence and other computer science challenges in the past 10 years, Papernot said.

Machine learning seeks to design techniques that teach computers how to solve tasks by learning from examples instead of having a human directly programming their behavior, he said. His research focuses on how individuals with malicious intents can manipulate the input of deep learning models to force them to produce adversarial behaviors.

After introducing a new class of attacks that allowed malicious individuals to control the behavior of deep learning models, Papernot said he started working on finding defenses against attacks as part of his research. Such defenses are based on teaching computers how to learn models intrinsically resilient to the input manipulations used by malicious individuals.

When Papernot received the email from Google that he was chosen as a fellow, he said he had to read it multiple times to convince himself it was true.

“Putting together the research proposal itself took more than a week of full-time writing, and was the outcome of several months of research,” he said. “It was really a great sentiment to learn that all this work caught Google’s eye.”

Throughout the two year duration of the fellowship, which can be extended to a third year at Google’s discretion, the company pays all tuition fees and related costs, pays a monthly stipend and provides fellows with a mentor at Google.

Last Updated March 22, 2016