Student Profile: Ben Yuan – Ph.D. Student

2017-02-28 - 5 minutes read

What Are You Studying?

I’m a graduate student at MIT, currently affiliated with CSAIL. I do stuff. Some of the stuff I do is in the information security and privacy domain; I’ve done some other things in the teaching domain as well, as well as some other things I haven’t characterized.

I’m currently conducting research under the Decentralized Information Group (DIG), exploring the field of information accountability. The thought is this: present data management systems use access control as the primary mechanism of ensuring that information is used by appropriate parties, but this approach falls short because access control alone provides no restrictions on how the data is disseminated or used after controls have been applied and the information has been retrieved. As a research group, one of our goals is to promote a framework of accountability and auditability (alongside access control) in conjunction with public policy as a means of ensuring appropriate data use; the idea is that such a framework would enable an “auditable-by-default” world where misbehaving actors could be properly held accountable for their actions.

Before MIT, I was an undergraduate student at Caltech for a little while. While at Caltech, I did data analysis for the LIGO project, as well as some non-flight systems software development for JPL. I also worked as a lead teaching assistant for the CS2 (Intro. to Programming Methods) course at Caltech, and also worked as a teaching assistant for the CS143 (Communication Networks) and CS179 (GPU Programming) courses.

I also did a short internship at RockMelt doing frontend iOS development for the now-defunct RockMelt Social Reader.

Outside all of this, I nurture and pursue a strong interest in accessible security and privacy tools. The thought is this: there are an alarming number of people who don’t understand why they would even need security and privacy in the first place (e.g. “I have nothing to hide”), and an alarming number of people who would have no hope of using or understanding the tools representing the current state of the art. Given the hypothesis that accessible security and privacy is a desirable goal, I want to help build tools that are easy enough for ordinary people to use, yet provide enough security to be considered reasonable by people who understand the underlying principles.

I also enjoy good music, and occasionally I’ll even have time to unwind and do the other things.

What has been your favorite thing about IPRI? 

Working alongside a fantastic group of people. Our individual interests might be very different, but it’s refreshing to hear about the various things everyone is doing. The people here are working on everything from Web security to decentralized crypto-ledgers to personal privacy issues, and it’s hard not to be fascinated by all of it.

What did you study before your PhD?

I completed my B.S. in Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology in 2014.

What is your research project? 

Currently, I’m working on a project funded by the Toyota-CSAIL Joint Research Center titled “The Car Can Explain!”. Along with fellow graduate student Leilani Gilpin and supervisor Gerald Jay Sussman, we’re working on developing techniques to build multipartite systems capable of explaining and justifying decisions made in complex scenarios. Our aim is to create a capability that allows autonomous and semi-autonomous systems to behave more robustly by enabling individual components to make decisions based on their expectations of other components’ behavior, and allows such systems to assist auditors and inspire confidence in behavior by telling explanatory stories about incidents that do occur.

Where can we find some of your writing online?

Ben Z. Yuan “Adapting NIEM input for automated privacy policy reasoning” IEEE HST 2016  and Leilani H. Gilpin, Ben Z. Yuan, and Gerald Jay Sussman “Getting up to Speed on Vehicle Intelligence” AAAI Spring Symposium Series 2017 [doi pending]

Where Can We Find You Online?

LinkedIn: Ben’s LinkedIn

Website/Blog: Ben’s Website