Objective and Summary

My obsession is the development of tools and techniques for the safe and interpretable, safe, and fair deployment of intelligent systems.

My grad school career covered four distinct areas. First, I developed a simulator for fire, vegetation growth, timber sales, and weather. Second, I developed visual analytic tools for exploring the policy space of Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), including the wildfire simulator. Since many MDPs are defined by computationally expensive simulators, I next developed a surrogate modeling method that brings interactive specification of policy, reward, and optimization functions to large state space Markov Decision Processes. My final area of focus is Bayesian policy search using the surrogate model I developed.

Outside my doctoral research, I am also very active in the development of open source code and organizations. I developed a federally-recognized 501c3, the Privly Foundation, dedicated to online privacy education. The foundation's activities included developing Open Source software, technology workshops, and supervising student developers. Along with Ashish Kapoor and Amanda Askell I co-chair the Partnership on AI's working group on Safety Critical AI.

My current development and research interests are in making ultra-low power neural network evaluation feasible through work at Syntiant. I spend my nights and weekends developing process for the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE as the technical lead for the prize. I additionally served as mentor for the NASA Frontier Development Lab for their heliophysics research program.

Summaries of my research can be found below. For a full professional history, please view my LinkedIn profile.

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Introduction to NIPS 2017 Competition Track

(Many Authors)

This chapter surveys the machine learning competitions collected within the NIPS Competition Track. All chapter writers were invited to contribute to this survey chapter.

I will provide the text upon request.

Citation BibTeX  2018

First Year Results from the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE: Lessons for the "AI for Good" Movement

McGregor, S., Banifatemi, A.

This chapter summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of artificial intelligence in solving problem domains advancing the common wellfare. The chapter will be published with the competition and team details of the NIPS Competition Track.

I will provide the text upon request.

Citation  2018

Connecting Conservation Research and Implementation: Building a Wildfire Assistant

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.

This chapter binds my PhD dissertation together with other works in AI applied to problems in conservation. If you want to learn more about my PhD work, I recommend starting here.

The attached version is pre-typeset editing from Cambridge Press (forthcoming).

Paper Citation BibTeX  2019


Year One of the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE: Case Studies in "AI for Good"

McGregor, S., Banifatemi, A.

This is a summary of judging processes developed for the first milestone competition of the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, as well as the teams that were nominated for the competition. I will provide the text upon request.

Citation BibTeX  2018

FlareNet: A Deep Learning Framework for Solar Phenomena Prediction

McGregor, S., Dhuri, D., Berea, A., Muñoz-Jaramillo, A.

This workshop paper and poster introduce the work product of the 2017 NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) research team in space weather prediction. We modeled solar activity with deep neural networks to predict solar flares. FlareNet shows promise in predicting natural phenomena that can cause immense damage to human terrestrial infrastructure.

Paper Poster Citation BibTeX  2017

Visualizing High-Dimensional MDPs with Model-Free Monte Carlo

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.

Best Paper Nomination

This work extends Model-Free Monte Carlo to large state space Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) by factoring the state space. We successfully generate surrogate trajectories for a large state space MDP (more than 10^1000000 states) with 8 state features. We posted an extended version of the paper to arXiv.

Paper Citation BibTeX  2017

Fast Optimization of Wildfire Suppression Policies with SMAC

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.

This paper is the first application of random forests for direct policy search. Additionally, it is the first case of optimizing wildfire suppression policies across 100 year time spans. This is a standalone version of the paper incorporated into the book chapter, "Connecting Conservation Research and Implementation: Building a Wildfire Assistant."

Paper Citation  2017

Factoring Exogenous State for Model-Free Monte Carlo

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.

This work shows how to reduce the simulation time of a high-dimensional ecological Markov Decision Process (MDP) from 7 hours to less than a seconds. We apply the method outlined in the RLDM paper.


Fast Simulation for Computational Sustainability Sequential Decision Making Problems

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Buckingham, H., Montgomery, C., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.,

This paper, presentation, and poster give preliminary results for modeling the wildfire policy MDP with Model-Free Monte Carlo.

Paper Poster Presentation Slides Citation BibTeX  2016

Allowing a Wildfire to Burn: Estimating the Effect on Future Fire Suppression Costs

Houtman, R. M., Montgomery, C. A., Gagnon, A. R., Calkin, D. E., Dietterich, T. G., McGregor, S., & Crowley, M.

This paper outlines the wildfire simulator I collaboratively developed for evaluating wildfire suppression decisions. Wildfires can reduce timber harvests in the present, but suppression decisions must balance firefighting costs, reduced fuel risks post-fire, and timber revenues.

Paper Citation BibTeX  2013

Interactive visualization for testing Markov Decision Processes: MDPVIS

McGregor, S., Buckingham, H., Dietterich, T. G., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., & Metoyer, R.

The development of a computationally expensive MDP simulator demonstrated the absence of adequate tooling for sequential decision making problems. This paper presents a visual analytic system, MDPvis, that is easy to interface with MDP simulators and optimizers and extensible with additional visualizations.

Demo Paper Citation BibTeX  2017

Toward Visualization Methods for Interactive Improvement of MDP Specifications

McGregor, S., Dietterich, T. G., & Metoyer, R.

This workshop paper presents an early version of MDPvis and discusses the need for stronger visualizations in the reinforcement learning community.

Paper Presentation Slides Citation BibTeX  2014

MDPvis: An Interactive Visualization for Testing Markov Decision Processes

McGregor, S., Buckingham, H., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., Metoyer, R., & Dietterich, T. G.

This paper is an extended abstract of the paper presented at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing.

Paper Presentation Slides Citation BibTeX  2015

Facilitating Testing and Debugging of Markov Decision Processes with Interactive Visualization

McGregor, S., Buckingham, H., Dietterich, T. G., Houtman, R., Montgomery, C., & Metoyer, R.

This paper introduces Markov Decision Processes to visualization researchers as a theoretical formulation for sequential optimization problems. We explain the MDP formulation, present a visual analytic system exploring simulator-defined MDPs, and evaluate the system on a high dimensional MDP domain.

Paper Presentation Slides Citation BibTeX  2015


Analog Computing for Deep Neural Networks

McGregor, S.

This talk thematically unifies the four design dimensions of power-efficient neural network computation, including, (1) changes to the neural network specification (e.g., depthwise separable convolutions), (2) changes to the numerical expression of the neural network (e.g., quantization), (3) post-training optimization of the neural network (e.g., pruning), and (4) custom silicon (e.g., analog matrix multiplication). This talk draws from my work at Syntiant developing neural network models for ultra-low power computation on analog silicon.

Citation  2018

Beneficial AI

United Nations, International Telecommunication Union

I served as panelist and/or rapporteur for this gathering of UN Agencies, NGOs, and academics. The group effort centered on developing guidlines and principles for the beneficial use of Artificial Intelligence. As part of my panel participation I drafted three documents in collaboration with panel moderators. These include one document on beneficial AI with the head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), another document on privacy and security with the director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, and a final document on measuring the positive and negative impacts of AI technologies with the head of UNICEF's venture fund.

Citation  2017

Solving Grand Challenges with Artificial Intelligence

McGregor, S.

I keynoted the Thrival Innovation Festival on the topic of Artificial Intelligence for good. This talk was to a general business and startup audience and centered around the teams competing in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE. Following the keynote I sat on a panel with David Danks (CMU Philosophy department chair), Amrit Dhir (Google for Entrepreneurs), Jana Eggers (Nara Logics), and Iba Masood (TARA.AI).

Presentation Slides Citation  2017

Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Finding new Ways of Extracting Scientific Insights from Solar Observations.

McGregor, S., Munoz-Jaramillo, A., Dhuri, D., & Berea, A.

I spent the summer of 2017 working collaboratively with computer scientists and heliophysicists to predict solar flares from raw Solar Dynamics Observatory images. This presentation was an invited talk to present our preliminary results to the NASA community.

My contributions to this research included defining the software architecture for heliophysics deep learning research, including visualization methods for extracting scientific insights from trained neural network models.

Since the development process was unusual by NASA standards, the first quarter of the presentation focused on our style of agile development methods as a means of conducting interdisciplinary research.

Citation BibTeX  2017

AI for Good in Action

Banifatemi, A., McGregor, S., McConaghy, T.

This presentation surveyed recent results and organizational directions in the AI for Good space. My contribution to the presentation was to introduce a few examples of teams within the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE and to give the attendees an outline of the conference proceedings for which "AI for Good" is an explicit or implicit topic. I was later invited to reprise elements of the presentation at the Common Model Infrastructure Expo Workshop organized by Baidu.

Citation  2018

Impactful AI: Solving for Sustainable Development Goals

McGregor, S.

In this presentation I walked the UN World Food Program through the opportunity in applying AI to programs in food security and conservation. My goal was to simultaneously express the opportunities afforded by deployment of intelligent software products, while emphasizing that these solutions still require careful thought and clever formulations.

Presentation Slides Citation  2017

How to Encrypt Your Content on Any Website

McGregor, S., Karve, S., & Davidson, J.

This presentation explained the technical foundations of the priv.ly project.

Citation BibTeX  2012

Making Your Privacy Software Usable

Davidson, J., & McGregor, S.

I collaborated with UX researcher Jen Davidson on a presentation of usability evaluation methods and privacy software ethics.

Citation BibTeX  2014

The Open Privacy Stack: Privly

McGregor, S., & Davidson, J.

OSCON is the premiere Open Source industry conference. This presentation focuses on our work on the priv.ly project's implementation.

Presentation Slides Citation BibTeX  2013

Privacy (or not) in a Digital Age

McGregor, S.

This talk covered threats to electronic privacy and mitigation strategies. Topics covered included encryption, browser extensions, networking, and malware.

Citation BibTeX  2015


Incorporating Future Values into Analysis of Current Wildfires

McGregor, S., Houtman, R., Metoyer, R., Dietterich, T. G., Montgomery, C., & Crowley M.

Optimization and forestry are not often combined. We created this poster to gather input from forestry practitioners regarding the reports and visualizations that are useful in their work. The idea is to present our computer science research in a way that will lead to its adoption in a field that emphasizes field work over simulation students.

Poster Citation BibTeX  2014


Steward, Coalition of Graduate Employees

The Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) is a labor union representing more than 1,600 graduate employees. During my time in graduate school I helped double the size of the bargaining unit and budget, bargain a multi-million dollar contract, collaborate with university human resources on the implementation of our health plan, serve as ranking member of our delegation to the state federation, and serve as secretary-treasurer.


Working Group Member, Fairness, Transparency, Accountability Working Group

The FTA brings together representatives from AI industrial organizations with persons from civil society organizations to address developing issues in AI fairness and accountability.


Mentor, Google Code In

I mentored students through the FOSSASIA mentoring organization in the 2016 Google Code In, a "...global, online contest introducing teenagers to the world of open source development" with variety of bite-sized tasks. My responsibility was to help students accomplish a variety of tasks advancing their skills and understanding of open source development. Mentoring for this program is both inspiring and tremendously valuable for developing cultural insights. Teenagers from around the world typically have not developed an international style of professional work so you see unfiltered communication and help develop a professional sense.


Founder, EECS Graduate Student Association

Despite having more than 400 graduate students in the department, I am the only one in my 6+ years to have organized events for the whole grad student population. I formed a student association and recruited a slate of officers to continue building on the social events I organized. I am told the organization has continued to hold events.


Organizer, ICLR Workshop on AI for Social Good

I am an organizer for the ICLR Workshop focusing on social problems for which artificial intelligence has the potential to offer meaningful solutions. The organizing group shares responsibilities for chairing the review, schedule, and other event tasks.


Reviewer, NIPS

I reviewed reinforcement learning papers for this top-tier conference.


Organizer, Panel Moderator, Reviewer

I was an organizer for the NeurIPS Workshop focusing on social problems for which artificial intelligence has the potential to offer meaningful solutions. I additionally moderated the panel on "Academia, Corporations, Society, Responsibility", with Zoubin Ghahramani (Uber), David Danks (CMU), Lisa Di Jorio (Imagia), and Julien Cornebise (Element AI).

The workshop reach a peak attendance of more than 700 people during the lunchtime demonstration from acclaimed cellist Yo Yo Ma.


Founder, Privly Foundation

The Privly Foundation is a side project I kickstarted during my second year of graduate school. It is unrelated to my graduate studies, but has seen significant successes, including:

  • Designed and built method for posting private content to third-party social media: The Priv.ly Project
  • Gained attention in The Atlantic, Der Spiegel, Hacker News, and numerous other outlets.
  • Obtained 501(c)(3) tax exemption
  • Organization has mentored ten students in the Google Summer of Code (2013-2015)
  • Initiated online privacy meetup group in Portland, Oregon featuring presentations from leaders in security, incident response, citizen journalism, censorship circumvention, and cryptography
  • Funded at 260 percent of a Kickstarter campaign and raised total financial and in-kind support in excess of $100,000

Co-Chair, Safety Critical AI Working Group

The Safety Critical working group brings together representatives from AI industrial organizations with persons from civil society organizations to address developing issues in AI safety. I serve as co-chair with Ashish Kapoor and Amanda Askell. My passion project within the working group is a database cataloging where intelligent systems have produced harms within the world.