Information Sciences Institute
The Information Sciences Institute (ISI) is a research and development unit of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering that focuses on information processing, computing and communications technology. Founded in 1972, ISI helped develop the Internet, including the Domain Name System and refinement of TCP/IP communications protocols. The institute receives about $60 million annually for basic and applied research from more than 20 U.S. federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Department of Homeland Security.
ISI employs approximately 350 research scientists, research programmers, graduate students and administrative staff in Marina del Rey, California (headquarters) and Arlington, Virginia. About half of the research staff hold Ph.D.s, and about 50 are research faculty who teach at USC and/or advise graduate students at ISI. The institute's executive director is Prem Natarajan, who arrived in mid-2013 from Raytheon BBN Technologies, where he was an executive vice president and principal scientist. Natarajan succeeded interim executive director and USC Viterbi School vice dean John O'Brien, who had followed Herbert Schorr, ISI's executive director from 1988 to 2012.
ISI was founded by Keith Uncapher, who headed the computer research group at RAND Corporation. When Uncapher's RAND group funding was cut dramatically, he approached the University of California at Los Angeles about creating an off-campus technology institute. Uncapher was told a decision would take 15 months. USC department of electrical engineering chairman George A. Bekey then helped arrange a meeting with executive vice president Zohrab Karielian, who strongly supported the concept. ISI was born five days later with Uncapher and two other employees. Its first proposal was funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 30 days for $6 million.
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ISI researchers work in four broad areas:
- Intelligent Systems: artificial intelligence, including natural language, machine translation, information integration, social networks, biomedical knowledge engineering, multi-agent systems and robotics
- Informatics: Computer networks, Internet security, medical informatics, decision systems and related areas
- Computational Systems and Technology: quantum computing; supercomputing; cloud, wireless, reconfigurable and multicore computing; microarchitecture and electronics; science automation technologies; social networks and space systems
- Advanced Electronics: MOSIS shared-wafer integrated circuit research and fabrication, CMOS and post-CMOS concepts, and biomimetics
Current projects include:
- DETER Project and DETERlab cybersecurity research
- Quantum computing
- Los Angeles electrical smart grid development
- Media impact analysis
- Nano-satellite development and flight monitoring
- Alternate reality for education
- Genomic research data warehouse
- Basketball motion analysis
- Biomimetics (implanted brain device)
- Internet resiliency
- Self-configuring robots
- Automated language translation
- Geospatial and text integration
ISI made significant contributions to Internet development, including major contributions to development of the TCP/IP communications standard on which the Net continues to operate. The Domain Name System (DNS) was conceived at ISI, along with the now-ubiquitous "dot-com," "dot-net," "dot-org" and other identifiers. ISI managed the DNS from its inception until 1998. Institute researchers, notably Internet pioneer Jonathan Postel, also edited the Request for Comments (RFC) series, the written record of the network's technical structure and operation that both documented and guided its evolution, from 1977 through 2009. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which coordinated its unique identifiers, was managed from ISI until 1998. IAANA's authority then was transferred to a new oversight body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was created for that purpose.
ISI developed the world's first e-commerce site, MOSIS, which produces specialty and low-volume chips for corporations, universities and other research entitites worldwide. The Institute helped develop, and was the first entity to implement, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). Some of the first Net security applications, and one of the world's first portable computers, also originated at ISI.
In 2012, ISI researcher Kevin Knight spearheaded a successful drive to crack the Copiale cipher, a lengthy encrypted manuscript that had remained undeciphered for 250 years. The first center to utilize the D-Wave adiabatic quantum system, the USC Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center, also opened at ISI. In 2011, several ISI natural language experts advised the IBM team that created Watson, the computer that became the first machine to win against human competitors on the Jeopardy! TV show.
Other achievements include creating or co-creating:
- the GLOBUS grid computing standard
- the LOOM knowledge representation language and environment
- the MONARCH supercomputer-on-a-chip
- the Soar (cognitive architecture) for developing intelligent behavioral systems
Customers, startups, and spinoffs
ISI's US government customers include DARPA, the US Army and Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the US Geological Survey; the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Justice; and the US intelligence community. The Institute has spawned about a dozen startup and spinoff companies in grid software, geospatial information fusion, machine translation, data integration and other technologies.
- Oral history interview with Keith W. Uncapher, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.