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Rudin Wins 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship

Open-ended funding award will support Rudin’s work to promote transparent, interpretable, socially responsible AI

Cynthia Rudin, professor of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, statistical science, mathematics, and biostatistics and bioinformatics at Duke University, has been awarded a 2022 Guggenheim Fellowship. Given to a diverse group of about 175 exceptional applicants each year, the award provides no-strings-attached funding for the fellows to pursue impactful projects.

This year, 180 fellowships were awarded from a pool of 2,500 applicants to individuals from 51 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields and directly respond to issues like climate change, pandemics, Russia, feminism, identity and racism.

“Our long experience tells us what an impact these annual grants will have to change people’s lives,” said Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation and 1985 Fellow in Poetry. “The work supported by the Foundation will aid in our collective effort to better understand the new world we’re in, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. It is an honor for the Foundation to help the Fellows carry out their visionary work.”

Rudin is a pioneer and leader in using machine learning and artificial intelligence to help society and working to make these algorithms transparent. Over the past decade, she has developed techniques for interpretable machine learning, which are predictive models that explain themselves in ways that humans can understand. While the code for designing these formulas is complex and sophisticated, the formulas might be small enough to be written in a few lines on an index card.

Rudin has applied her brand of interpretable machine learning to a wide variety projects, from creating an intuitive system to decide which New York City manholes were at risk of exploding due to degrading and overloaded electrical circuitry to developing algorithms to diagnose breast cancer that clearly show doctors how conclusions are being drawn. She has also been a vocal advocate for stopping the use of “black box” algorithms that hide their decision-making processes in high-stakes arenas like health care and parole decisions.

The Guggenheim Fellowship will support Rudin’s work toward developing a multimedia textbook for introductory, graduate level and advanced undergraduate level machine learning. To date, it has lecture notes, slides and more than 100 videos.

“Right now, people might learn interpretability as a sort of specialized subarea of machine learning,” Rudin said. “But interpretability is essential for trust in high-stakes applications, so I decided to bring it front and center in my textbook.”

In October 2021, Rudin was named the second winner of the “new Nobel” $1 million Squirrel AI Award for Artificial Intelligence for the Benefit of Humanity from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) for her work. She is also a three-time recipient of the INFORMS Innovative Applications in Analytics Award, which recognizes creative and unique applications of analytical techniques, and is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics and AAAI.