Student Profile: Lydia Liu ’17 designs machine learning tools for positive social impact

Thursday, Sep 27, 2018
by Sharon Adarlo

Lydia Liu, 24, Class of 2017:

Studies: Lydia Liu earned a bachelor’s degree in Operations Research and Financial Engineering at Princeton University, as well as certificates from the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning, Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, and the Department of Computer Science.

She is currently a second year doctoral student in computer science at University of California, Berkeley.

Research: Liu is currently focusing her research on the foundational principals of machine learning - “algorithms that have reliable and robust performance guarantees” - and developing machine learning algorithms that are “fairer” and have “positive long-term societal impact.”

“Using principled machine learning algorithms means that we understand the mathematics behind them and guarantee when they behave correctly in real life applications,” she said.

In particular, Liu studies generalization in machine learning, which means that a well-designed machine learning algorithm is able to process new information in the way it was meant to by the engineer or scientist.

On fairness, Liu wants to develop better machine learning models that impact people more equitably.

“We don’t do machine learning in a vacuum. People are always impacted by the algorithms deployed,” she said.

This past summer, she was awarded a best paper award for “Delayed Impact of Fair Machine Learning” at this year’s International Conference on Machine Learning in Stockholm, Sweden. The paper studies how certain machine learning systems that are built to minimize prediction errors may discriminate against underrepresented groups in terms of race or gender due to biased historical data. More on the paper and award can be found here.

Extracurricular activities: At the end of her junior year, Liu won the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award, which is awarded each year to the undergraduate who, at the end of junior year, has achieved the highest academic standing for all preceding college work at the University. While at Princeton, she was a member of Forbes College, the Princeton Women in Computer Science, William Trego Singers, a translator for the Princeton Chinese Theater, and director of projects for the Princeton University Language Project.

Liu, a serious writer of poetry, has had some of her work published and participates in poetry readings.

For fun: Liu likes to hike in natural areas around the San Francisco Bay Area, read, and go to jazz and classical music concerts.