Information Sciences Institute

The USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) is a component of the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering, and specializes in research and development in information processing, computing, and communications technologies. It is located in Marina del Rey, California.[1]

ISI actively participated in the information revolution, and it played a leading role in developing and managing the early Internet and its predecessor ARPAnet.[2][3][4] The Institute conducts basic and applied research supported by more than 20 U.S. government agencies involved in defense, science, health, homeland security, energy and other areas. Annual funding is about $100 million.[5]

ISI employs about 350 research scientists, research programmers, graduate students and administrative staff at its Marina del Rey, California headquarters and in Arlington, Virginia. About half of the research staff hold PhD degrees, and about 40 are research faculty who teach at USC and advise graduate students.[5] Several senior researchers are tenured USC faculty in the Viterbi School.

Research and sponsors

ISI research spans artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity,[6] grid computing,[7] quantum computing, microelectronics,[8][9] supercomputing, nano-satellites and many other areas. AI expertise includes natural language processing, in which ISI has an international reputation,[10][11][12] reconfigurable robotics,[13] information integration, motion analysis[14][15] and social media analysis. Hardware/software expertise includes cyber-physical system security, data mining, reconfigurable computing and cloud computing. In networking, ISI explores Internet resilience, Internet traffic analysis and photonics, among other areas.[16][17] Researchers also work in scientific data management, wireless technologies, biomimetics and electrical smart grid, in which ISI is advising the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on a major demonstration project.[18] Another current initiative involves big data brain imaging jointly with the Keck School of Medicine of USC.[19]

Federal agency sponsors include the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and other scientific, technical and defense-related agencies.

Corporate partners include Chevron Corp. in the Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies (CiSoft), Lockheed Martin Company in the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center, and Parsons Corp. subsidiary Sparta Inc. in the DETER Project, a cybersecurity research initiative and international testbed. ISI also has partnered with businesses including IBM Corporation, Samsung Electronics Company, the Raytheon Company, GlobalFoundries Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation and Carl Zeiss AG, and currently is working with Micron Technology, Inc., Altera Corporation and Fujitsu Ltd.

ISI also operates the Metal Oxide Semiconductor Implementation Service (MOSIS), a multi-project electronic circuit wafer service that has prototyped more than 60,000 chips since 1981. MOSIS provides design tools and pools circuit designs to produce specialty and low-volume chips for corporations, universities and other research entities worldwide. The Institute also has given rise to several startup and spinoff companies in grid software, geospatial information fusion, machine translation, data integration and other technologies.


ISI was founded by Keith Uncapher, who headed the computer research group at RAND Corporation in the 1960s and early 1970s.[20][21] Uncapher decided to leave RAND after his group's funding was cut in 1971. He approached the University of California at Los Angeles about creating an off-campus technology institute, but was told that a decision would take 15 months. He then presented the concept to USC, which approved the proposal in five days.[2] ISI was launched with three employees in 1972. Its first proposal was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 30 days for $6 million.[22]

ISI became one of the earliest nodes on ARPANET,[23] the predecessor to the Internet, and in 1977 figured prominently in a demonstration of its international viability.[24] ISI also helped refine the TCP/IP communications protocols fundamental to Net operations,[3] and researcher Paul Mockapetris developed the now-familiar Domain Name System characterized by .com, .org, .net, .gov, and .edu[25] on which the Net still operates. (The names .com, .org et al. were invented at SRI International, an ongoing collaborator.) Steve Crocker originated the Request for Comments (RFC) series, the written record of the network's technical structure and operation that both documented and shaped the emerging Internet.[26] Another ISI researcher, Danny Cohen, became first to implement packet voice and packet video over ARPANET, demonstrating the viability of packet switching for real-time applications.[27]

Jonathan Postel collaborated in development of TCP/IP, DNS and the SMTP protocol that supports email.[28] He also edited the RFC for nearly three decades until his sudden death in 1998, when ISI colleagues assumed responsibility. The Institute retained that role until 2009. Postel simultaneously directed the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) and its predecessor, which assign Internet addresses. IANA was administered from ISI until a nonprofit organization, ICANN, was created for that purpose in 1998.[29]

Other achievements

Some of the first Net security applications, and one of the world's first portable computers, also originated at ISI.[30]

ISI researchers also created or co-created the:

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.[35][36] In 2012, ISI's Kevin Knight spearheaded a successful drive to crack the Copiale cipher, a lengthy encrypted manuscript that had remained unreadable for 250 years.[37] Also in 2012, the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center (QCC) became the first organization to operate a quantum annealing system outside of its manufacturer, D-Wave Systems, Inc.[38] USC, ISI and Lockheed Martin now are performing basic and applied research into quantum computing.[39] A second quantum annealing system is located at NASA Ames Research Center, and is operated jointly by NASA and Google.[40]

The USC Andrew and Erna Viterbi School of Engineering was ranked among the nation's top 10 engineering graduate schools by US News & World Report in 2015.[1][41] Including ISI, USC is ranked first nationally in federal computer science research and development expenditures.[2]

Organizational structure

ISI is organized into six divisions focused on differing areas of research expertise:[5]

  • Internet and Networked Systems: networking software and hardware, Internet security, 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
  • Intelligent Systems: artificial intelligence, including natural language, machine translation, information integration, social networks, knowledge engineering, multi-agent systems and robotics
  • Informatics: application of grid computing and other methods to healthcare discovery processes, practice and delivery
  • Advanced Electronics: MOSIS shared-services integrated circuit research and fabrication, CMOS and post-CMOS concepts, and biomimetics
  • Space Technology and Systems: space research and hands-on involvement for students through the Space Engineering Research Center, operated jointly by ISI and USC.

Smaller, specialized research groups operate within almost all divisions.

ISI is led by Executive Director Prem Natarajan, previously an executive vice president and principal scientist at Raytheon BBN Technologies. He is a natural language specialist with research interests that focus on optical character recognition, speech processing, and multimedia analysis.[42] Natarajan joined ISI in 2013, succeeding USC Viterbi School vice dean John O'Brien, who served as interim executive director in 2012 and 2013. From 1988 to 2012, ISI was led by former IBM executive Herbert Schorr.[2][43]


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