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Dr. John Yen

University Professor of Information Sciences and Technology
Director of Strategic Research Initiatives
College of Information Sciences and Technology

Professor of Computer Science and Engineering
Graduate Faculty of Biomedical Eengineering

Member of LIONS Center, Center for Cyber-Security, Information Privacy, and Trust

Brain and Machine Intelligence Lab

Office: 313J Information Sciences and Technology Building

Phone: (814) 865-6174

Email: my first initial followed by my last name at domain name of the college (which is ist followed by dot and the domain name of Penn State)

Twitter Handler: @JohnCHYen


Cyber campaigns have resulted in severe damages to institutions across all industry sectors and government agencies around the world. While automated monitoring and intrusion detection tools have been deployed and broadly utilized by security operation centers, human analysts still play a critical role to identify real threats from a massive amount of cyber security data. However, how much do we understand how experienced human analysts think? How can we train cyber analysts more effectively? How can we better combine the intelligence of cyber analyts with that of machine intelligence to ensure the security of cyber space in a more effective way? How can we improve the cyber security operation by leveraging collaboration across institutions?

I am interested in these research questions because our journey to finding answer to these questions can have huge impacts not only to cyber security operations, but also to our understanding of human brain and neuroscience, which can contribute to further enhancement of machine intelligence to augment human intelligence.

Since the 80's (as a PhD student of Computer Science at University of California, Berkeley), I have been fascinated by AI. During the past 30 years, I have conducted research regarding varous core topics in artificial intelligence (including reasoning under uncertainty, knowledge representation, machine learning of dynamic systems, multi-agent systems, network science) and its applications in supporting human decision-making teams. More information about my papers can be found at my profile on Google Scholar . Below is a short summary of my research journey.

At UC Berkeley, I was fortunate to be mentored by Professor Lotfi A. Zadeh , the father of fuzzy logic, one of only two AI faculty members at that time. (The other AI faculty member is the late Professor Robert Wilensky. Professor Sturat Russell joined Berkeley two months before I graduated. ) Professor Zadeh's humility and openmindedness have a great influence on me. My first job after getting my PhD is a Research Scientist at the beautiful location (with ocean view) of USC/Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey, CA. Unlike many who moved into CA, I made the unusual move to leave the Golden State to start my academic career at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas in 1989. This may be viewed by many as a blow to career. For me, the move did bring certain challenges. However, it also brought me great opportunities to grow, because the Head of Computer Science (late Dr. Richard Volz) was so passionate about enhancing the research program that he orchestrated multiple group faculty visits to potential research sponsors, including NASA Johnson Space Center and IBM. Through his encouragement, I formed the Center for Fuzzy Logic and Intelligent Systems Research in 1991. What I did not realize then was the mentoring I received from Dr. Volz would benefit me in my career a decade later. A major turning point of my early career is receiving the NSF Young Investigator Award (NYI) in 1992, which is shortly followed by receiving early tenure and promotion.

In 2001, I made the second unusual career move to join Penn State's newly formed interdisciplinary school (now is a college) of Information Sciences and Technology. Even though I did not anticipate to become an administrator when I joined Penn State, such an opportunity arrives in 2003 and I became the Professor in Charge (like a Department Head) of the College (which does not have departments). In 2007, I became Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs. In 2010, I returned to faculty. I enjoy conducting research and teaching as a member of this exciting interdisciplinary college, asking questions that we hope can lead us to the next frontier for improved understanding about human intelligence (especially that of cyber security analysts) and for better harvesting of massive datasets to improve machine intelligence. My current research passion is illustrated by selected projects below.

fMRI Study about Cyber Security Analysts: As mentioned earlier, cyber security analysts play a critical role in detecting cyber attacks from a large amount of noisy data. However, our understanding about their cognitive process is rather limited. In collaboration with Dr. Peng Liu, Director of LIONS Center, Dr. Robert Erbacher at Army Research Office, we have developed methods and tools for non-invasive capturing of the cognitive traces of analysts, which enables fine-grained analysis of the cognitive processes of analysts that have not been possible before. We have also developed an fMRI experiment that targets the complexity of the real-world cyber analysis task with the objective to better understand the fine-grained cognitive-neural processes of human analysts in performing complex decision task regarding cyber alerts. While this objective directly relates to the Grand Challenges of Brain and Mind, it also can contribute to more effective training of cyber analysts.

CROSS-organization Big data cyber Attack awaReness (CROSSBAR) I am leading a multi-institution team, including Dr. Peng Liu, Dr. Vijay Atluri from Rutgers, Dr. George Cybenko from Dartmouth College, in collaboration with the NSF Northeast Big Data Hub on an NSF Spoke Planning project to ultimately enable analysts from one institution to post a Python script to another institution's cyber security data repository so that their detection and response to cyber campaign can by enhanced through such unprecedented cross-organization collaboration.


I enjoyed teaching an undergraduate course on Human Robot Interactions using the humanoid social robot Nao . The TA (Tyler Frederick) and learning assistant (Jeffrey Lii) did a great job designing the lab of the course. We and representatives of the students participated in a recent President Tailgate before a football game, and is shown in this video about the President's interaction with Nao . We are ..

I also enjoyed teaching graduate course on Big Data programming models (using Spark on a Hadoop cluster, which is made possible by the IT group of IST). I am impressed the innovation of RDD in Spark (which enables iterative data analytics 10%-100% more efficient than MapReduce) and how Sacala integrates, in a most elegant way, functional programming and object-oriented programming, which I have never imaged possible before. The world is truly exciting!

Previous Research Projects

Former PhD Advisees

Kang Zhao, 2012, Assistant Professor of Management and Information Systems, Tippie College of Business, The University of Iowa.

Eun Yeong Ahn, 2012, Software Engineer at Google.

Baojun Qiu, 2011, Senior Research Scientist at eBay; VP & CTO, Straits Technology LLC.

Po-Chun Chen, 2011, Software Engineer, Amazon Web Services.

Shizhuo Zhu, 2010, Member of Technical Staff, AT&T, .

Kaivan Kamali, 2007, Bloomberg; Senior Research at Sentient Technologies.

Cong Chen, 2006, Partner Technology Manager, Google.






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