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John Hallman: machine learning and control theory

July 29th, 2020

As the name suggests, automatic control concerns the control of dynamic continuously operating systems such as the cruise control on a vehicle, auto pilots on aircraft, industrial process control (paper, steel, chemicals), and building heating. John Hallman ’20 was intrigued by the concept of ``learning’’ how to control such processes and made it a focus of his senior year research.

In his independent project for the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning’s (CSML) certificate program, Hallman, a math major, noticed that many studies in the theory of control dealt with the setting full-information when various parameters and variables of the controlled system are assumed to be known. He decided to look at control in a different way by studying it in the context of bandit feedback, a situtation when many of the variables that drive a system are unknown.

Hallman developed a machine learning algorithm that deals with control in bandit feedback settings. The algorithm figures out the unknown variables in these systems. His project, Non-Stochastic Control with Bandit Feedback, shared the best poster award at this year’s CSML poster session along with the project of Florence Wang ’21.

During his time at Princeton, Hallman was a summer research intern for Professor Elad Hazan at the computer science department. As an intern, he performed research on optimization and research learning. He was also a student research at the Google AI Lab at Princeton, where he delved into machine learning research and helped build out the machine learning infrastructure. He also won a student computer science teaching award.

As for future plans, he may get his doctoral degree but he wants to get some industrial experience first, Hallman said.

“I’ve been interested in the theoretical development of algorithms and their practical applications,” he said. “There is an enormous step between machine learning research and making these tools suffciently robust and simple that people can pick up the tools and use them.”

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