ECE Seminar Series – May 19 (Fri) @ 2:00: "Privacy in Machine Learning and Statistical Inference," Adam Smith, Professor, Computer Science, Boston University

Date and Time
Harold Frank Hall (HFH), Rm. 1104
photo of adam smith

Come at 1:50p for Cookies, Coffee and Conversation!


The results of learning and statistical inference reveal information about the data they use. This talk discusses the possibilities and limitations of fitting ML and statistical models while protecting the privacy of individual records.

I will begin by explaining what makes this problem difficult, using recent examples of example memorization and other breaches. I will present differential privacy, a rigorous definition of privacy in statistical databases that is now widely studied, and increasingly used to analyze and design deployed systems.

Finally, I will present recent algorithmic results on a fundamental problem: differentially private mean estimation. We give an efficient and (nearly) sample-optimal algorithm for estimating the mean of "nicely" distributed data sets. When the data come from a Gaussian or sub-Gaussian distribution, the new algorithm matches the sample complexity of the best nonprivate algorithm.

The last part of the talk is based on joint work with Gavin Brown and Sam Hopkins:


Adam Smith is a professor of computer science at Boston University. From 2007 to 2017, he served on the faculty of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Penn State. His research interests lie in data privacy and cryptography, and their connections to machine learning, statistics, information theory, and quantum computing. He obtained his Ph.D. from MIT in 2004 and has held postdoc and visiting positions at the Weizmann Institute of Science, UCLA, Boston University and Harvard. His work received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2009; a Theory of Cryptography Test of Time award in 2016; the Eurocrypt 2019 Test of Time award; the 2017 Gödel Prize; and the 2021 Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award. He is a Fellow of the ACM.

Hosted by: The ECE Seminar Series

Submitted by: Haewon Jeong <>