Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence whose goal is to develop algorithms which can automatically learn through experience. As of today, even though we may not realise it, machine learning is strongly embedded in our lives: from teaching our smartphones to recognise our faces to designing autonomous cars which can drive themselves. Although we mostly benefit from the automation of these tasks, we must ensure that automation does not come at the price of reduced safety or security: while we generally understand what a human decision-making process looks like (e.g., whether they can recognise a face they have seen before), we still do not have a perfect understanding of how automated algorithms make decisions.
In my DPhil research, I investigate how these algorithms learn and behave under various conditions, in order to provide a better understanding of how they function. I am looking at these models from the perspective of a malicious actor to investigate what types of vulnerabilities are present and can be exploited, in order to understand how to improve the security of systems which rely on these algorithms.
My main focus is on systems which use inputs from cameras, known as computer vision systems, which are becoming more and more widespread as computing power grows and becomes more affordable. I have looked at both systems which are used for authentication and for autonomous driving, showing how these systems can make potentially dangerous decisions in presence of malicious attackers. With my DPhil thesis, I hope to provide an evaluation of the weaknesses of these algorithms and to design novel ways in which they can be made more resilient and safe.
I am very grateful to be a member of Merton College. In the early days of my degree, Merton offered me the necessary support to attend international conferences where I had the chance to get in touch with various topics and be inspired to start working in this field. Merton’s community is extremely welcoming and enjoyable to be part of, and I can highly recommend being part of Merton during your time in Oxford!