Computer engineer Scott Beamer wins NSF CAREER Award

Scott Beamer
By: Tim Stephens

Scott Beamer, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at UC Santa Cruz, has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support his work on verifiable computation.

Verifiable computation allows users to verify the results of outsourced computations. With cloud computing, relatively weak devices (phones, laptops, etc.) can run demanding computations on banks of powerful servers operated by a service provider. But can the users trust the results? With verifiable computation, the results are returned along with a proof that they were computed correctly. In practice, however, this approach has not been widely used because it is too computationally expensive.

Beamer’s project aims to enable verifiable computation using hardware acceleration—designing hardware to perform a specific function very efficiently. But the rising cost of hardware design complicates the development of specialized hardware. This project attacks both problems by investigating novel hardware architectures to accelerate verifiable computing and agile hardware-design techniques to reduce design costs.

“This grant will help make verifiable computing a reality, but also improve hardware design productivity. With increased productivity, it will lower the barrier to entry and help democratize computer hardware design,” Beamer said.

Verifiable computation is a very active and rapidly moving area of research, with enormous implications for society as computation has become increasingly enmeshed in people’s lives.

“Verifiable computation is an important step in building confidence in critical applications like machine learning, blockchain compression, and cloud transfers. Improving hardware acceleration is essential to address these massive computational demands and make verification practical,” said Alex Wolf, dean of the Baskin School of Engineering.

The funding for this project also includes support for educational and outreach activities to help broaden and grow the hardware-design community.

“In keeping with Baskin Engineering's core values, this grant integrates educational efforts that help underrepresented college students strengthen their problem-solving skills and broadens the pool of students pursuing graduate study,” Wolf said.