Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thoroughly Enjoyed Giving the Opening Keynote at the Mexican OR Society Conference

I returned late Friday night from Mexico City where I had the honor and pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at the VIII Annual Conference of the Mexican Society of Operations Research (OR). The conference took place October 16-18, 2019 in México City at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). The title of my keynote was: Operations Research: The TransfORmative Discipline for the 21st Century.  I had been invited early last March to deliver the opening keynote by Dr. Moncayo Martínez and Dr. Erick Centeno-Moreno of Texas A&M University.
I was very intrigued by this invitation and eager to return to Mexico especially since I had lived in Tulancingo, Mexico the summer between high school and college. I had won a national Spanish exam in the US and was invited to go there and to live with a family as part of the Experiment in International Living.  The experience was very special, so I accepted the invitation to speak at this conference.

I headed to Bradley Airport at 5AM last Tuesday and had two very pleasant flights on Delta, with the connection in Atlanta. I was graciously met at the airport and driven to my hotel, which was very close to ITAM Santa Teresa, the venue of the conference.  The views from my hotel room, which was on the 29th floor, and the neighboring area by the elevators, were spectacular.
Shortly after my arrival, I made my way to the conference site in order to get my bearings and I liked the auditorium very much as well as the gardens and flowers.
Welcoming remarks for the opening of the conference were made by Dr. David F. Muñoz Negrón of ITAM, the President of the Scientific Committee, and Dr. Elías Olivares Benítez, the President of the Mexican OR Society. I was introduced by Dr. Luis A. Moncayo Martínez of ITAM, who was President of the local Organizing Committee.
Interestingly, Dr. Moncayo Martínez had been to my Omega Rho Distinguished Lecture at the 2019 INFORMS Conference in Phoenix!

Many of the scientific talks were in Spanish so this gave me a great opportunity to practice a language that I love and, I must admit, I understood about 85% of what was said, and was even able to ask intelligent questions. What very much impressed me was the passion of the speakers, who clearly enjoy the research that they are doing and also enjoy in communicating it. It was wonderful to meet new professional colleagues and many students, as well. It was fun to be asked to be photographed with them, in addition.

In my keynote, which I have made publicly available, I included several photographs of luminaries in our profession, including one of Professor George Dantzig of Stanford, who has passed away, and who I so enjoyed conversing with during many conferences over the years. I hoped to energize and inspire the audience with my talk. I focused on advances in Operations Research in the form of networks and game theory for applications such as: congested urban transportation networks and the Braess paradox, perishable product supply chains from food to healthcare, cybersecurity, and disaster relief. The work on disaster relief was co-authored with a former student of mine, Emilio Alvarez Flores, an Isenberg School of Management and UMass Amherst Commonweath Honors College alumnus, who is originally from Mexico. He now works for Cisco and we communicate regularly. I also discussed some very recent research on global trade networks and the impacts of tariffs and quotas, with a case study on avocados from Mexico. The latter research was conducted with my doctoral student Deniz Besik. Deniz and I have, with co-authors, published a series of papers on the very timely topic of tariffs, quotas, and trade wars in such journals as the Journal of Global Optimization (the issue is to be featured at the Springer booth at the INFORMS 2019 conference that is now taking place in Seattle), Transportation Research E, and the European Journal of Operational Research.

I mentioned in my keynote that I became interested in trade policy instruments, when I was approached by a group of agricultural economists, researching the dairy industry, from Cornell University two decades ago, who wanted to collaborate on ad valorem tariffs focusing on Mexico! And, together, we published a series of paper. Hence, looking back, Mexico has permeated a nice amount of my research, spearheading both advances in methodologies as well as applications.

No conference would be complete without wonderful social engagement and, last Wednesday, after my keynote, I was treated to one of the most delicious lunches in my life at the restaurant Sylvestre. At the lunch were: Dr. Jose Blanchet of Stanford University (another keynote speaker and ITAM alum), Dr. David F. Muñoz Negrón and Dr. Luis A. Moncayo Martínez as well as Dr. Beatriz Rumboz, a Dean at ITAM who holds 2 PhDs, as well as Dr. Erick Centeno-Morena. The food, ambience, and conversations were all exquisite!
And we topped our delicious meals with a portfolio of desserts, which we shared.
I very much appreciate all the logistics arrangements for me and the outstanding hospitality.
It was also marvelous to hear from the conferees about many mutual friends in our profession, which is global in scale, but always feels local, because of the strength of ties.

I would like to wish all the members of the Mexican Society of Operations Research much continuing success in all of you endeavors and, again, I thank the society and the organizers of this conference for being such exemplary hosts! I returned to Massachusetts with many wonderful new ideas, powerful impressions, and new personal connections, which I value very much.

It was also great to hear that, while in Mexico, I received a book contract from Springer to edit another volume on Dynamics of Disasters, with a focus on risk and resilience, with my fellow co-editors, Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Cybersecurity and Vulnerability - Brilliant Lecture by Dr. Art House, Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer of Connecticut

After teaching my Transportation and Logistics class this morning, it was time to help host the guest lecture of Dr. Arthur H. House, who is the Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer of Connecticut. Former Isenberg School Dean, Dr. Thomas O'Brien, had made the introductions to Dr. House, for me and my great Finance colleague, Professor Mila Sherman. His lecture was part of the UMass Amherst Security Series.  The topic of his talk was: Cybersecurity and Vulnerability. Mila and I had had several grants on cybersecurity with colleagues from the Isenberg School and the College of Engineering and both of us continue to do research and to publish in this area. The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter also helped to publicize his talk and the turnout was fabulous, with students and faculty from multiple schools and colleges at UMass Amherst!

We began his visit with a nice lunch at the University Club and we talked for 2 hours!
Joining Dr. House and me at lunch were: former Dean Tom O'Brien, a friend of House's for 6 decades, Chris Misra, who is the CIO at UMass Amherst, and Professor Mila Sherman.

Dr. House has had an incredible career, having earned his PhD at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.  He became the Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer for the State of Connecticut in October 2016, after four years as Chairman of Connecticut's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). He recently returned from speaking in Latvia (and we compared notes, given my recent visit to Kyiv, Ukraine). His work includes cybersecurity strategy and action plans in the Black Sea and Balkan regions.  
He has worked in national security, and served as Director of Communications in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  As a White House Fellow, he was Special Projects Officer at the National Security Council. Tom O'Brien was also a White House Fellow. House spent 10 years in the Congo, and shared some of those fascinating experiences with us at lunch. He also worked for the World Bank and  was a Congressional Adviser to the United States Mission to the United Nations.
In the United States Senate, Dr. House was Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and Senator Abraham Ribicoff and Legislative Assistant to Senator Chris Dodd.  Amazingly, as can be seen from various writeups on his career, specific assignments included the Camp David Peace Agreement, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Tokyo Round Trade Negotiations. The stories he shared with us at lunch even included the SALT negotiations at which he was present in Russia, with Brezhnev in attendance. It is not every day that you get to have lunch with someone who has taken part in major historical events in the US!  And can he do imitations of famous people; honestly, SNL should just hire him. His ability to reproduce accents is simply incredible and hilarious.
Since there were no classrooms available for this guest lecture at Isenberg, since it was prime class time, his talk took place at the Computer Science building. It was good to walk after the leisurely lunch (and we did share desserts).
Dr. Mila Sherman  introduced our speaker and then he began his mesmerizing lecture, which had the audience at the edge of their seats throughout.

He began his lecture by sharing some personal details and then asked the question: "Are we safe" and answered: "Of course, not!" We can't assume that a business or organization is safe from cyberattacks since even the Pentagon has been compromised.
He made the following points, which he then elaborated upon:
1. We are dependent on the digital world (computers and Internet) and, hence, vulnerable;
2. We need to protect ourselves;
3. We need to anticipate strategic surprises, and
4. States must play a critical role in cyber defense.
He emphasized that the advantages of cyber are immense from air traffic control to critical infrastructure but so are the vulnerabilities. The Internet was not designed with security in mind since it was supported by DARPA and was initially for academics who trusted one another. He envisions 3 Internets eventually, with Bakanization, and you can probably guess who would be behind the other two.
He spoke about who is behind the threats and the monetary aspects of selling the hacked products (which I have actually published a paper on in the INFORMS journal Service Science). Even health records are commodities that can be sold. He talked about phishing attacks as well as ransomware with the latter sometimes targeting smaller enterprises from hospitals to municipalities, etc. for payments in bitcoins.
Sadly, he stated that the "US is losing its edge" in cyber defense and also spoke about cyberwar and asymmetries.
He spoke about certain nation states targeting our elections and critical infrastructure and the details that he had were quite frightening. And, he even showed a slide of Kyiv at night after the cyberattack in 2015 on its power grid.
He emphasized that we need norms and rules and he suggested a great idea - for businesses and organizations to have a cyber rating similar to a credit score, and this would be audited regularly, since one's brand reputation as well as stock value can be seriously negatively affected after a cyberattack.
"Cyber is the perfect weapon" he said and "We need to defend ourselves." We can't get the feds to do this, so states must, and Connecticut is leading the way! 
He also noted the need to create a positive cybersecurity culture; to plan, and to be ready for the unexpected. Sad to say, he also sees "massive complacency." 

After his talk, Art House stayed to meet and continue the discussions with the audience. I was so delighted that even some of my undergrads, in addition to my PhD students, came. This was an incredible talk and educational experience!
Many thanks to Dr. Tom O'Brien for giving us this incredible opportunity with special thanks also to Professor Brian Levine, the Director of the Cybersecurity Institute at UMass Amherst! The brilliant lecture by Dr. Arthur H. House we will never forget!