USC’s Information Sciences Institute Celebrates 50 Years of Innovation

by Julia Cohen

Photo Credit: USC/ISI

Fifty years ago, USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) was created to solve the world’s most difficult technical problems. At the time of its founding, the networking of computers – what would eventually result in the internet – would be the thrust of their work. ISI played a pivotal role in conceiving, designing and implementing the internet and its predecessor, ARPAnet 

In the five decades since its establishment, ISI has continued to be a pioneer in computing technology. In fact, many of today’s most ubiquitous and useful technologies can be traced back to work done at ISI – everything from Siri to cell phones. Today, ISI leads the way in research and development of advanced information processing, computer and communications technologies. 

“ISI has been an outstanding and creative force in all aspects of information and computer sciences and technologies throughout the five decades of its existence, starting with its role in the foundation of the internet and continuing through its current work in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, health and much more” said USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “We, at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are proud to be the home of such an extraordinary institution.

An Outpost by the Ocean

Located in Marina del Rey, California (with satellite offices in Boston and Arlington), ISI is an off-site facility that offers a unique blend of academic and commercial research. As part of USC, ISI researchers have the ability to work with graduate students, teach classes and collaborate with people in other departments across various disciplines. This arrangement allows for a staff of dedicated researchers, but also fresh new ideas from incoming students.

Big Changes Over Five Decades

ISI began as a single grant for work related to ARPAnet. Its three founders were the first occupants of a newly completed building in Marina del Rey. In the 50 years that have passed, the breadth of research, funding and size have grown. In 2021 alone, ISI had 56 research grants, research expenditures of $71.43 million, and was home to over 400 staff, faculty and students. Over the years, ISI researchers have worked to mitigate the effects of climate change and natural disasters; they’ve used computer science in the medical field to jump-start life-saving treatments and streamline medical research; and they continue to work across disciplines, researching everything from quantifying artistic style to translating the Bible.

Commemorated With a Documentary

To celebrate 50 years, a feature-length documentary, Cloudwalkers: ISI and the Inventors of the Future, was written and directed by Emmy award winning filmmaker Daniel Druhora and premiered at ISI’s anniversary celebration on September 11, 2022. The documentary covers the breadth of ISI’s storied history – from its founding following the release of the Pentagon Papers, which prompted increased government attention on computer networking; to its role designing, developing and running the Internet, which led to one of the greatest explosions of information in human history; to the astonishing and varied work being done by ISI researchers in recent years.

Looking forward, Craig Knoblock, the Keston Executive Director of ISI said, “We are ready to shape the future of computing research and envision making the world a better place for the next 50 years.” 

Published on September 12th, 2022

Last updated on September 14th, 2022