Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer
Where did you grow up: I grew up in the small town of Short Pump outside of Richmond, Virginia.
What was your academic path before coming to grad school at MIT? Nearly half of the graduating class from my high school, the Governor's School for Government and International Studies, wanted to either run for public office or own a third-world country. They were geeks in the "I know every bill in Congress" sense, and their political activism and public service influenced my own goals in math and science.
As an undergrad, I majored in aerospace engineering and physics at MIT because I wanted to build space robots. After a summer internship at NASA, however, I realized I didn't want to spend a majority of my life reliability testing, so I decided to apply to graduate school: a place where failure, far from resulting in a satellite falling out of the sky, simply means you're aiming high enough.
What department are you currently working in, and when did you start there? 2005, Computer Science.
What are you working on and why are you passionate about it? I'm working on robust decision-making with uncertain models. Even if the world is a chaotic place, we've currently got techniques for making smart choices -- as long as we know just how chaotic the world is. My research focuses on how a robot can make intelligent decisions when it doesn't completely understand how the world works. I love my work because because (a) I'm a sucker for the decadent pleasures of probabilistic equations and (b) our current application, a robotic wheelchair, has potential for real human impact.
What are your future plans? I hope to never be bored by the resonance of an aluminum bowl, the elasticity of surgical tubing, or the sight of sunlight filtering through summer leaves. I want to be who I am, and that means writing novels, walks in the park, and ... mucking with AI. Since I also love teaching -- smart robots can only be created by smarter people -- I'll probably start out in academia. However, I'm also interested in socially-conscious research and educating the general public about the importance of artificial intelligence, so perhaps I'll eventually move into the government service sector.
Is there anything else you'd like to share? I've practiced tae kwon do for several years, and I love that moment of perfect concentration as my foot hits the target, when I'm completely in the present. Take the time to savor your moments: I'm involved in a variety of activities, from aikido and undergraduate teaching to being a graduate resident tutor in the undergraduate dorms. I find time for cooking and movies and meditation. It's easy to put on the blinders and work, work, work, but there are countless activities both on and off campus to live and enjoy.