Tag Archives: david wang

Life at the Bleeding Edge of Technology (AI) and Education (MIT + Nuvu) with David Wang

Listen to Episode 7 of Hacker Practice on iTunes.

I met David Wang at a vegetarian restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was introduced to me by our mutual friend Naf Visser (episode 008). David and I sat outside in the sun. It was hot and I practically shotgunned my ginger turmeric smoothie.

I was working on a project and wanted his feedback. It was an artificial intelligence testing platform. David is one of the leading experts on autonomous systems, so who better to talk to?

The project never materialized, but I made a new friend.

We hit it off. David is a great listener with a kind demeanor. It’s probably apparent in our conversation here; David is as good with people as he is with technology. And he is very good with technology.

He has multiple degrees from MIT including a PhD in autonomous scheduling and planning. He worked on the F-35 fighter jet and his thesis code was used on the Mars Curiosity Rover. He’s worked everywhere from DARPA to Boeing to Pratt and Whitney. He knows as much about computer science and software development as anyone in the world.

Now he’s a co-founder at a school that’s redefining modern educational paradigms (Learn more about NuVu here). I’m so glad he had time for this conversation.

In today’s talk we go over:

  • AI – Past, present, and future.
  • How to learn complex topics quickly
  • Education and how David is fixing it.

Enjoy episode 7 of Hacker Practice with David Wang:


[2.45] David explains how we have come out of “Artificial Intelligence Winter” and why AI is about to take off

[5.10] AI ethics and morality and the end game

[5.45] David discusses how codifying algorithms lead him to forging a career in AI

[7.15] David discusses why following your hobby is a very important step in figuring out what you are on this planet to do:

  • David enjoyed building computers from scratch
  • Built a processor from logic gates in his spare time after studying

[13.30] David describes what it’s like working on research projects with DARPA – Advanced research project agency of the defence department. ARPA is most famous for creating the internet.

[14.45] Learning interesting topics – PHD automated planning and scheduling – AI subcategory

[16.45] David describes AI planning and scheduling in detail!

  • Ask how would we describe the world to a computer with true or false statements E.g. is the coffee cup on the table? True/false
  • We then have a language which we can use to describe the world as is and how we want it to be (known in the AI world as “the goal”)
  • Describe an action with a set of preconditioned statements that create a set of effects. Planning and scheduling involves sequencing these actions to get from your starting point to the goal.

[21.10] David describes planning system projects he worked on at MIT involving decision making algorithms to block malicious hacking tactics.

[23.20] David discusses the two types of hackers that are most dangerous

[25.00] David describes his experiences of working on AI robotics projects for Boeing

  • Why programming frameworks haven’t innovated until now

[34.20] How video gaming was David’s gateway drug to programming. David also describes how we can take learnings from video game construction to the real world and contextual AI applications.

[38.20] David discusses the concept, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything”

[40.40] David describes personal hacks he has for learning

  • Start by asking why something is the way it is and understand the reasons behind something. Is there an intuition that is extractable that will allow you to remember why something is the way it is.

[42.45] David talks about working on Augmented Reality applications in smart homes

[44.30] Hacks to remember the names of people you meet

[49.00] David gives an example of how AR in the smart home context, could be used to help a non-technical person, solve a technical problem, without the need for a technician

[50.40] David gives his insights on Virtual Reality (VR) applications

[54.00] Discussion on learning and facing adversity

[56.40] David discusses his experiences working on the F-35 jet fighter

  • David would essentially imagine all the different ways the plane could fail and reverse engineer solutions to prevent failure
  • How David used the spiral development cycle to understand how the F-35 worked

[1.04.00] Complexity comes not necessarily from the technology but from the number of moving parts

  • David talks space exploration applications

[1.08.10] How David deals with the isolation of being at the top of a field

[1.10.20] Why it is so important to understand students underlying motivators to learn

[1.13.20] Why it is important to decide if college is the right medium for students. College shouldn’t be used as the only time to decide what you want to do with your life.

[1.16.45] David discusses why he started NuVu and shares his insights on teaching intuition

  • By realising that the projects that really piqued his interest during studies were all based on extracurricular activities, David went out to challenge the existing education model.

[1.20.30] What it’s like to run a school which has no classes, subjects or grades

  • Students need to come up with an idea they are super passionate about. They are then taught how to turn it into a great idea.
  • Students skills are then develop to turn this idea into a solution. The difference from formal learning here, is that they are invested in learning these skills because they are passionate, as opposed to being forced.
  • Encourage students to understand the fundamental concepts of human centred design thinking when ideating and developing their solution

[1.25.20] Justus gets David to deconstruct an idea using his teaching methodology. Spoiler: There is a lot of asking “why”

[1.31.30] How to not avoid losing sight of your original idea in the face of pivoting

[1.34.00] What someone could expect as a new student at NuVu

[1.37.10] How to start a school like NuVu on the cheap

  • NuVu is a private educational business that is not accredited. How important is accreditation? In the case of NuVu, it isn’t.
  • Ask, what does success look like for students leaving your school?
  • NuVu wants to create the innovators of the future. There is a strong emphasis on soft skills.

[1.43.30] The goal of working in a team is to create a giant brain

[1.46.30] David discusses a seasonal effective disorder (SED) project some of his students are working on

[1.48.20] What a parent who wants to send their child to NuVu need to know

[1.49.30] How David plans on scaling by helping existing schools adopt the NuVu education model

  • Use Maker Spaces more effectively

[1.53.20], David asks us to think about what success means to you and is college critical on that path to success?

What’s next?

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