Tag Archives: education

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?

If you enjoyed today’s episode, subscribe to Hacker Practice on iTunes (and leave a review please :D)

Jesse Anderson: Mr. Big Data on Data Engineering, Creativity, and Nontraditional education (002)

Mr. Big Data, Jesse Anderson (http://jesse-anderson.com)

If you’ve ever heard the words “Big Data” and wondered what exactly that means, this is the episode for you.

Jesse Anderson is the person Fortune 100’s go to when they realize they are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of big data. He is a totally self-taught genius who is currently defining a new field of computer science call Data Engineering. In fact, he literally wrote the book on it.

Jesse’s work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NPR, Wired, TechCrunch; just about everywhere.

His insights into the future of information technology and data were fascinating to explore. We also discuss his approach to learning and parenting and teaching creativity.

Listen to our discussion here:

Here are the notes from my talk with Jesse Anderson:

Continue reading

The Beauty of Self-Education

Questioning your assumptions is a good thing. It fosters critical, logical thought. It is the cognitive manifestation of natural selection. A Darwinian ecology of ideas — in your head.

A good strategy for questioning your assumptions is to engage in debate. It gives you opportunities to voice your opinions and challenge them with opposing ideas. Those opposing ideas usually come from other people who disagree.*

If two people hold contradictory ideas to be true, at least one of them must be wrong.

Today’s liberal arts universities preach to students, advocating that they “think for themselves”. This is ironic, because the structure of American schooling generally fosters the opposite of independent thought. When your teacher tells you to “think for yourself” what they actually are saying is “think about yourself”.

Young people often get into trouble with their friends. They will justify themselves by saying “Everybody was doing it”. The authority’s response will be: “why don’t you think for yourself?”

What they are really saying is: “Ignore your friends, think about your own well-being.”

To map it out: herd mentality is an instinct. Young people following an imprudent trend is the result of a natural inclination towards social activity. The counter-argument is to “think for yourself” or  “think about your own well being” or really just “THINK“.

This isn’t really advice at all, since for most people, thinking isn’t optional.

Traditional education seeks to educate us so that we can think for ourselves, but only succeeds in preventing us from thinking at all. This is why we have universities with strict safe-space policies and required coursework that is totally irrelevant to the student’s chosen area of study.

In The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Howard Roark is expelled from architecture school for thinking independently and challenging existing architectural paradigms. The novel is fiction, but in reality people are expelled from institutions for all sorts of reasons all the time. Often, the reason is not academic, but ideological.

“What am I going to do after high school?” – Average students everywhere.

If you don’t want to think too hard about it, just go to college. It’s the safe bet, says your every single one of your advisors, counselors, teachers, parents, and mentors, ever.

They all advise the same thing, because they have invested heavily in traditional education structures. To advise otherwise would basically be admitting that there was a better investment to be made and that the advisor invested incorrectly. Consistency bias is the University-system’s greatest free marketing tool ever.

One effect of traditional education is that it relinquishes you from responsibility over your own beliefs. If you are a liberal, it is because you went to an Ivy League school. If you are a conservative, it’s because you were in a Greek Organization in the south. It makes sense that we are a nation of conformists, since we are all taught the same mantra: Think about yourself. And whatever you think, just remember, it’s not your fault if you’re wrong.

The beauty of being self-educated, is that you are liberated from the group-think. You are free to pursue whatever ideas you like, in whatever order you choose. This forces the student to be intrinsically motivated.

Individuals are outliers. Individuality produces the Mahatma Gandhis, the Elon Musks, and the Buddhas of the world. The United States has a culture of ambition which provides the most prolific breeding ground of individualists in the world. Unfortunately, the Soviet-Harvard mission is to enhance collectivism and raise the average as opposed to support the individual.

You’ll often hear liberal philosophasters wax about the superior education systems of Scandinavia and south-east Asia. They will tell you about “average test scores” being higher in these cultures.

Here I will state unequivocally that I am unconcerned with average results. I am only concerned with extraordinary results, which is what the United States is really good at. We are really good at it, because of individualism and a culture of ambition. We are good at it despite the constant collectivist morality-warp.

How to Autodidact

Hopping from topic to topic on a whim fosters creative connections that most students never get. It is a joy for myself to write this essay based on my independent research and reasoning for my own purposes. 

When I attended schools, I wrote other people’s papers for money. Papers on economics and sociology and anthropology. Papers on altruism for cheaters in theology courses. Most of the time I wasn’t in the course I was writing the paper for. I was in school to learn whatever I wanted — or whatever I was paid to. I thought the advised course requirements were silly so I strategically declared majors that had fewer first and second year requirements.

The system is a game, so game the system.

Even now, when my primary areas of study are human behavior and computer science, I have a simple framework for determining my daily study:

Identify, research, plan, synthesis.

Identify

I ask myself questions like: What will the next game-changing technology be? What do I know, at the highest level about this technology? What domains am I especially weak at? What is sparking my excitement to learn at this precise moment?

Sometimes the answer is obvious. Today, I am rereading Antifragile  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I was reminded of a letter I wrote to my inner circle on education and I decided to revisit the idea.

When I’ve completed this essay, I will move to a new context and begin some technical pursuit. Lately I’ve been exploring the automation of organic 3D models. This satisfies the engineer in me.

Research

[Warning: Super Unpopular Position)

Research is continual and virtually passive. Normal scholastics would consider the process lazy. Frequently neglect to cite many sources. Simply don’t maintain that sort of trivia. The important learning is a learning of principle not a learning of source.

I derive great enjoyment from the flow of reading and exploration sans maintaining a bibliography.

Planning

Most interesting projects take a proportionate level of planning. Designing  a better calendar takes years of calendar use, sketching, math, analysis, knowledge of various tools and principles of design.

I learned each of these, except math, from my own self-study. The basic math I used to turn 365 days into almost-a-perfect-square is something that could be taught in one day of concentrated study. And that’s the worst case.

All great works require planning to synthesize.

Synthesis

Doing the work. This is where at least half of my learning comes from. I wouldn’t understand square roots as well as I do if I never put 365 days into  square blog. I wouldn’t understand web technologies if I hadn’t built a few apps. I wouldn’t understand design if I had never mocked a product design.

Centrally Planned Education Kills Creativity, Begets “Normal”

The most popular Ted Talk of all time agrees with me here.

The trouble with a homogenous nationwide curriculum is the same with a homogeneous nationwide food system: quality suffers. If most people grew up learning cookie-cutter ideas, most people will have cookie-cutter minds and cookie-cutter aspirations.

“I want to have a house with a big yard. Two kids, a refrigerator, and two cars…”

You’ve all heard that refrain, it’s the “American Dream”. By now, we’re all tired of hearing it. An American dream only comes about through an American Indoctrination, or, an American Dogma. When I was in school we would say the pledge of allegiance to our flag every day. This is a “blue ribbon” public education. Yet, I frequently hear of my classmates OD’ing, dying in preventable accidents, committing acts of violence, or spending their lives on “average” pursuits (An interesting effect of a gaussian distribution: a disproportionate number of outliers in one direction will pull the bell-curve in that direction).

What many don’t realize, is that even as they’ve architected their lives to be “normal” but what is “normal” for them is a Black Swan in the universe. Life will change and one day their ideas will become abnormal.

The self-educated person does not fear abnormality. They have not been conditioned (or were resistant to the conditioning) to see failure as a bad thing. When the self-educated person discovers that they were wrong, they adjust their premise. They do not cling to beliefs that are objectively untrue when faced with incontrovertible evidence. They are free from self-consciousness and free from self-doubt. Failure is a good thing because it equates with additional education. In traditional systems, failure equates with less education: “If you fail, you’ve learned less.”.

When the self-educated person is wrong there is no one to blame but herself. She can never rationalize away her own responsibility. She selected her curriculum, if it turns out to be false, it’s because she did not consider the alternative. She cannot blame society, her teachers, or anyone else for the falseness or her beliefs.

So, not only does the self-educated person gain more from their failures. They also get to take responsibility for them. The most successful people take responsibility as much as they can. The least successful people avoid responsibility as much as possible.

* I challenge you to comment and disagree with any of my assertions. It is one of the ways I learn and if I am found to be wrong I will learn much from the experience.