**When I was a kid** I was a math whiz. I went to a magnet school and did well and read up on the subject on my own, teaching myself trigonometry. One of my fondest memories is when I was 12 and I got selected to be on a game show. The absurdly titled Challenge of the Child Geniuses: Who is the Smartest Kid in America? hosted by Dick Clark of all people, was a two-time ever show on what other channel but Fox. Unfortunately, in high school I got a bit burned out on math. I had a string of bad advice regarding the subject, disliked my AP and multivariable Calculus teachers, and my interest turned to other subjects – primarily politics. I therefore picked my college, Willamette University, for its strength in that field. I spent my freshman year studying to be a politician: rhetoric, psychology, and political science made up my courseload for an entire year before I came to the realization that I could never succeed in American politics and live with myself. Fed up on the whole liberal arts thing, I returned to where my strengths had lain as a child.

Or rather, I would have turned immediately, but an obstruction arose that forced me to delay those plans. My FAFSA was filed late and my scholarships disappeared in a puff of bureaucracy and I was forced to take a year off to wait for them to reappear. However, as luck would have it, I won round trip tickets to Europe in a free raffle held by my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and so for considerably less than the cost of attending school sans scholarships, I spent many a month abroad. I traveled through France, the Netherlands, and Italy, and discovered perhaps my primary passion in life – travel. I rode trains, made lovers, made enemies, and saved a man’s foot, in what was to be only my first adventure abroad.

**The start of my mathematics education **came as I returned to Willamette that autumn. Dipping my toes in the first year of the chemistry, physics, Spanish, as well as Foundations of Advanced Math with Erin McNicholas and Linear Algebra with Alex Jordan, I promptly rediscovered my love of mathematics. Late to the party I discovered REUs, and applied to as many as I could. Sadly I was rejected from all of them, unsurprising given my résumé thus far. I was, however, accepted into Penn State‘s Mathematics Advanced Study Semester, which I would attend in the fall, but that left my summer completely open. I had plenty of time and energy to get something done, and a lecture given earlier that year by Alan Taylor of Union College had given me the perfect inspiration. A voting system I had been kicking around in my head for years turned out to be my own original invention, and so I wrote it up, formalized it, proved a few traits, and thanks to the generous funding of Pi Mu Epsilon, presented it at MathFest 2009. I won the Pi Mu Epsilon Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research and Presentation and the paper version is currently being reviewed by PME for publication.

In Fall 2009 I attended Penn State’s MASS Program. The classes were extremely hard, and my so-far limited background made them more so – but it may have been for the best, as I was forced to learn an extraordinary amount to keep pace. Anatole Katok taught Groups and Their Connections to Geometry, an extremely difficult class, but the one I ended up doing best in. Andrew Belmonte taught Complex Analysis From a Fluid Dynamics Perspective, which seems to have been a unique class, to say the least. Sergei Tabachnikov, in addition to holding weekly seminars and arranging the colloquiums, taught my favorite class, Explorations in Convexity. That was the class that crystallized my love of geometry.

The following spring I attended the Budapest Semester in Mathematics. I took Combinatorics from Attila Sali, Number Theory from Szabó Csaba, Topics in Analysis from Ambrus Gergely, Differential Geometry from Csikós Balázs, and audited Conjecture and Proof. This semester formed the bedrock of my undergraduate mathematical education, finally getting in most of the basic classes I may have found useful before going to the MASS Program.

That summer, after travelling to Africa the first time, I looked back to a project I had done for MASS: a construction of the convex regular polytopes in every dimension. I expanded it into a more thorough paper and a rather creative presentation, if I may say so myself. Thanks to Pi Mu Epsilon I again was given the opportunity to present at MathFest, and my talk was a hit. So much so in fact that David Massey of Northeastern University and the Worldwide Center of Mathematics invited me to be the first undergraduate expository speaker at the Center. You can watch my video under the Research tab. The paper version is currently being edited before submission to Mathematics Magazine.

This fall 2010 I returned to Willamette, where I took Real Analysis 2 from Inga Johnson and Abstract Algebra from Colin Starr, as well as Intro to Programming. If I had had time in my schedule I would have taken Topology as well, but sadly I did not. Instead I convinced my girlfriend, who did take the course, to summarize the lectures after they happened. I enjoyed learning it so much she ended up regularly asking me for homework help, which, with all the assorted side benefits, I was happy to provide. Real Analysis has moved clearly into position as one of my favorite subjects, this second course confirming and deepening my appreciation that was sparked in Budapest. I’ve followed through on Anatole Katok’s advice to me last year and gotten over my fear of Algebra. I’ve been reading on my own in fields I haven’t had a chance to take classes in; Bayesian probability and game theory are just among the many that have caught my eye.

This last summer I attended the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence‘s Rationality Boot Camp, where I trained in epistemic and functional rationality, in order to better be able to learn true things and act within in the world. As a result, I have decided to switch my career track from primarily academia to the private and non-profit sector, in order to attempt to make a bigger and more important impact in the world.

To that end, I cofounded a philanthropic foundation, Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens, of which I am the Executive Director. SHfHS uses its $1.5 million endowment to seek out researchers and academics doing work in the field of Existential Risk Reduction–reducing the chances that a global catastrophe could cause humans to go extinct–and provide them with funding. In particular, we are concerned about the possibility of the Technological Singularity, a hypothesized future event where a smarter-than-human Artificial Intelligence with the ability to edit its own code makes itself so much smarter and more powerful than humanity that we cannot hope to stand in the way of it accomplishing whatever it was programmed to do. This could, for example, include, if programmed poorly, turning all available matter (including humans) into rocketships or some equivalent. Conversely, if programmed well, the Singularity could be the single most beneficial event in the history of humanity. To that end, I am taking Stanford’s online Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning courses.

## Leave a Reply