I was seven when I first saw the shiny beige box. When my uncle finally let me touch the black screen, I was astounded with the list of unfathomable keys that “help” would print. My parents were getting divorced and my reality had just become 40 megabytes of the most ludic journey. In the following years, while growing up under a financial struggle in Brazil, the public schools I attended did not have many resources or computers available. Fortuitously, I encountered my town’s marvelous public library and my reality had just become five floors of endless lustrous pages. At that point, it was clear that science and the search for knowledge would be the primary fuel of my existence.
My first project in Artificial Intelligence was in my freshman year in High School; I was finally in a school that had a computer laboratory. I came across Linux and programming languages. The freedom and possibilities of open-source software culminated on me not only fulfilling my dormant technical dreams, but in a philosophical and political way. As a teenager, that was the first time that I found an identity. By the end of my sophomore year, I had my own Flash website with sections for science, fiction, and code snippets. At that time, with a couple of friends that were earnest with the same ideas, I started learning about how a computer could emulate human’s decision-making abilities with Expert Systems. We created “Medico do Lar” (“Home’s Doctor”), A GUI-based software in Delphi that would speed up assistance to patients in a precarious health system like the one in our country. Symptoms could be used as inputs and, in a series of tree decisions, the program would print out possible conditions and any recommendation for immediate actions to be taken. We won first place in the Brazilian Science and Technological Science Fair (MOSTRATEC). At that time already, computers turned to be my major passion; I would have floppy disk decorating my bedroom and RJ45 ethernet connectors as necklaces. I could not be more grateful for how computers opened an entirely new world for me in those early years.
My universe shifted to another direction when Physics fell into my life. Auspiciously, I had just been accepted into the Engineering Department of the best university in Latin America, University of Sao Paulo. It was my freshman year when I heard about scientific research and scholarship opportunities in the Physics department. The possibility of discovering new laws of the Universe was enough to convince me to transfer my major to Physics. I graduated college simulating Dark matter and Dark energy as decaying interacting fluids, with a summer internship in the NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and invited to attend the CERN Winter School on Supergravity, Strings, and Gauge Theory.
I remember being a kid and asking adults what should I study to become a “Cientista Maluca” (something like a mad scientist) when I grow up. I got close to an answer when I started my Ph.D. in Physics at Stony Brook University in New York. In the years following, just like the mathematical cadence that governs our bearing, each course and each project that I chose to work on came to reveal a deeper meaning later. When I concluded the String Theory and Quantum Field Theory curriculum, I came into contact with Group Theory for the Standard Model in Physics. The symmetry was so breathtaking that I spent my entire summer on it. In the end I had written a book in the subject, which turned later to be a reference for other students around the world. My next step was to understand the experimental aspect of the theory. I started researching Quark-Gluon Plasma, with Dr. Barbara Jacak in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Most of my research was based on writing software to simulate the process, and then analysing the results. As a consequence, in my third year I joined the Computational Astrophysics department, studying Monte Carlo simulations for Neutron Star atmospheres. I started working close with the Los Alamos National Laboratory group, and I was granted a postdoctoral scholarship to work there following my graduation.
At that time I was taking some graduate courses in the computer science department. With Dr. Leman Akoglu’s Machine Learning and Dr. Tamara Berg’s Computational Photography, I was conveyed to the exquisiteness of Artificial Intelligence again. Alan Turing wrote that, “Those who can imagine anything, can create the impossible”. The history of AI through the last 60 years is a practical example of this wisdom. Particularly in recent years, with the advances within cognitive science, and in subfields such as deep learning and deep reinforcement learning. The impressive results from research groups that have been converging the best practices from both industry and academia make it clear that a galant future is upon us. Additionally, the many possibilities in applying these techniques in other fields (for instance, in Physics, with the enormous amount of data generated by laboratories such as the LHC, which urge Machine Learning to be analyzed), are limitless. These are all concrete proofs that human’s and machine’s creativity will guide humankind into our next paradigm.