Year 3 – Chapter 2 – Looking Ahead

So. This year has been rather busy–surprising since I’m only taking 12-hours. This week especially has been a hellish time: exams, papers, projects; it seems that my four classes have plotted this revenge for my slacking… (having missed 50+ classes so far, the first time I actually lost track!). Mleh. Still, things chug along; I’ve finally started making some more progress on the real-world front:

I’ve had a couple of interviews so far, one with Apple, which I unfortunately did not do so well (not knowing how to use a Mac didn’t help), and another with Cummins, a big diesel engine company. The latter was more promising, and it’s the first time I realized how flexible my resume was. Flexible… and unspecialized; this is my third year, I feel like I should have some more areas of expertise, but no matter. Lately I’ve felt that I was barely inching along, knowing what I needed to know to (barely) do the class work, a far cry from the glorious freshman year days. But on Monday, I realized I do have a few areas where I’m already quite informed. I talked with a professor (doing neuroscience / EE work) a couple days ago, with the hopes of possibly getting back into research. It was the freshest conversation I had in a while. His research interests coincided with mine, and I found that I *actually* know what he’s talking about, and even had a few suggestions of my own! Not to sound so upbeat (I don’t know if he’ll have room in his lab), but it’s always a nice feeling to know you have something that few others have; it’s an asset, whether it’s an interest or skill. In any case, hopefully I’ll be able to put my past to use, and network some more within the EE/Neuroscience departments here.

Beyond that, I’ve been having some conflicting thoughts about the future as of late; especially since going to this talk at the ACM Conference. I wondered when I’d be able to get back into neuroscience on the ECE track, and it looks like I’m finally there. If there has been any single driving force in my career interests, this is the closest thing to it; neuromorphic computers; computers that mimic the brain in the way it learns. This might sound a bit silly, but I got into the idea of human-computer interface while watching Exosquad as a 7 year old. Exosquad, in case you didn’t know, was Saturday morning sci-fi cartoon with “mech-like” space suits that connected to its pilot by a spinal implant, which, in the cartoon, allowed the pilot to control the system by thought alone. Of course, it wasn’t the first time something like this was seen on TV, but it’s what got me into that whole, human-neural connection stuff.

I found substance in it all as I studied more in the years to come… jumping (way) ahead… I mean, we already have dishes of rat neurons controlling F-22s, why not apply the same principles to hardware abstractions? With over a billion transistors (and growing rapidly) in the latest Itanium processor, performance gains aren’t holding true to Moore’s law. So, this guy here proposes that we apply the brain’s system for learning to developing future chips. We only have 20 thousand or so genes to encode everything of our existence, and nearly a trillion neurons, and a thousand times as many neural connections; obviously it can’t all be stored in those genes. The genes just provide the starting point: which cells differentiate into neurons, where they go, and maybe some basic connections. The rest of it all; the dividing and reconnecting, is <i>all</i> done on the order of the tissues themselves. How they all connect with the correct inputs and outputs of the human body is beyond me. But the one researcher is begininning to unravel that mystery. He has found that the simple “learning” done by neurons themselves (long-term potentiation, etc…) provides scalable results all the way up to the organism level. Pretty incredible stuff. So, pretty much you give the necessary methods for “learning”, and the rest is done for you. So yeah, I’d love to work at this guy’s lab for grad school…

But that’s Stanford for ya.

As for me… I’m just getting started. And I CAN’T wait to get out of here!

Yeah yeah, so this quiz doesn’t say much about computer savviness, I mean, come on… who would really rather be Linus than Bill? At the top of the Microsoft Empire, even the smallest rebel would have more power. Anyway, so yeah, biased libertarians… *cough*SHANEAL*cough*…

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