Mom Learns Tech (0): The Intro

I spent 2 years of my life digging foxholes and writing the occasional ‘fun-sized’ algorithms on pieces of scrap paper. These pieces of paper were soggy yet somehow simultaneously crusty, so I either rolled them up or folded them in a ziplock so they wouldn’t get wet. After all that, I knew I wanted a proper academic challenge. But coming from a military setting back to school was tough. Learning about statistics from Joe Blitzstein and machine learning from Sasha Rush was like going through growing pains all over again (unfortunately, I never really saw any growth). I began shoving concepts and ideas into my brain, and by the end of the year, I was able to do a thing or two. Not perfectly, but reasonably well.

Being Korean and having lived overseas for half my life, I established a semi-regular routine of calling my parents who live in Seoul.  The conversations are mostly about how well I’m holding up academically, how horribly I’m screwing up financially, and sometimes how I’m no longer the social butterfly I used to be. And vitamins. Gotta take those vitamins.

But in the end, unlike my years in high school, the scope of our conversations became narrower each year. At the heart of it was my inability to communicate what I was spending most of my time doing: studying computer science.

I’m not an AI fanatic. But I do think that harnessed properly, there are some very interesting problems that AI-backed methods allow us to solve. I grew up in a family where everyone viewed the world by weighing the value of things on judiciary notes and the constitution, never marveling at Moore’s Law or the latest GPU liquid cooler. Still, I have a passion for languages and how they encapsulate history, culture, and a latent meaning that today’s computational power may help us rediscover. I am fascinated by the way people interact via text, on the phone, by body language, and believe that there is a way to decode the way that we humans continue to create and recreate social behaviors.

Most importantly, I love my mom. I think she is the most wonderful woman in this world (with some fatally cute flaws), and I felt ridiculous needing to fall silent whenever I wanted to explain to her why I decided to use TD instead of MC for a particular RL task, or why I’m starting to think Deep Learning is a hoax and we should all just use XGBoost.

So I decided, once a week or so, I’ll write a post and share it with my mom who has close to no ML background, some statistics background, and a lot of life. Will I be clear and correct in explaining everything? Absolutely not. If I were, I’d be writing a textbook, not a blog post for me and my mom (and the occasional reader). But any constructive criticism is welcome, and I hope to keep this up for enough weeks that by the time I’m back home for Christmas, she and I can open a bottle of wine and talk about why Attention Is Not All You Need.

P.S. Love you dad! But let’s be honest, you’re not really into this ‘stuff’ 🙂

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