Why Did I Get Into AI And Robotics?

Date: Oct 12, 2018

I came across this wonderful post by Asim Qureshi on LinkedIn:

During my years in high school, every time I walked to my physics class I'd go past this mostly-empty board which showed all the former-students that had gone on to study a science at Oxford or Cambridge.

I desperately wanted to get my name up on that board. I mean really desperately. And guess what? I'm on it! On the right, 10th from bottom. It is odd seeing it for the first time, over two decades after getting on there.

Driven people are usually driven by something dark, almost sinister. Insecurity, ego, attention, wanting to prove someone wrong, rivalry, money. It's rare for someone to be driven in wanting to make the world a better place - humans are generally too selfish for that kind of stuff.

Take doctors. Most will tell you they chose medicine to help humanity in some way. Bullshit. It's the status, it's being the Mac Daddy in the hospital, it's being respected in society, it's the title, it's about making parents proud. If we loved helping other humans so much why do so few want to do degrees in charity management?

And so there we have it - I ended up studying Physics at Oxford, not because of a passion to study the laws of the universe from the finest university in the universe, but to get my name up on a stupid board.

This post made me think. Why did I get into AI and Robotics? What drove me to this field? I was good in Math and Science when I was in high school. In India, that meant I'd pursue a career in Engineering or Medicine. I wasn't a fan of biology or cutting things. My scrawny physique back then ensured that I didn't have a sports career. Though I used to have a decent singing voice, I was never good enough for it to be a profession. Creative career choices just weren't on my horizon. I attribute that to a lack of exposure. To be fair, it's hard to be exposed to such choices in a developing nation.

My intentions were never always pure. It was a combination of passion + flashy stuff + trying to prove to others that I'm smart. For some weird reason, I wanted to be known for my intellectual prowess. Someone who can think really fast and accomplish things much faster than a vast majority. Since I grew up in a middle class family, I was painfully aware of the financial burden that'd end up on my shoulders if I didn't make it to a good university. Robotics piqued my interest. It had a lot of unchartered territory and potential to alter the future. It was my space race. An opportunity to work on something bigger than myself. It didn't hurt when I found that the burgeoning field had lucrative career options. While I got into AI and Robotics and a lot of cool sciency stuff for "the wrong reasons", I lucked out. I do love the stuff I do. A lot. My actions are still coloured by peer approval, compensation and things like that. But my definition of peers now and a few years back are drastically different. My notion of passion, profession, life, happiness, etc., are more nuanced now. I may not change completely. But this is a start. Better than nothing. Curious to see how I change over the years. Hopefully it'd be something a naive, idealistic me can be proud of :)