What My College Professors Taught Me

  • 2016 was a brutal reminder that the elite’s gains have not trickled to the everyday person. What feels like multicultural celebration i.e. eating at a Thai restaurant in New York, doing yoga in London, is enjoyed largely only by the global few — a tribe as exclusionary as any before.
  • Technology (think industrial machines, cars, spreadsheets, etc.) has yet to destroy the need for human labor because there has always been a link between new technology -> new wants, new wants -> people to fulfill those wants. But what happens when the link between wants and people to fulfill them is broken by technology? It’s feasible to imagine a near-future where almost all our wants are fulfilled by technology, who are controlled by a wealthy few, and without something like UBI, it’s hard to see how everyone will live dignified lives.
  • All empires must fall, the question is when? After this course, I concluded that China and the US will rise as equal superpowers in my lifetime with China dominating Asia & Africa, and the US dominating Europe & NA. In 2020, I’ve changed my mind. I currently believe China will become the sole superpower, and the US will be remembered like the UK (this is my strong opinion, loosely held).
  • As a student, up until this point, people have been paid to read your writing. In the real world, nobody has to. So it’s not just about the semantics of writing, it’s about compelling people to believe you have something they should listen to. Write drafts, every word should thoughtfully add something or not be there at all.
  • The history of computer science is short enough where people generally don’t think of it as history-worthy (i.e. many of the greats are still around), but long enough where there’s so much that could be lost to time (i.e. many of the greats are dying).
  • A general take away from college is that it is vital to nurture and protect the ecosystem at all cost. Marvin Minsky and Claude Shannon advised Ivan Sutherland’s PhD paper on Sketchpad (pioneer of computer graphics). One of Sutherland’s graduate students became the founder of Adobe. Xerox Park. Bell Labs. Great ecosystems produce great teams who produce great tech.
  • Be friends with professors. They always tell you this, but it’s quite hard to do. I got lucky that one professor was willing to spend an extra hour every week just talking to me, (and a little bit more time reading these fun papers).
  • Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetics of Man is a confusing read, actually the majority of philosophy is a confusing read. But the most important takeaway from philosophy is that it’s meant to be lived. The way I interpret Schiller’s letters is that a good life cannot simply be a rational life, i.e. if you decide to donate money but you hate every moment of it and you do it because you know it’s the right thing to do, that’s hardly aligned with intuitive definitions of a good life. But if your desires match your rationality, beauty + rationality, then you’re well on your way.
  • Nietzsche’s heaviest burden asks if a devil came to your door, and told you that you would live your life exactly as it has happened over and over again, indefinitely, would you be upset or elated? The practical way I think about this is evaluating activities in terms of whether they contribute to my ability to affirm life. i.e. I would happily eat greasy Chinese food over and over again, but that extra hour of studying doesn’t seem worth it to repeat infinitely.

Quick fire round!

Computer Science

Non computer-science

It was beautiful and brutal; excited for the next adventure!

~Me, 2020

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Mary Gao

Mary Gao

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