190127 students learn
Nobody dreams of sitting in an office. Following your heart is a hallmark card, a feel-good movie, a motivational TED talk, but in real life it is watching your dreams shatter soundlessly. Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

Children are forced, blatantly and subliminally, to lead lives that are a glossy expression of the wishes of their parents. Wishes that are mostly an amalgamation of the parents’ own unfulfilled dreams, unrealistic goals of excellence, and societal ideas of behavioural, educational, and professional perfection. What remains unnoticeable is a child’s detachment to their school, lack of interest in activities imposed on them, confusion about what subjects to take, and cluelessness about what they want in life.

Young people are taught not to listen to their inner voice, pay attention to their personal ideas of "excellence" that could be in complete contradiction to the familial and societal expectations, and allow their heart to take the lead.

Nobody dreams of sitting in an office. Following your heart is a hallmark card, a feel-good movie, a motivational TED talk, but in real life it is watching your dreams shatter soundlessly.

And so children are pushed into fields for which they have little passion. The luckiest of this bunch attain the highest salaries. They wake up early in the morning to mindlessly do what their bosses ask of them and come home late at night too exhausted for anything more substantial than sitting in front of a TV watching the latest Netflix series. Over time, their personal identity slips away as they, like their parents, begin to understand that in this day, respect and success correlate directly with the number at the end of the payslip they receive at the end of every month.

They are the perfect cogs in a perfect wheel. They have no name. They have no place. They exist to produce. They exist to keep the wheel turning.

As I read my 21-year-old son Musa’s personal statement for a postgraduate degree in a college in New York, I started thinking about why I always supported my son’s choices—from kindergarten to when he graduated high school at the age of 17: I listened when he spoke. The clarity of his ideas as a recent graduate, startling in its simplicity and self-awareness, was the validation of my never-changing belief in his innate gift to listen to the voice within him and follow his heart.

Musa wrote:

“I got my first laptop when I was six years old and was immediately obsessed with the machine. Before it was trendy to do so, I was troubleshooting and jailbreaking my devices. As I was growing up, groundbreaking technologies such as smartphones and the internet were redefining the way we interacted with the world. I would read sci-fi tales where technology had progressed to such an incredible point that suffering was no more, every disease had a cure, and everyone was provided for—a picturesque, John Lennon’s Imagine utopia. This was the beginning of what led me to my current desire to pursue a masters in computer science from a university in New York.

In high school, I founded two computer science clubs. In the programming club, we developed an Arduino arcade cabinet, and in the Scratch tutoring club, we taught elementary students to use the high-level visual block language Scratch. My fascination continued, and by the time I got to college at New York University, it was clear to me that I wanted to study Computer Science and take part in this groundbreaking practice.

As my undergraduate studies came to an end, I branched into using machine learning technologies to train and implement models to do high-level work such as matching users to real estate listings and predicting tweets. For my final project in my Natural Language Processing class, my partner and I scraped over fifty thousand tweets from US members of Congress using Tweepy. Inspired by the findings of Brady, et al’s experiment, which showed a significant correlation with the number of morally charged words and retweets, we attempted to see if we could predict politicians' retweets more accurately using the number of morally charged words in the tweet by feeding them into a model we created using Sklearn’s Random Forest Classifier API. While our results were inconclusive, we remained adamant to study the phenomenon further with more rigorous word detection and fine-tuned models.

Since July 2021, I have been working in Bahrain as the Director of Technology at my father’s real estate and development company, where I have been developing and maintaining our website. My heart is not in being the half-inheritor of a company that was made by my father and strengthened by the hard work of my half brothers. I am disheartened at the limited professional scope since my undergrad. Rather than the state-of-the-art work that improves lives, computer science knowledge is inquired for as a method to increase a company’s bottom line.

We head further and further away from my utopian dream into a cyberpunk hellscape because the most powerful uses of technology are used to exploit by algorithmically addicting us to our screens and replacing us in our jobs. I want to gain expertise in these innovative fields, but use complex neural networks, potential general intelligences, and advanced robotics to benefit humanity through radical changes in medical technology and more.

The excellent research by the professors in your institution on X-ray hand and breast ultrasound image segmentation are excellent examples of the sort of work I want to be a part of. People are at the heart of technology, and the work of these professors and other faculty at your college reflects this understanding with research that is groundbreaking and profoundly beneficial to society. Your university would offer me both the Computer Science fundamentals and the ability to branch deeply into its most emerging technologies under the guided education of professors heavily involved in their fields and greatly passionate about the progress of humanity.

Within five years of completing my masters, I would like to pursue a PhD in the field, maintaining a strong focus on machine learning, AI, robotics, and branching into AI safety and ethical technology implementation. I want to remain in academia to continue research that will cure disease, reduce work, and save the planet. Within ten years, I hope to be a leading voice in the field, pushing for ethical innovation. I have a strong moral compass and a passion for writing, and would use these to guide progress, encouraging technological literacy as communicators like Dr Niel Degrass Tyson have popularised scientific literacy.

One example of how I’d like to achieve these goals is to fight rising unemployment due to automation. I would research and communicate how we can shift towards less labour and more productivity, working closely with other engineers, policy makers, ethicists, philosophers, activists, and political scientists to ensure automation is introduced only as benefits and protections such as a basic income are implemented for the workers that are replaced. I want to play a strong role in the development, understanding, and proliferation of technology that creates radical global and social changes—changes that before now may have been considered naive, but have become a genuine possibility through emerging technology.

I believe studying for a masters degree at your university is a fundamental first part in this journey to my childhood dreams of utopia. The fervour the faculty at your university has for progress through technology—especially medical—is most evident, and I would be honoured to bring enthusiasm, curiosity, expertise, and the pursuit of utopia into their research.”

And I root and pray for my son as he continues his journey to make the real world he inhabits more humane, more beautiful, and more empathetic than any utopia. InshaAllah.