What I’m doing now
My current interests center around technology and consciousness. Specifically I’m working to create tools that facilitate people’s own path toward higher consciousness, self-realization, awakening, however it is you may describe the experience of transcendence. I’m careful not to put it in terms of feelings like happiness, joy, ease, etc., because its easy to get caught up in framing a particular set of feelings as the goal. Feeling good is wonderful, and it would be great if we could feel good all the time, but we don’t. So if we set our sights on only feeling good, then we’re setting ourselves up for a bumpy road. We’re going to end up rejecting a whole bunch of our experiences because they don’t fit into our expectations. And that is what we do. We reject so much of what is, and get lost in our minds.
What if we could create technology that would help us in our own efforts to be more mindful, present, and accepting towards what is? This same technology would naturally also help us to feel better, reduce stress, be more peaceful, more accepting, and happier. Technology alone can’t do any of these things for you, but it can help facilitate that process. And the process I’m talking about has been practiced in one form or another by countless individuals across cultures and religions for thousands of years. It is a process of going within, quieting the mind and knowing thyself. What if the technology that surrounds us every day, in our pockets, on our walls, at our fingertips, could be used to help us learn about ourselves rather than perpetually distract us?
I believe we all have the potential to live easeful, peaceful, and balanced lives. But in order to get there we need to cut through a whole bunch of internal noise. Modern brain researchers are continually shedding new light on thousands of years of consistent wisdom on the nature of reality and human experience. We know its possible to change the way our brains work, and we know its possible to experience a reality free of stress and suffering. My goal is to apply that knowledge to the creation of tools that help us increase the efficiency of our own efforts towards that end.
How I got here
With little pulling me other than my own inner compass I’ve had the great fortune of mostly doing cool stuff. My interest in engineering started young. My parents would give me broken devices to take apart, presumably to keep me from destroying the working ones. Later, I would stay home “sick”, and spend the days building contraptions. At one point my door had a button connected to some motors and pulleys allowing my cat to open it. On the same door there was a system that would shock intruders – never to be used on my little brother of course.
At UC Santa Cruz I studied Computer Engineering because it covered the most bases: Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and the underlying logic of computer systems. I’ve maintained that pattern of opting for breadth over depth. At UCSC I worked on a number of projects, including a biologger which would attach to a marine mammal (designed for Elephant Seals) and monitor myriad aspects of its behavior and surrounds. I also worked on path planning algorithms for multi-vehicle swarms which opened the door for an internship and later a longer term position at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA in the Intelligent Robotics Group.
At NASA Ames I was introduced to the world of human-robot interaction (HRI). In my time there I developed an executive control system for a mars rover simulator, voice control for an HRI system,a path planning system for multiple vehicles moving in a shared space in realtime, and even worked on the Gigapan which is now a commercial product. From those experiences I was led to the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab.
The Media Lab is a mind expanding place to work – you’re constantly surrounded by brilliant multi-disciplinary creatives pushing one limit or another. My work was all over the place and included performance robots for an opera, novel technology for counting people, random acts of fabrication, and general robot maintenance and repair. For my thesis I focused on the ways in which social robots’ appearance and behavior can alter their persuasiveness, or ability to change human belief and behavior. To figure that out I brought a pretty cool social robot to the Museum of Science in Boston and studied how over 300 ordinary people responded to it under different circumstances. It was a big project and a number of people were involved, but don’t worry, I also wrote a whole bunch of stuff about it and made some fancy pictures [thesis pdf] [project link].
In all that time I’ve also maintained some pretty steady interests. I was lucky enough to inherit my dad’s interest in photography, as well as his old darkroom equipment. 1997, right before everything went digital, I built a darkroom which was a much needed and frequent retreat throughout high school. In 2000 I got my first digital camera and never looked back. Drumming was another high school discovery that persisted. My first drum was traded for an old computer we had in our garage with some guys on Venice Beach. Since then I’ve amassed a drum collection that far exceeds my skill.
Growing up with parents that weren’t fond of airplanes, and felt no need for adventure, I’m not sure where I developed the desire to travel. I’ve been lucky enough to have the time and resources to follow that desire, a desire which had taken me all over the world. Some of my more epic adventures include 3 months in South America, and most recently 3 months in India. More of that soon, I hope.