Chance Encounters

Crowdsourcing workflow for Zooniverse project

Crowdsourcing workflow for Zooniverse project

I remember there was a potato. And a lot of wires. Wires plugged into a laptop, so that whenever you touched the potato, sounds would get generated. I was in my first week of freshman year, visiting Shapiro for the first time, when I saw the potato and the wires at the Design Lab’s booth. I instantly left my friends, attracted by the setup. At the booth, I met Justin for the first time, and found out about the chance to intern at the Design Lab.

College can be a lot like high school: you take some courses, you do homework, you take exams, hoping that in the process you pick up the learning skills required to get a high GPA. But there is so much more to it: like my first introduction to the Design Lab. The chance encounters, that end up defining your next few years.

Interning here meant I was part of many more such encounters: from randomly meeting the future founder of UMich’s Augmented Reality Club, and discussing with him his ideas for creating the club, to having lunch with a fellow from the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society, to talk with him about my interest in ethical Artificial Intelligence–the Design Lab opened up for me the door to serendipitous learning.

Up until now, learning has been all about finding the right books and online courses, finding some free time, and focusing. I did that kind of learning at the Design Lab, as well: going through a textbook on data analysis, going through tutorials on designing 3D models. But this new kind of learning–the one that occurred by chance–started taking an increasingly important role in my life. Learning how to analyze data from Zooniverse from people with more experience and having numerous discussions on technology’s impact on developing countries were also part of my learning experience.

This year was the first one where I felt I was finally slowly moving my learning from an artificial environment to reality: a reality where ideas come from different people, where developing skills is a mixture of good study habits, and some helpful conversations, and where you know your work can actually have a social impact.

This is the bigger picture of all the dots I have connected in the past year. This summer and next year, I will continue seeking out these new dots on the map of my learning. I know I will continue focusing my work on citizen science and data analysis for the moment, but I am also excited about next year’s connected dots which will most likely look completely different from this year’s.