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Equitech Scholar from China redefines AI with a focus on ethics and human welfare

By Anodya Mishra

Reese Yang's journey through the Equitech Scholars Program at Equitech Futures is a testament to his passion for interdisciplinary learning and his drive to make meaningful contributions to the field of AI. Reese is a Chinese alum from the Equitech Scholars Program of 2023. As someone who had developed an aversion to numbers as a kid, Reese realized his newfound love for numbers through data science and AI during the program. “One of the drawbacks of the education system in most of Asia is its focus on rote memorization. Even with subjects like mathematics, we were taught to memorize formulas and practice sums repeatedly to excel in the field. I found this approach mundane and boring, and could never develop an interest in STEM. However, due to societal norms, I chose the science track in high school.”

When Reese joined Oxford College in Emory University for his undergraduate studies, he decided to make the most of his opportunities. As someone who had always been interested in humanities, he took up various courses in sociology, anthropology, and psychology. “I am currently pursuing my bachelors in economics and business, but I am so glad to have had the chance to explore other fields. Psychology has especially been a field I was very keen on and I think learning about human cognition also helps a lot with understanding behavioral economics as well as AI.” 

Reese wanted to explore the AI space when he realized the potential of it through Chat GPT. “In my second year of college, I worked as a teaching assistant for an english class and a tutor for writing. When Chat GPT was created, I realized that AI research is not a field merely limited to STEM, but also necessitates input from the social sciences. During the summer of 2023, I was initially looking for a research internship, but when I found out about the Equitech Scholars Program which included both AI and research, I knew I had to do it.” For the final capstone project for the program, Reese worked on an AI memo proposing to create a chatbot that could help with the problem of personal privacy. “When a user visits a certain website, they often get asked if they agree to the terms and conditions, and everyone marks this as a ‘yes’ because none of us have the time to read through these terms. This was my problem statement. The world today is filled with big corporations, in front of whom individuals are powerless because we depend on them for our every need. However, I think transparency in terms of ‘what exactly are you saying yes to?’ is important. So, a chatbot that could explain the legal jargon in a simple language was my idea.” Mentored by Dr. Abhilash Mishra and Dr. Krittika Bhattacharjee, Reese reiterates the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in solving complex problems: “While Ahbilash had already taught me the technical foundations of building a good AI product, Krittika helped me make it even better by challenging me to think about how our perception of privacy are shaped and threatened by developments in AI.”

Delving deeper into his Equitech experience, Reese mentioned that after graduating from the program, he was invited to the Chicago IRL (in-person meet). “I was so thrilled when I heard that an in-person meet was happening in Chicago. The virtual classes already made me feel like a part of the community, as the Equitech faculty knew how to bind everyone together even when we were spread across continents. But, having the opportunity to meet some of my cohort members in real life was absolutely exciting. I met a bunch of alumni and it was a weekend filled with learning and socializing. I was especially thrilled to meet Dr. Bhasi Nair, who not only rebuilt my passion in math through his lectures, but also continued to mentor me in machine learning concepts after the program ended. The one person I would love to meet in my next IRL is Caleb Anderson from my cohort - he is one year senior to me and during the Equitech Scholars Program, he was a huge help to me whenever I was stuck with any coursework.”

Going ahead, Reese aspires to build upon his interdisciplinary foundation, aiming to integrate AI with psychology and sociology. He is particularly interested in using AI to improve science communication, leveraging techniques like CGI (computer-generated imagery) to create engaging and accurate narratives. Reese is also deeply concerned with AI safety and ethics, recognizing the need for more critical thinking about AI's societal impacts. His long-term goals include contributing to the development of AI technologies that prioritize ethical considerations and human welfare. “I would like to work at the intersection of AI and ethics. I am starting an internship at the Center for AI Learning at Emory University soon, and I am excited to move forward in this direction. I also want to get back to tutoring because I have loved that job, and I can see myself as a teacher in the future. Equitech has also made me realize that a teacher’s job doesn’t end just after the hour of class, but is a lifelong commitment. And I want to cultivate this in myself. I want to be the kind of teacher and mentor that we have here at Equitech - people who are always there to support their students!”

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