The Caw: John Urschel Is Working On Artificial Intelligence


On John Urschel's MIT Ph.D. bio, it says he's studying spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra and machine learning.

So what's that mean to us laymen?

"One of the big things I do is work in artificial intelligence, which is essentially teaching computers how to think for themselves," Urschel told “The Lounge” podcast this week.


"I want them to be able to learn, to be able to learn like a human learns," Urschel continued. "A human learns from their past experiences, their examples, and they extrapolate. I want computers to be able to do that."

So what's an example?

"You're a baby. Stove's on. You touch the stove, it's hot, you burn your hand, it hurts. Now, you're not by the stove. You're outside by the grill and the grill is on. You've learned from the stove, you are not touching the grill while it's hot with all those flames inside," he said.

"That's learning. How do we teach a computer that? How do we teach a computer intuition and instincts like humans have?" [


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Artificial intelligence is the next frontier in modern science and math, but it's a debatable venture in today's society.

Just this month, Moley’s robotic chef made headlines. At the same time, famous professor Stephen Hawking just this month said artificial intelligence* *could be humanity’s greatest disaster.

Urschel talked about working on robots for more good, pointing to the example of IBM’s “Watson” computer helping nurses making diagnoses in hospitals.

"I hope I'm going to prove many good results that push the world forward," said Urschel, who plans to be a university professor when he's done playing football.

Being as smart as Urschel, there are often questions about when he will stop playing football and whether he is worried about putting his brain health at risk.

His greatest contribution to mankind will likely be in math, not football (despite starting the past two games). Football gives him the platform to do good, however.

Urschel said he is aware of studies on the relationship between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and he doesn't deny their findings. But they aren't going to make him stop playing football – at least not anytime soon.

"No, I'm not nervous about playing football," he said. "I make a lot of stupid decisions sometimes."

Does he put playing football in that "stupid"* *category?

"Definitely, but it's my decision," he said. "I'm allowed to be a contradiction sometimes, and just say, 'I understand this is probably not good for my head, but this is what I'm doing.'"

Urschel had a concussion in training camp last year, which knocked him out for weeks. It was the first concussion of his football career (he had one other one in a high school car crash). He said there isn't a set number on how many concussions it would take for him to stop playing.

There is a cap, however, on how long his football career will last. And it won't be 16 years like wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.

"You will not see me in Year 16," Urschel said. "I'm loving playing football, I'm going to try to play as long as I can within reason, but you will not see me in Year 16. There is a cap and it definitely comes before Year 16."

Listen to the rest of Urschel's insightful and (sometimes) intelligent interview on “The Lounge” on iTunes, SoundCloud or wherever you find your podcasts.

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