As we reach the end of another year, it's again time to for me to continue the tradition of posting some reflections. Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine loomed large over this year, especially for those of us with many connections to both countries. There’s almost too much to say, so I’ll keep my comments limited to that I am heartened by most of the world’s support of Ukraine and by academia’s attempts to mitigate the war's effects on its small corner of the world.
Now for more provincial concerns:
- UIC's Phase I Institute, which I have directed for the last 3 years, together with NU/TTI-C/UC's Phase I Institute, and with IIT, applied for and received $10M of Phase II NSF funding. The resulting expanded institute will have lots of exciting programs, including on “Machine Learning and Logic” next semester. We also have some postdoc openings, and it’s not too late to apply. Visit our website at http://ideal-institute.org/.
an image of IDEAL's website
- This year I graduated my first Computer Science Ph.D. student, Neshat Mohammadi (co-advised by Tasos Sidiropoulos); all my previous students were in Mathematics. Her unconventional career path now takes her to Stanford Medical School for a postdoc; I will follow her progress with interest. With Will Perkins, I also co-hosted a postdoctoral fellow, Aditya Potukuchi, who went on to take a tenure-track position in EECS at York University. Congratulations go to them both!
- ChatGPT was recently released, causing quite a stir in my community. It’s scarily impressive. I used to believe that neural networks would only take us so far before we have to invent new methods to progress toward AGI, and while that may still be true, they’ve already taken us further than I expected and show no signs to stopping anytime soon. Of course ChatGPT has many failure modes, and no it doesn’t have the actual “understanding” that humans do, but I am amazed that some skeptics can only find things to criticize in this new technology. It reminds be of this.
a ChatGPT-created riddle that I enjoyed, with a correct solution
- My alma mater continues to disappoint me. This year’s most worrying development was Princeton’s firing of renowned classicist Joshua Katz, under a clear pretext, for his arguably immoderate speech that nonetheless should have obviously been protected. Despite my increasing unease with Princeton’s policies, I had dutifully donated to them every year, but no longer. On occasion, we still get glimmers of hope from academia, but overall the situation remains glum.
- NASA's James Webb telescope started producing images this July, and they are astounding. I'm looking forward to enjoying its constant stream of beautiful pictures in the coming years.
an image of Jupiter obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope (provided by NASA)
- Academia appears to be slowly relaxing its most restrictive COVID measures. This year, even UIC, which seems to have some of the most draconian policies among American universities, allowed its faculty to give lectures unmasked (to a masked and distanced audience). This was not an option many of my colleagues chose to exercise, but I for one appreciated being able to better vocalize (and breathe).
- I enjoyed attending ALT 2022, which was my first post-COVID international conference. It was held in France at the fabled ENS-Paris. I'm looking forward to continuing to be able to attend conferences next year.
Here’s to a peaceful, healthy, and productive 2023!