Adam Fidler is a member of the inaugural class of Baskin Engineering's new M.S. in Natural Language Processing (NLP). He spoke with us about what he likes most about the program so far and his aspirations for a career in NLP.
How did you discover your interest in Natural Language Processing?
I grew up with computers, so choosing to go in that direction was pretty easy. But after spending two years in Japan I realized I love languages too and wanted to see if there was an overlap between linguistics and computer science. After doing some research I found natural language processing (NLP) and realized it was something I wanted to do.
Why did you choose UCSC?
One of my NLP professors heard about the program from a linguistics mailing list. I applied on a whim, and I was happy to get in!
My undergrad prepared me pretty well for the things we’re talking about. I managed to essentially combine linguistics, computer science and applied mathematics into one major and it seems like it was good preparation for what I’m studying now.
What do you think of the program?
So far I like it. I think there will be plenty of networking opportunities, which is great because so many of our faculty members are in the industry right now.
My favorite class so far is machine learning. As an applied math student, I did a lot of machine learning. So the class means taking those things I learned about and applying them to linguistics.
I’m really looking forward to doing projects for our classes.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I love digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. Being able to work on something like that would be really neat. Everyone is using them... so I’d love to make them even better. I see them becoming much better at more generalized tasks. This is kind of a silly example, but I think of J.A.R.V.I.S. from The Avengers (Iron Man’s artificial intelligence) as the ideal. It would be wonderful to have something that generalized. We’re still a ways off from something so conversational and human-like. A lot of progress has been made and I’m happy to be pushing the limits of what we can do.
As for a career, academia has always intrigued me. I was a research assistant at BYU. It was a ton of fun and I love teaching, but I also really like the idea of going into industry and working for a startup, big tech company, or really anywhere that I could use the skills I pick up here because NLP is something I love.
What are some hobbies or fun facts about yourself?
I like hanging out with people, so of course these lockdowns have been driving me nuts. I hesitate to call math a hobby, but I think of it as one of my hobbies.
I took a course in Chaos Theory from the professor I worked for. You could say it’s the idea of studying how small perturbations affect something in the end, like the weather. It’s a chaotic, dynamical system we can model, but if you change the input ever so slightly, it can cause totally different results.
I spend more hours than is probably productive watching Youtube videos of math and math lectures.