This is Your Brain on AI: Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown

Keysight’s newest podcast, Source De[Code], helps listeners better understand emerging technologies that promise big things that seem more in line with the realm of science fiction than everyday life. Without the context of practical applications, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) remain intimidating buzzwords and little else. In Source De[Code]’s first three episodes, host Ben Coffin and renowned technologists deconstruct the jargon and near myth-like popular perception of AI technology by exploring their practical applications.

Harvard biomedical engineering researcher and Ph.D. student Rahul Brito joins Ben in the first episode to pull back the curtain and give listeners a glimpse into how researchers are using AI. In the episode’s half-hour run time, the conversation between Rahul and Ben caused me to challenge many of my own false assumptions about AI.

This is Your Brain on AI

Like Rahul and Ben, my introduction to AI was rooted in sci-fi. The idea that a computer program could become sentient can be either awe-inspiring, like Star Wars’ C3P0, or terrifying, like Ava from Ex Machina. This idea that a computer program built by people could become conscious causes my brain to fall short. Leaning further into this, when I think about the people developing AI, my mind goes to fictional mathematical and scientific savants-- characters like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting or Dexter from the Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Lab.

Objectively, I understand that these fictional accounts of AI and those who use and create it are plot devices used to move a narrative forward and evoke emotions in the audience that support the director’s vision. Emotionally, though, it’s difficult to separate my history with AI in pop media from reality, as evidenced by my surprise in listening to Rahul’s initial trepidation when first using AI and how it challenged his assumptions.

The AI Rahul uses is an increasingly sophisticated mathematical model that can perceive patterns in data and identify linear regressions to extract insights within a narrow scope. He illustrates this by looking at news stories about AI that can beat people in games like chess and equates these programs to a toddler with savant knowledge in one specific space. As a mother to a son who was obsessed with space and black holes from an incredibly young age, this made me laugh. His knowledge of the universe was astounding—until I, yet again, had to help him put his shoes on the right feet or remember to put his coat on because it was January in Canada.

Source De[Code] Guest Profile: Rahul Brito

Source De[Code] guest, Rahul Brito, is a PhD student researching the connection between speech patterns and mental health.

Before diving into the episode, it’s important to understand who Ben’s guest is and why he is qualified to deconstruct the jargon surrounding AI for listeners. Rahul Brito is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University. He is conducting research at the Senseable Intelligence Group, Satrajit Ghosh’s lab within the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. The group “uses neuroimaging, speech communication, and machine learning to improve assessments and treatments for mental health and neurological disorders.”

What was the 'aha' moment that influenced your journey to where you are right now?

My own mental health journey and the struggles of family and friends, combined with a love of science fiction and technology drove me to this part of my journey.

If you hadn't chosen your current profession, what would you have pursued instead? Why?

I probably would be a product manager at a tech company. I love understanding how cutting-edge technology can be molded and whittled into a product useful for users.

Where can we find you when you're not innovating the future of technology?

Drumming in various bands, playing dungeons and dragons, drinking good beer, and snuggling my cat nephews and nieces.

Listen to Source De[Code]

Thank you, Rahul and Ben, for painting this picture for me. What I learned by listening to their conversation went a long way towards correcting my misconceptions about AI. Don’t take my word for it. Subscribe to Source De[Code] and listen to the first episode “This is Your Brain On AI” wherever you listen to podcasts. Visit Source De[Code] online for more information on the podcast, resources to help you further your learning on AI, and more.