Last Tuesday, my students were thrilled that Brian Christian, author of The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive and 2002 alum, came by for an author visit. Brian is an old friend and I am so grateful that he was willing to give up a day and head back to his old stomping grounds to talk about his book and being an author.
Brian spoke to the freshman for about 40 minutes, and they were rapt with attention. They later mentioned that he never spoke above conversational volume, yet no one ever had to strain to hear him. He never raised his voice and no one spoke over him. I was proud of my kids, but even prouder of Brian. He was a fantastic speaker and I looked around the room to see my students constantly mouthing, “Wow!” as he shared anecdotes about his time studying for the Turing test.
After speaking about his book, Brian took questions from the students. They had fantastic questions and both he and I were very impressed. A nice number of them had picked up the book on their own and read it and they asked some great, intelligent questions. I think some of them would have loved to talk to Brian all day! But alas, the bell rang for lunch. Yet a lot of students stuck around- a few brought their copy of his book up to be autographed and to continue their conversations. Suddenly, a few of my freshman girls came rushing out the open computer lab clutching printouts of Brian’s author photo. They shyly thrust it towards him and asked for an autograph. I couldn’t help but laugh. “I guess that’s not something you get at every reading, huh?” I asked him. He laughed and signed the photos. The perils of teenage girl fans, eh?
After lunch, Brian kindly stuck around for an informal 25-minute chat with my seniors. He talked a lot about the importance of following your passion and majoring in what you love and enjoy, trusting that a job will be there when you are done. (He double-majored in computer science and philosophy, following that up with an MFA in poetry!) I think that is such an important idea for kids to hear and I was so glad he took the time to share his experience. Again, he took questions from the students. One student raised his hand, asking if Brian was familiar with Megaman. Brian laughed, and said of course. The student then went on to explain that he is seriously interested in sentient robots and asked a great question pertaining to AI. After the presentation, that same student walked up to Brian and asked to shake his hand. “Thank you so much for taking my question seriously. This is something I genuinely want to study and most people tend to laugh me off. So I just wanted to express my gratitude to you.” How awesome is that?
Having Brian come back to visit was fantastic. He is a real-world example of what my colleagues and I work so hard to express to our students- life isn’t a box. You are never “just” an engineer or “just” a sales manager. Every occupation involves many different disciplines. It’s why we work so hard to combine Biology, Software Apps, English, and History. No man is an island, and no subject is either. Brian is a poet, a science writer, a philosopher, a teacher, a student, an author, and a computer scientist. We all need to follow our passions and create something in our lives that we are proud of.