Meet ML@GT: James Smith, a Machine Learning Student Who Can Probably Outrun You

The Machine Learning Center at Georgia Tech (ML@GT) is home to many talented students from across campus, representing all six of Georgia Tech’s colleges and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

These students have diverse backgrounds and a wide variety of interests both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, we’d like you to meet James Smith, a second-year machine learning Ph.D. student. Smith is a unique combination of athlete and academic; he runs at least one marathon each year while also working on ways to design machine learning algorithms that positively impact the world.

Name: James Smith

Hometown: Huntsville, AL

Current Georgia Tech degree program/year: Second-year machine learning Ph.D. student.

Other degrees earned and from what institution: B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering, both from Auburn University (War Eagle!)

Tell us about your research interests. Where might people be impacted by them in everyday life?

I am interested in lifelong machine learning using limited supervision. Specifically, I am working to build algorithms which can rapidly learn to identify new objects from a visual data stream with very few semantic queues. This will benefit any application involving real-time learning, such as autonomous vehicles or fraud detection and monitoring.

Favorite Conference and why:

My favorite conference would have to be the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) because many of my favorite recent works are from it.

Favorite place to hang out on campus or in Atlanta and why:

My favorite place on campus is Coda because the building is incredible (and all of my friends "live" there). I love working with such a great view of the city!

What is it about machine learning that excites you?

To me, machine learning is about improving the quality of life for ALL people in this world. While automation may be a scary transition for many, my vision is that machine learning will tackle the toughest of problems such as disease (i.e. healthcare advancements), poverty (i.e. eradicate scarcity of resources), and climate change. While my career may simply be a small step in bigger story, this vision gives me the confidence that I am at least stepping in the right direction.

Tell us about some of your hobbies:

My favorite hobby is distance running. As an undergraduate, I used to race with the Auburn triathletes and run marathon/ultra-marathon races. While I do not have time for this kind of training now, I still enjoy weekend long runs and try to run a marathon every year.

Favorite Georgia Tech experience:

I am always a fan of "AC-hopping" when classes start back in August. "AC-hopping" refers to hopping from building to building to escape the heat when walking around campus. Atlanta gets hot!

Tell me about a guilty pleasure of yours.

A friend recently shared that the coffee machines in Coda will mix coffee and hot chocolate for you... Enough said.

Who is someone that inspires you and why?

There are several individuals in my life — family and faculty mentors — who have inspired me by overcoming adversity. Specifically, I am inspired by people who do not change their habits or attitude when life gets tough. I think positive consistency is an often overlooked skill.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

In my academic life, getting my first accepted publication was a personal landmark achievement. In my personal life, my proudest accomplishment was running a 50-mile trail race in Chattanooga, Tenn., during my senior year of undergrad.

What is the most random or useless talent that you have?

I can pop my left shoulder out of its socket. While this benefits me in absolutely no way, I have yet to meet another person who can mimic it!

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I enjoy both teaching and research, so I would like to find myself in the academic world.

If you could time travel, what period of time would you go to and why?

It would have to be the mid-1900s, a direct result from watching too many British mystery series on PBS.

Why do you think embodying Georgia Tech’s motto of “progress and service” is important, especially in regards to machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)?

While working in the rapidly progressing field of ML/AI, it is important for us to remember that our research contributions should be to better our world, not simply to progress our personal careers. Sometimes, we need to slow down and think of unintended consequences of our work. We should not simply avoid a project because someone else could use it for ill-purposes, but could we design it in a way that would limit these unintended consequences?

Related Media

Click on image(s) to view larger version(s)

  • James Smith

  • While an undergraduate and graduate student at Auburn University, Smith competed in triathlons and marathon/ultra-marathon races.

For More Information Contact

Allie McFadden

Communications Officer