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Monday, January 1, 2018

A year in Review: 2017

non-technical: suitable for any reader

2017 in a Nutshell
This year has been a ride. I began last year (January to April) working with Dr. Anderson in the Autonomous Agents Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. This lead to ARC_ROS, a software framework for coordinating heterogeneous teams of robots for urban search and rescue missions.

Following this internship, I was lucky enough to be accepted into Carnegie Mellon's RISS internship. This took place from June-August and allowed me to work on swarm robotics with Dr. Katia Sycara, and to meet scholars from around the world. From this I was able to get my first paper published!

robotics institute summer scholars 2017 (Carnegie Mellon University)

Entering the fall semester, my colleague Vlad Samonin and I won the IROS 2017 humanoid robotics application challenge, all while taking part in various classes at University. It wouldn't have been possible without Vlad’s keen insight that was majorly behind the design and development of our performance. Oh and of course, it required a bit of magic.

robot magic 2017 kyle morris vlad samonin 1st place

Amidst the fall semester, I've been conducting continued research with the Advanced Agents Laboratory from Carnegie Mellon. I look forward each week to the lab meetings in which I join in remotely over Skype and present my progress. I can't believe that at just this time a year ago I was spending my late evening eagerly reading over over the Robotics Institute faculty profiles and publications, hoping so dearly that I would be accepted into the RISS program.

What I learned in 2017
This year I have gained exposure to a wide breadth of successful, ambitious, and wonderful people in which have widely different cultures, value systems, and walks of life.

I refer to a value system as being that in which contains our beliefs, values, and ideals. A belief is some statement in which one personally assigns a degree of truth. For example, I believe in the statement: "Diligence is required for success". A value is then something in which one constructs from various beliefs. For example, I "value" hard work, as I see it as a form of diligence. Similarly I may value waking up early to study, as I see this as a form of diligence. From these values and beliefs one may form ideals: an image of perfection in which they strive to become.

Among this complex value system we each possess, it is not uncommon in the least to find a clash in values with someone else.

Person X may believe that: Intensity is the key to results! Don’t rest until the job is done!”, while person Y may believe that: “Taking a rest and relaxing is the key to a productive life”.
In a more concrete example, Person X may value having a beer with friends on the weekend, while person Y may value having pure abstinence from any such substance.

When someone has a conflicting value system to yourself it is easy to be put on a defensive edge and to feel attacked. One may be tempted to ignore such values of others, dismissing them as “poor”, “wrong”, or even go as far as to avoid such an individual all together.

I believe these conflicts of inter-personal values arise similarly to how a contradiction arises in a mathematical model. We establish fundamental truths (axioms) in ourselves as we progress through life, and we build on these axioms to develop further truths that define us and our degree of agency. For example, we may formulate a belief: “Doing X will lead to an unsuccessful life” where X is some activity in which you may select at your leisure.

In the event that we uncover new information, namely, we meet an individual who demonstrates X, but has clearly demonstrated success in life, it is logical for us to reevaluate our model of what we deem to be “true”. No longer can we say that “Doing X will lead to an unsuccessful life” if we have clearly met someone who is in fact doing X, and is successful.

It is not feasible to construct a value system in such a rigid logical fashion. I feel that this brings about one of the beautiful traits of humans: we don’t always know precisely why we do things, or what we value. We possess an internal intuition, a powerful heuristic in which guides us.
A thought that dawned on me however... is that this lack of rigidity and precise definition of our value system may be a factor influencing the uncertainty one has in their self identity.
Perhaps the more rigid one is with their core values and internal system, the more they have established their agency. Vice versa one may argue that an individual who possess a flimsy value system lacks agency, in that they will fully mold and adapt in the presence of new values instead of perceiving an interacting with the world in a distinguishable way.

Note that this very thought in itself is merely a personal thought of mine. If I choose to embrace it and embody it as a belief, it may be become an axiom of my value system and thus potentially influence how I perceive and interact with the world.

Of course I am approaching this from an agent theoretic perspective... as my work this year has been in designing agents: machines that perceive, reason, and act rationally in their environment. As I pursue research with such a focus, I often run an inner monologue with myself as I try to establish how I personally perceive and interact with the world. From this particular monologue spanning the majority of 2017 , I have constructed and included the following "truths" within my internal value system.

1: Regardless of one's value system, it is important to consciously provide an unbiased, and charitable ear to anyone and everyone regardless of stature, as everyone has something valuable they may teach you.

2: Furthermore in the presence of conflicting value systems, it is valuable to understand that everyone on this planet is complex and different, and all of which deserve equal respect. No one will possess an identical value system to yourself, but this doesn’t mean either of you are “wrong”, as the very notion of “right/wrong” is too rigid to place on something as fuzzy and arbitrary as personal values.

3: One may remain rigid and tightly bound to their value system (their beliefs, values, and ideals); while living in harmony with others who do not share them. Rejecting others on the premise that they don’t share an ideal is perhaps a slippery slope from point #2, in that you will end up rejecting everyone and be pretty lonely in life.

The bottom line is this: I’ve met lots of brilliant people this year, all of which are different. We can work together in harmony and we have achieved great things this year. This isn’t because of us all being the same, or because we radically alter our personal value systems; but rather because we are able to coincide with each other despite our differences.
I will strive to hold firm to my personal ideals, my values, and my goals, while ensuring I am being open, understanding, and respectful of others value systems. I believe this is crucial in working in harmony with others, and in becoming a leader who can empower my colleagues, students, and friends to reach their potential and succeed.

Onward to 2018
I've spent the last 4 years of my degree rigorously honing in on development of fundamental skills, establishing connections with industry and academia, and learning how to apply these skills in both solo and team-based projects. During 2018 I will be participating in research talks where I will present some of this work. I will also be partaking in an industry internship that I’m immensely excited about. I will surely speak more of it in the near future!

I started this post off by saying 2017 was a ride.
Well... 2018 will be a ride as well, but it won’t need a driver.

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