Q: Dr. Osuagwu, you went from a life in business in Wall Street to one as an engineer and a scientist. What motivated that transition?
Osuagwu: Honestly, I saw Wall Street as a temporary means to an end. I always wanted to be a scientist/engineer, so I waited until my home life was more settled and then I made my move. There were a couple of moments when I thought I might stay in Wall Street, but I found the draw of engineering and science was too great.
Q: Have you regretted pursuing studies in STEM and now a career in the field?
Osuagwu: I missed the financial security and freedom of my previous profession but, now that I have finished my PhD and I am working as Senior Research Scientist/Engineer I can say it was worth it.
Q: What aspect of artificial intelligence most interests you?
Osuagwu: If I understand the question, I am interested in sensory fusion and self-organization techniques for intelligent systems. I am most interested in the merging of humans and technology via brain-machine interfaces.
Q: There have been recent warnings about the dangers of 'thinking machines' from prominent scientists, engineers, and leaders in technology. What is your take on it?
Osuagwu: I am more worried about “real” intelligence a.k.a. Humans versus artificial intelligence. Artificially intelligent machines are not a part of the food chain, we don’t compete with them for anything naturally. So, I am a little hard-pressed to take these statements seriously. That does not mean that there might not be dangers. Any new technology or discovery can go in our favor or against us.
Q: What do you think we can do as a society to increase the number of underrepresented communities in STEM?
Osuagwu:The single most important thing we can do is to make all of the schools in these communities comparable to the best schools in our nation and work against conscious and unconscious bias in educators. When your zip code can determine your future and access to high quality educators and tools to learn, we have a serious problem as a nation. We should also engage students as early as possible and get parents involved often.
Q: Since you have Nigerian roots, how do you think the STEM problem in the U.S. maps over to Nigeria? Is there one?
Osuagwu: There are similarities. Both governments are not fully investing in the next generation by providing better access to education and technology. The scale, however, is far more severe in Nigeria. Another aspect of this problem is that we do not have enough people with ancestral connections to Nigeria and Africa as whole who are properly trained and able to empower others on the continent to solve their own problems. What Africa has always needed is investment and entrepreneurship, not food aid and isolation from markets.