My three main interests in life are artificial intelligence, programming and martial arts. It is my dream to one day understand intelligence to such a degree that I could program it into a computer or other artificial substrate. I promise I won't try to make it an expert at combat though.
Our human intelligence is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Although we are weaker, smaller and slower than many other animals, our superior intelligence allows us to dominate the world to the point that we control the survival of entire species and environments. Over the last couple of millennia evolution has not done much to change our bodies, but our ever growing collective intelligence has enabled humanity to make great advances in living conditions, safety and technology. Intelligence is the engine that drives all breakthroughs in every field of study. To increase the world's intelligence is to contribute to all of those fields simultaneously. To unravel the secrets of intelligence and to be able to reproduce it would be the greatest scientific breakthrough of all time.
I chose my field of study well: artificial intelligence is the perfect match for my interests. Unfortunately the field has become fragmented. Each subfield focuses on a small aspect of intelligence or the brain. These subfields have given birth to many new applications, such as (improved) search engines, robots, expert systems, planners, translators, and data mining tools. These applications are useful and interesting, but usually very specialized. What I want is artificial general intelligence: intelligence that works at a human level in many different and unforeseen circumstances. I think that a lot of people working on these specialized applications hope that they will one day become part of such a true AI. And sure, it is very likely that such a system would need kick-ass machine learning capabilities and awesome natural language understanding. But we won't wake up in a hundred years to find that AI's subfields have now all of the components for general intelligence and all that is required is putting them together. Because how will they fit? Even setting aside the question of whether such a hybrid system could work at all, it will be nigh impossible to combine hundreds of specialized systems that weren't developed with that goal in mind.
I think that if the goal is to build human-level intelligence, a grand vision is required. We need an idea of how intelligence works, or how we can develop and combine the components it requires. We should keep our eyes on the prize. Impossible as the goal may seem now, I am convinced that the only way to reach it in our lifetimes is to pursue it actively.
The mind is a powerful tool and one of its aspects that fascinates me is its ability to dream up ideas out of nothing: to fantasize. As a child I was absolutely crazy about LEGO, because it allowed me to build all the constructions that I envisioned from elementary building blocks. When I was fifteen, I started to teach myself programming and discovered that this was yet another way to build virtually anything I want from what feels like nothing. It is a great feeling to see an application work for the first time after you have slaved away on it. The idea that, given enough power and resources, there is nothing a computer cannot simulate made me realize that the world is at the programmer’s fingertips and that literally anything is possible.
It works both ways: while our mind can be used to program great things, programming itself can enrich the mind in many ways. Every time I learn a new paradigm or language, I feel my mind expand. It would be completely worth it if this just improved my ability to convert my vision to code, but the analytical way of thinking that programming requires is useful in every aspect of life. This makes learning and teaching programming extremely rewarding.
As a child I always just used to think that martial arts were cool because it allows you to kick ass and useful because it helps you prevent other people kicking yours. But it is so much more than that. This was immediately apparent to me when I started practicing Taekwon-Do when I was twelve. Martial arts promote discipline, confidence, respect and control over your own mental and physical state. I find it beautiful to see how some practitioners seem to have attained complete mastery over their body. Martial arts have the tendency to push you to your limit, and when you go over, you will have grown as a person. Taekwon-Do taught me to be confident and I reap the benefits of it every day. It is great to see the same thing happen in others when I can teach them the lessons that I learned.