Weida (Edward) Li

From the outskirts of Tokyo, Weida Li has been fascinated by the idea of intelligent lifeforms since he was six years old. Inspired by the limitless potential of computers, Weida’s aspirations now lie in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Neuroscience in hopes of contributing to the creation of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

While most phenomena in our world can be explained by the natural sciences such as physics and chemistry, there still exist questions that we have no clear answer to. Out of the countless unanswered enigmas, one would captivate the entirety of Weida’s childhood: What is the cause of sentience and intelligence?

Weida’s passion for science bloomed when he was six years old; inspired by the idea of extraterrestrial life beyond our atmosphere, Weida would often observe the stars with his homemade telescope every night. His obsession for astronomy would carry on until 8th grade when he watched “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a science fiction movie centered around an AI created by the superhero Iron Man with the power of technology. Intrigued by the idea of creating sentient beings with 0s and 1s, Weida began his journey into Computer Science, Robotics, and Neuroscience in hopes of achieving similar feats.

After teaching himself computer programming, machine learning and neuroscience, Weida would focus a large portion of his time towards devising an idea for chatbots—a type of AI that could simulate human-like conversations. The “Eureka” moment would come to pass two years after his journey began; however, he didn’t possess the required tools and knowledge to realize his idea. Thus, Weida contacted university professors in hopes of finding a mentor for his research, and he was lucky enough to have one hold an interest in his idea.

Passing a mandatory test formally designed for master’s students, Weida was able to join the professor’s lab and begin his research which he would continue for two and a half years. He was able to create a chatbot that extracted hidden intents from the conversation and utilize this information as inputs to generate responses. After publishing a paper and presenting his research at Japan’s largest international AI conference with more than 3000 attendees as the youngest published researcher in history, Weida’s aspirations to discover the crux of intelligence continues to this day. Attending Columbia with a full-ride scholarship provided by the Ezoe Memorial Recruit Foundation, Weida plans to major in Computer Science while deepening his knowledge in Neuroscience and apply what he learns to his research.

Besides spending all-nighters at his research lab, Weida participated in various tournaments during his high school years. Securing second place in national programming contests and winning first place at university robotics contests where he wrote code for converting human language to robot commands, Weida also preserved his interests towards space and created clubs dedicated to space exploration at his school and partook in contests in which his team was selected as finalists. He also served as the captain of Japan’s first FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team; starting with nothing but a few high school students with no adult professionals, Weida’s team gathered resources by themselves through contacting companies and crowdfunding.

In his free time, Weida loves to read and think philosophy—he believes a true scientist cannot simply indulge themselves in their field and rather needs to be able to view the world from multiple perspectives. He also spends his free time tinkering and creating robots with new parts and leftover scraps and writing code for reinforcement learning agents that learn to play games and complete tasks. While he has attempted to write sci-fi books in the past to no avail, he hopes to train his creativity and continue his endeavors in writing enjoyable stories.