Holly Weaver and Mingyi Wang chat live during the pandemic of 2020 about China and the future of artificial intelligence.
Name: Mingyi Wang
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Hometown: Jiaxing, China
Position: Data Scientist at Cognistx
Alma Mater: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Holly: First off, can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
Mingyi: I was born and raised in my hometown, Jiaxing, and it’s a charming city on the East Coast of China. I did my undergrad in Statistics in Shanghai, and then I got my Statistics master’s degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Now, I am a Data Scientist at Cognistx, and my major focuses are data analysis, machine learning, and deep learning.
Tell me about machine learning.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence. It builds mathematical models and uses statistics to find patterns in the data. Machine learning models could solve complex problems that cannot be fixed with conventional programming.
What is a practical example of this?
Spam email detection is a widely used case of machine learning. People receive emails every day, and you might notice that your mailbox automatically filters the unwanted emails to the ‘Spam’ folder. Classification models actually complement this detection.
Another example is the recommendation system used by shopping websites, online video streaming applications, and so on. The algorithm makes recommendations based on personalized customer behavior with more advanced models.
Tell me about China where you grew up.
It’s a city close to Shanghai, and in history, it’s known as a land flowing with honey and milk. Jiaxing is a beautiful green city surrounded by lakes. There is traditional architecture in the water towns. I also have to point out the food there. Unlike Sichuan cuisine’s spicy style, my hometown’s food style specializes in obtaining natural flavor and taste. I miss street food so much, like wonton and zongzi.
Can you describe those two cuisines?
Zongzi is pyramid-shaped sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is stuffed with different fillings, and my favorite is pork. As for wonton, it’s Chinese dumpling and always goes with soup.
What kind of soup do you like to order in a Chinese restaurant?
Chicken soup with wonton!
Do you have a good spot here in Pittsburgh you like to order from?
I didn’t get many chances to explore Pittsburgh’s restaurants ever since I moved here in June. I really hope I can dine out and wander around the city someday after COVID. But, I remember the Thai restaurant where we had our team lunch party. The food there is amazing.
Yeah Nicky’s Thai, that’s a local favorite for sure. So, what challenges did you face becoming a data scientist?
Data in real life is complicated. Data wrangling, first of all, takes a lot of time. Second, sometimes there are thousands of metrics I could use. As a Data Scientist, I need to trade-off between time limitations and exploring ‘better’ models. There is a common aphorism in statistics, saying ‘all models are wrong.’
How do you use AI in your own life?
I think AI is everywhere, and sometimes we are using it even without realizing it. Like every morning, I use facial recognition systems to turn on my phone. Then I will ask Alexa, a smart home system, to turn on the light. Later, when I browse the internet, the recommendation systems will sort out the news I am interested in. With the automatically generated music playlist on, one of my good days starts.
How is COVID-19 impacting you personally?
Workwise, it doesn’t influence me much. It actually reduces the time I spend on transportation. What affects me the most is probably my workout. I used to do Barre four times a week, but now the gym is still shut down, and now I can only do some indoor workouts following YouTubers.
Also, COVID stops me from watching movies in the cinema.
What is your favorite film?
My favorite one is “Lost in Translation”. I love the delicate scene film with depth. Recently, I watched a movie called Shoplifter. It’s a famous Japanese movie released in 2018. The story talks about love and the bond of people who live on the margin of society. I think this film is also a masterpiece.
What's your advice for anyone moving from China to the States?
Be open-minded, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also, I would say taking part in more recreational activities, especially outdoors. There are many accessible outdoor activities, such as trails in natural parks, kayaking, skiing, etc.
What was your experience like at UNC-Chapel Hill?
The weather there is similar to my hometown. Chapel Hill is also a beautiful green city where there are many parks. I enjoyed hiking with friends every weekend. My graduate study at UNC was also fruitful. In my spare time, I was a research assistant working on data analysis in genetics. You know, UNC is famous for its sports. So we had a group in our department watching basketball and football games together. What precious memories!
Which charity are you involved with?
Hope For Paws, a non-profit animal rescue group. The employees and volunteers will rescue animals facing death or danger, provide medical care, and help them find foster families. I first knew of this organization via their Youtube channel. I think it’s very meaningful to embrace all living creatures.
Did you have pets growing up?
No. I hope I can have one. Maybe a small dog.
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