Tristan Donaldson – Overcoming Final Hurdles

I will admit that my project this summer has been harder than expected. But I think that the reason is because I am genuinely invested in what I have been doing and felt like I wanted it to be as perfect as possible. I also consider this research as a central component of my concentration and writing my rationale alongside it this summer helped me to finalize all the dimensions and specific direction of my project’s thesis – a task that took far longer than originally planned. In fact, in the last 3 weeks the underlying argument of my project changed from aiming to understand how Chinese culture shapes the development of AI to aiming to understand how China’s unique national context informs the specific deployment of brain-inspired AI for the purpose of fulfilling political goals. I found myself encountering endless roadblocks with my previous research question and the conclusions I would draw were either too obscure or far fetched. The thesis change was thus an important step in helping my research process continue to flow successfully. It took me the entirety of June and July’s worth of research to finally realize that I needed a thesis alteration. It wasn’t about changing my topic, but rather changing my approach to the topic. I am still researching the same fundamental variables i.e. Chinese political history, neuroscience and AI. Now I am just organizing my thoughts and my argument around these same variables albeit in a different way.

Unfortunately, it has also been a difficult last month trying to get in contact with Chinese professionals willing to speak about “Chinese neuroscience” and Chinese AI. I was even advised by one of my close, professional contacts in China that it will be unlikely to find someone willing to talk about such topics with someone coming from a Western education background (that being me). 

I did reach out to a Western researcher on Chinese AI policy, however, who was very receptive to my request to meet and talk. While his specialty is not specifically Chinese neuroscience or Chinese brain-inspired AI (the focus of my research) I’ve learned throughout this process that gathering as much information and perspectives as possible, even on things that are not directly related to my research topic, can elucidate different ways of looking at things that turn out to be exceptionally helpful to my specific research question.

As for where I am now, I’m finished with what I consider to be the most difficult part of the research. I can see the skeleton structure of my completed project and it’s just about adding meat to the bones now. I don’t foresee the next two weeks being easy however, but I do feel confident that I’ll be ready and comfortable to submit a compelling research project within the time remaining this summer. If I had any advice for new researchers it would be to focus less on trying to create something that seems interesting and more on creating a robust skeleton and thesis. Once you have that, interesting interpretations and conclusions will follow.