Applying Ethics to Supercomputing with Alumnus Matt Baughman

Introducing Matt Baughman, a Minerva graduate from the Class of 2019 | Mar, 26, 2021

Matt spends most of his working day researching ways to reduce the cost and energy needed to use supercomputers and the cloud. His work aims to help democratize supercomputing so that researchers across different industries can utilize innovative technologies. In some ways, he is like a protector of the cloud but, more formally, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at the University of Chicago and a coordinator for the Computer Science Department’s summer research program.

Coming from a small town in the Midwest region of the United States, Matt was eager to attend Minerva for its exposure to new ideas, people, and places. Looking back, he is grateful to have made this decision as it brought him into a community that changed his mind — even more so than he anticipated — and provided an academic learning environment that exposed him to new avenues of research. At Minerva, Matt concentrated in both computer science and philosophy to approach his work in technology from an ethical perspective. He then utilized his learnings in class to seek opportunities in each city. For example, when he was in Berlin, Matt had the chance to work with Opinary, a local tech startup, to help them improve the way readers engage with online content. Then, during the summer before his third year, Matt interned at the Argonne National Laboratory where he developed an improved method of using genetic algorithms for neural networks in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute.

At the University of Chicago, Matt is currently pursuing a graduate degree with a focus of making supercomputing accessible and cost-effective for all. His work centers on redistributing the technological and intellectual monopolies that large tech companies have on the cloud, a space he feels can be used more efficiently to allow other scientists and researchers to get the most out of these resources. Currently, not all domains are able to benefit from supercomputing abilities, which allow for a wider range of complex computations and can significantly improve performance, because it is an expensive and scarce resource with limited access. And although he works in the field of computer science, his role fundamentally requires and is benefited from an interdisciplinary approach. This socially-focused, interdisciplinary take is rooted in his belief and desire to help expand opportunities and bring people with diverse backgrounds together, which he experienced himself at Minerva. “To be able to do these internships on continents all around the world and to be able to work in very different atmospheres with a variety of unique people, ranging a lot of disparate fields that you’d say wouldn’t normally fit together — it was incredible,” shares Matt.

Now at one of the top schools in the United States for his specific type of research, Matt utilizes the skills he gained at Minerva on a daily basis and sees their effects play out all around him. Drawing from his improved communication and problem-solving skills from living abroad with a global community for the past four years, Matt aims to better relate to and work with the diversity of his colleagues as he problem solves the next steps in his research.

While technology is ever-changing, Matt hopes his work will have a lasting effect on the ways that high-performance computing is accessible. Whether someone has vast financial support or should not hinder their ideas from becoming a computational reality. “At the end of the day, we all have something to learn from everyone else. For those of us who can, it is our job to enable the strengths of others by building systems and curating information that empowers fast, efficient, and informed decision making.”

If you were inspired by Matt’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.