Boy Genius Meets Scientist: Fun Ensues

By Steve Hamm, IBM Writer.

Tanishq Abraham, child prodigy
Tanishq Abraham, child prodigy

Tanishq Abraham is just 10 years old but he has already accomplished a lot in life. He learned to read when he was just months old, became a Mensa member at age 4 and is now enrolled in college. What does he want to be when he grows up? “A medical researcher,” he says, and, as an afterthought: “The president of the United States.”On Monday evening, Tanishq charmed an audience at New York’s 92nd Street Y, when he appeared with IBM Research scientist Dario Gil in the last installment of the organization’s “Seven Days of Genius” program. The program, using the tag #thatsgenius on Twitter, explored the nature of genius and the potential for especially bright people to have an outsize impact on the world.

Dario Gil describes chip fabrication to Tanishq Abraham
Dario Gil describes chip fabrication to Tanishq Abraham

Monday’s event introduced the audience to two people who are passionately interested in science. Tanishq became fascinated with paleontology when he was 4 years old, then turned to astronomy, then biotechnology. His current passion is nano medicine. While he’s taking two courses at American River College, near his home in Sacramento, Calif., he also studies online via Coursera. He likes online courses the best because, “I can move at my own pace,” he said.

Dario’s science epiphany came when he was at university. Inspired by a physics professor, he was thrilled when he studied molecules using an Atomic Force Microscope. Now he’s director of symbiotic cognitive systems at IBM Research and an avid proponent of harnessing smart machines to augment human intelligence. “I can imagine a day when we all have mental superpowers, which we can use to serve humanity,” he told Tanishq.

The pair agreed on a lot–the importance of STEM studies, the dangers posed by the anti-science crowd in the United States, and the value of hands-on education. Neither expects machines to take over any time soon.

Asked by the moderator what keeps him up at night, Tanishq confessed that he doesn’t go to sleep easily, but he said he’s not kept awake by worries. “If you have an optimistic attitude, the world will get better,” he said. He predicted cures for malaria, cancer and tuberculosis in his lifetime–and that, eventually, people will routinely live past age 100 or even 200.

In the presence of a smart, charming, optimistic child, it’s easy believe in the promise of the future.

To learn more about the new era of computing, read Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Systems.