After earning a master’s degree in computer science from Baylor, George Montañez earned a master’s and a PhD in machine learning from Carnegie Mellon University. Today, he is a data scientist for Microsoft, focusing on artificial intelligence and research.
Montañez says his fascination in machine learning was sparked during a Baylor class with Dr. Greg Hamerly, associate professor of computer science. Another Baylor professor, Dr. Robert J. Marks II, Distinguished Professor of electrical and computer engineering, encouraged Montañez to consider a PhD program and pursue data science as a career.
“Providence brought me to this field through the influence of others,” Montañez says. “In retrospect, I am quite happy to have entered this particular area. It has led to many blessings such as incredible job opportunities and interesting research questions.”
Data sciences are an intricate part of the work Montañez does on a daily basis at Microsoft, where he builds machine learning systems—constructs that improve performance with experience.
“Data science provides the mathematical backbone for all the systems I build,” he says. “Without the statistical and probabilistic foundation, the algorithms would not work; they would become rough heuristics informed by gut feelings. In addition to being useful in building the systems, data science helps us to test the systems and reason about when they’re effective, instead of just lucky.”
Some people look fearfully at advances in computer learning. Montañez, however, proposes that data science today reflects advances developed during the Industrial Revolution—the steam engine for example. Groundbreaking discoveries happen on a daily basis as a result of advances in data science. Montañez says he and others in his field sense and understand that data science and machine learning “will eventually transform our society, but we may not realize the extent to which this transformation has already begun nor how sweeping the changes will be.”
As an example, Montañez describes how machines are already replacing and lapping human ability in many fields. He points out that “increases in productivity through automation have historically benefited industrialized society in the long-term” and that displacement of human workers can be difficult.
“Autonomous robotic systems should eventually replace humans in dangerous lines of work such as mining or roof-repair and will improve access to medical treatment through low-cost intelligent diagnosis systems, robotic surgeons and automated drug discovery methods,” Montañez says.
He sees a future where companies will sell generalized robotic platforms that can be programmed to perform common household tasks like cooking or mowing the yard or be upgraded to become autonomous master plumbers, electricians and bricklayers.
“Imagine an app store full of ‘capability apps’ you can download into your bot, based on your own needs as they arise,” Montañez says. “While this may sound like
science fiction, humanoid self-balancing robots are already here, as are intelligent conversational systems with capability ecosystems, like Amazon’s Alexa. Such innovation will continue to rapidly advance in capability and autonomy.”
Montañez also says Baylor is exceptionally positioned to take on an important role in the future of data sciences “by allowing its Christian perspective to guide the development of data-driven systems, upholding principles of honesty, transparency, charity and humility.”