WHERE ARE THEY NOW? AN INTERVIEW WITH QUEST ALUMNUS Easton Smith

In this blog series, “Where are they now?”, alumni can reflect on their academic, social and physical journey through Quest’s undergraduate education. We have been asking some Quest alumni to write a few words about Quest, their experience, and where it has taken them. Here are some words from recent graduate Easton Smith:

 

Who are you?

Easton Smith, 28 years old, from Madison, Wisconsin. Currently floating between Vancouver and Squamish. Finishing up a Masters of Bioethics at Columbia University in New York.

What attracted you the most to Quest University Canada when deciding which university you would like to attend?

Two main things:

One, an obsession with mountain biking that brought me to the area before applying. I was spending summers in the sea-to-sky mountain biking, and spent a year before Quest at the University of Victoria.

Two, I was already interested in Colorado College. One of my best friends went there, and it sounded rad. Finding a similar University in Squamish was the most serendipitous thing ever.

What was your Question? 

My question was: To what extent can technology improve the human condition?

In public policy and international development, I am a technological optimist, I am also some kind of futurist/ transhumanist. My question reflects my interest in understanding and critically examining the role of technology in both of these arenas: public policy and transhumanism.

In development issues and public policy I was interested in how technological change can be used for good, and how public policy should address/nurture/control technological change.

Within transhumanism, I was interested in, for instance, how technology could, and whether it should, be used to change human nature. Emerging biotechnology will empower us to re-write our own genetic code, and that is an alarming and enormously consequential development. How we use the technology is a philosophical choice. I wanted to learn both what we can do, and what I think we ought to do with such tech.

My keystone was on the philosophy of artificial intelligence. I defended the idea that a classical computer can be conscious, and that the human brain is an evolved classical computer.

This philosophy of mind problem is important in transhumansim because transhumanists often imagine humans will hybridize with computers, or that humans will upload their minds to computers. Whether or not these uploads would be human, would feel anything, or would be zombie automatons, is a hugely consequential philosophical question. The consequences for how we should develop AI, and whole brain emulation, are huge. That’s where my interest originated in my thesis project originated.

Tell us about one/some of your favourite moments at Quest (Maybe an event, class, or other memories).

There are way to many to choose.

My favourite event was probably a night ski tour at Red Heather, in the middle of the week and in the middle of the hardest class I ever took at Quest.

There was 2 feet of fresh snow damping all the noise on the mountain. The moon was full, and the stars were out. We had our headlamps off and we popped above the treeline and were shocked to see the apparition of the northern lights. A solar storm sent the lights south, we found out later. Our eyes were adjusted so well at that the lights were insanely vivid.

I also enjoyed the 50 person Thanksgiving we hosted in the Swift Creek residence on year.

What are you doing now? Did Quest play a part in that at all?

As I mentioned, I am finishing up my masters in bioethics. I felt insanely well prepared for my program because of my Quest education. Bioethics is an interdisciplinary subject that complements a Quest degree really well. I also worked for an engineering firm for a while and was glad to have my degree, though sometimes it seemed like a lifetime of tinkering with mountain bikes was more useful than having briefly studied statistical mechanics.

What do you think is the benefit of going to a small liberal arts and science university versus a large traditional one?

I learned way more at Quest than I have at Columbia University in New York. I say with total confidence that Quest’s teaching model is WAY BETTER than Columbia’s.

Quest’s educational model is way more engaging and covers the most important subjects more comprehensively than most; it is way better suited to human nature and the way humans learn and socialize, and it is way better complemented to modern information technology. The block program is amazing. Every school should switch to the block program, in my opinion.

I have strong opinions about this, because I transferred from University of Victoria where I sort of studied economics, and did this Ivy League excursion.

It is up to Quest students how useful their degree will be. Choose classes wisely. When in doubt, study math. Math opens doors. Choose courses that open doors. You are making up your major. Like choosing a traditional major, designing your concentration has big consequences.

Quest, and liberal arts education in general, is the ultimate privilege. The liberal in liberal arts originates in the Latin for freedom. The freedom the term refers to is the freedom of the privileged to study things not directly linked to making a living. Since antiquity, they have been the liberal arts have been the things that only free people can afford to study. That said the skills you learn studying the liberal arts, can make you better at making a living in the modern economy.

Academics look for students from liberal arts colleges like Quest:

Thomas Cech is a nobel prize winning chemist at UC Boulder, he argues that liberal arts students make better researchers: https://www.hhmi.org/sites/default/files/Programs/cech_article.pdf

Anything else you would like to add about Quest and how it has shaped you and what you are surprised about, etc?

I hated school until I went to Quest. I dropped out of high school as a stubborn and insanely bored kid. Quest changed my life and salvaged what was left of my intellectual potential, and I am very grateful.

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