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Dara Ladjevardian
Houston, Texas
Expat Society Georgetown

My grandfather taught me to believe in the worth of every human being.

Growing up in a Persian household, my parents continuously reminded me to seek opportunities with a sense of purpose. That's pretty much what every Persian parent does, but I listened anyways. From learning hit songs like "I Got A Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas on the piano, to getting wrecked literally everyday at football practice on the offensive line, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity presented. But the more I learned about the world and my place in it, I conceded that the reality is contrary to my grandfather’s premise: I am one of billions of people, on one of billions of planets; I am statistically insignificant. 

Growing up in Texas, there only seemed to be very few ways of "being". What you wore, what you said, what you believed, how you looked, all compared to a certain standard of southern lifestyle. As a dark-skinned kid who started shaving his mustache in fourth grade, I had a bit of work to do. I was one of billions of people, but I was also one of very few who could not meet the expectations of southern culture.

Attempting to fit unexplainable questions into a consistent worldview, I turned to science and math. I always found computers fascinating. The idea of automating daily processes through computer code, basically another human language, motivated me to further this interest. And in these studies, I discovered the phenomenon of data. 2.5 quintillion bytes of data come out everyday. 90% of the world's data has been created in the last two years alone. We are in a time right now to take advantage of this new but abundant source of progress. Let me explain. 

Think of the quote from The Dark Knight Rises. "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up." To succeed, there has to be some sort of failure in order to learn from such mistakes. Data includes every mistake made in the past. We can manipulate this data to make algorithms that avoid these past mishaps to achieve solutions. This is not insignificant. This makes every past action of every human being somewhat important. If at some point in our future, some form of artificial intelligence looks back on all the data we have on the human race to achieve some sort of prosperous outcome, then everything has been there for a reason. Homelessness, climate change, medical procedures, and more can all be improved through data.

When I was little, I would lie by my grandfather as he mapped constellations in the night sky. He would tell me about his journey from once having it all in Iran, from having absolutely nothing after the Iranian revolution, to working day after day so his family could make it in America. He charged me with the responsibility of achieving something worthwhile. And if he could make it, smuggled passed the Iranian border under the belly of a donkey with nothing but an address in his pocket, and now well off in Houston, Texas with his family, then anyone could, because everyone had that worth and drive. 

I sit back and relax after clicking "run" on the algorithms I have built to collect hundreds of thousands of lines of data to produce a profitable outcome. I learn from conversations with friends on a broad range of knowledge, from the newest tune in the growing disco movement, to what the next trends in Indian society are. I marvel at the unknown connection between these disparate concepts, and although I can’t quantify their relationship, I feel it, so it becomes real to me. While embracing these human acts, I find significance. Our world can’t be aimless and unrelated – it feels too important.

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