Could you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Masaharu Ono! I worked at Uber this summer as a software engineer intern on the machine learning platform. I’m a junior at Caltech studying computer science.
What area of computer science intrigues you the most, and why?
Definitely machine learning. In high school, I started doing research on molecular computing in high school at a nearby university. That’s where I saw that there was a big intersection between computation and biology, and machine learning has been really useful for simulations of molecules, intermolecular interactions, and other important topics in biology.
I’ve heard that you have your own startup! Would you mind telling me a little bit about it?
Sure! I created a startup with another student here at Caltech, Tim. It’s called Neurorigin, and the basic premise of what we’re doing is that we’re trying to translate EEG (electroencephalogram) signals into usable input for computers. So, it’s like translating your brain signals into input that a computer can understand. For applications of VR, if you think of moving left or right, then you’d move in the direction you’re thinking of. Or, for example, if you were using your computer and thinking of moving your mouse up or down, then it would move in that direction.
Our interface with technology has been limited to a keyboard and mouse for ages. Our startup aims to remove the medium of control, so that what you think is what you get. We ultimately want to make it possible to directly control what you want to do with your thoughts.
Where did you get the idea for your startup?
Well, I was just working with Tim on sets when we were freshmen, and we just started talking about what we wanted to do after we graduated. We realized that we didn’t want to do software engineering for other people, and that our interests and goals are really aligned. We were both interested in this sort of thing for a long time before coming to Caltech, so when we met during freshman year, we just kind of clicked and decided to work on this together.
How far are you guys in terms of progress?
We’re actually doing pretty well right now! We have pretty good machine learning models and our benchmark tests are performing very well. We’re actually working on improving the hardware we’re using right now, though, because our deep learning models are telling us that our limitations are more in the hardware rather than the software.
What was your favorite computer science class at Caltech?
I really liked CNS 187, which is Computation Neural Networks. It was a mix between how the brain works, and artificial neural networks, which is modeled on real neural networks in the brain. I liked this class because it wasn’t pure computer science, but rather a mix of the biology and the computer science concept. I enjoyed it, it was really hands-on and fun.
What math classes did you find most helpful for understanding the more complicated computer science concepts you’ve had to deal with?
I think linear algebra, probability, and some basic calculus are the most important for machine learning.
What advice do you have for young people trying to start a startup?
Don’t do a startup just for the sake of doing a startup. But if you have an idea or something you’re truly interested in, you have to go all in. It’s great to have a job at a well-established company, but no existing company can satisfy you if you have something you really want to achieve. I’d say that no matter how much money or time you have to invest in it, it’s worth it.