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Han Guo is a senior double-majoring in computer science and statistics and analytics within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. He researches how to build language technologies like automated image captioning.

Han Guo
photo by Alyssa LaFaro

Q: When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A:I remember Thomas Edison making a significant impact on me when I was pretty young, so I thought I would become an inventor like him. Later, I came across books on Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Mark Zuckerberg, and it became clearer to me that I wanted to do something related to technology. Actually, one night in primary school, after reading the book on Zuckerberg, I dreamt of myself coding — and that’s why I learned to code. The single most significant impact, though, came from Steve Jobs. His biography, which I bought right after he passed away, was life-changing. To this day, I have read or listened to the book about five times, and I reread it every year.

Q: Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

A:When I was in high school, I was pretty interested in behavioral economics and statistics. This helped me develop a passion for using numbers to understand the fundamentally random nature of the world. In my first year of college, I worked on a project with my research advisor. I was tasked with using numeric representations of words to understand the evolution of conversation in the Wikipedia talk pages. At the same time, Cornell University professor Lillian Lee gave a talk at UNC on the use of machine learning and statistics to study sentiments and natural language. I was so hooked by the presentation that I fell in love with machine learning and language understanding.

Q: Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

nlp lab
Guo (first row, left) hangs out with members of the UNC Natural Language Processing Lab at a local brewery.

A:One of the more recent technical problems I had was measuring the uncertainties in modern machine learning systems. My usual go-to approach is to read loads of papers and, if possible, talk to people who are experts. In this case, I ended up spending half of the winter break going through the PhD thesis of a professor at Oxford.

Q: Describe your research in 5 words.

A: Teaching machines to understand language.

Q: What are your passions outside of research?

A:Reading papers, books, and the news. Some of the books are directly related to my research, but I enjoy reading things on the economy and mathematics, as well as biographies. Books help me connect my knowledge to other disciplines.

By Endeavors Magazine

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