Thanks for joining me today for this interview.
Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Siraj from India, a software developer who loves working with computers. I am also a big fan of engineering in general. Over the last two years, I have been an AI evangelist. I have been preaching the benefits of using AI tools like ChatGPT to everyone I meet.
How would you describe yourself as a person?
I tend to try and reach what I don't have. Having spent my childhood in India, I have always been fascinated with the Western lifestyle, access to modern technology, and opportunities that seemed out of my reach. This made me ambitious to achieve more than what was around me and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.
Did your fascination with tech begin when you were still young?
I would say watching Hollywood movies played a big role in sparking my interest in sci-fi and fantasy. Films like The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean introduced me to imaginative concepts and inspired me to think about exploring what's possible with technology.
Studying abroad is definitely one way of fulfilling your dream. When did you start pursuing it actively?
After finishing our Bachelor's program in India, my friends and I started looking for ways to study or work in the US or Canada. But the super high costs of student visas over there meant they weren't an option for us anymore, as we didn't have a lot of money as new graduates. So we had to put our plans on pause for a while.
What motivated you to come to Russia?
I started working remotely for a Canadian company, hoping to get some experience and a visa eventually. But things didn't work out as expected. In 2018, when Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup, my Canadian boss sponsored a get-together in Russia. As soon as I arrived, I instantly fell in love with the country and decided to stay.
And how did you learn about ITMO?
When I started looking into Russia, St. Petersburg blew me away. I read some articles that titled it the loveliest city in Europe. After visiting this city, I searched for programs that aligned with my goals and learned that ITMO has the top machine learning program in Russia, and it's also reasonably priced compared to Western universities. So that's how I ended up enrolling in a Master's program at ITMO.
What is it like to study at ITMO?
I started the Big Data and Machine Learning program with enthusiasm, but I didn't complete it. I wanted to expand my education into something more diverse and multidisciplinary. So, I switched to ITMO's Master's program Art & Science. Here, I really enjoyed exploring my perspectives beyond just technology. My professors and classmates embraced thinking outside the box. After graduating, my goal was to gain business skills to address global issues like hunger, disease, and sustainability. So I decided to pursue yet another Master's degree at ITMO, this time in the program High-Tech Business Management.
What are your plans next?
I'm not stopping anytime soon. After years of diverging through art & science and business, I'm now converging on biotech – I think it will be massive in the coming decade. Currently, I'm working on a university project that I believe will help biotechnologists accomplish more in less time. After graduating, I plan to pursue a PhD in biotechnology or a Master’s in bioinformatics here at ITMO. I want to keep not only developing AI tools that assist biotech experts in solving problems, but also creating new techniques that could help humanity achieve immortality!
That sounds very interesting. Can you elaborate on that?
I think everyone on earth deserves the chance to explore the universe or even the multiverse. And extending human life is how we can make that possible. Biotechnology has the best opportunity right now to develop ways for people to live free of disease and death. Sure, immortality may seem unrealistic today, but with innovative tools like gene editing, we can do a lot more than what humans are capable of today. Some animals can hear ultrasonic sounds or see infrared light – what if we used their genes to create improved humans with incredible new abilities? Those kinds of possibilities really excite me.
You think cyborgs could be a reality someday?
Totally! When I think of a cyborg, I think of a human-machine hybrid. I don't think we'll be cyborgs in that sense. But advancements and convergence across biotech, materials science, and AI will help us become whoever we want and create whatever we like. It's like how today we can prompt DALL-E 3 to draw anything – we will be able to prompt reality itself to be and do anything.
Uploading our consciousness has been suggested as a way to attain immortality. Do you agree?
I don't think so. Yes, an uploaded mind may seem like me and people may interact with it as if it was me, but it's not really me. But, if we could decrease the latency between myself and a computer clone, offloading some mental processes in real time, then we could potentially be the same person. For true immortality, I believe the original biological body and brain should be preserved. My opinions on this will surely change as we unlock more mysteries around consciousness and the brain.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
It's tough for me to say. For most of my goals, I love the process itself more than the end result. Maybe in five years I'll have my own growing startup. Or maybe I'll still be exploring new opportunities. I like to optimize different areas of life and grab opportunities along the way. I want to keep my adventurous spirit alive as long as possible.
So, what does the entrepreneur in you think about the startup ecosystem in Russia?
I think Russia pushes young people to be entrepreneurs. There are tons of grants and funding for students here. Many top global companies were actually started by Russians, even if they live abroad now.
Some say Russia's economy is presently unstable. But a wise entrepreneur once told me that recessions are the perfect time to start something – you can win over an audience and scale massively when conditions improve. So, I hope to take advantage of the current climate in Russia.
Any mantra for success that you would like to share with our readers?
I really don’t have any mantras as such. But I would encourage everyone to live in the present. Focus on what you have right now, be ambitious, and always have a growing mindset. Don’t be scared of taking risks and exploring uncharted territories. Success will come to you eventually.