Advisory Board

Thomas Eliot

Thomas Eliot is the Executive Director of Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens. Thomas is a recent graduate with a degree in mathematics, an avid traveller, and aspiring savior of humanity.
When Thomas was a kid he was a math whiz. He went to a magnet school and did well and read up on the subject on his own, teaching himself trigonometry. One of his fondest memories is when he was 12 and he got selected to be on a game show. The absurdly titled “Challenge of the Child Geniuses: Who is the Smartest Kid in America?” hosted by Dick Clark of all people, was a two-time ever show on what other channel but Fox. Unfortunately, in high school he got a bit burned out on math. He had a string of bad advice regarding the subject, disliked his AP and multivariable Calculus teachers, and his interest turned to other subjects — primarily politics.
Thomas therefore picked his college, Willamette University, for its strength in that field. He spent his freshman year studying to be a politician: rhetoric, psychology, and political science made up his course load for an entire year before he came to the realization that he could never succeed in American politics and live with himself. Fed up on the whole liberal arts thing, he returned to where his strengths had lain as a child.
Or rather, he would have turned immediately, but an obstruction arose that forced him to delay those plans. His FAFSA was filed late and his scholarships disappeared in a puff of bureaucracy and he was forced to take a year off to wait for them to reappear. However, as luck would have it, he won round trip tickets to Europe in a free raffle held by his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and so for considerably less than the cost of attending school sans scholarships, he spent many a month abroad. he traveled through France, the Netherlands, and Italy, and discovered perhaps his primary passion in life — travel. He rode trains, made lovers, made enemies, and saved a man’s foot, in what was to be only his first adventure abroad.
The start of his mathematics education came as Thomas returned to Willamette that autumn. Dipping his toes in the first year of chemistry, physics, Spanish, as well as Foundations of Advanced Math with Erin McNicholas, and Linear Algebra with Alex Jordan, he promptly rediscovered his love of mathematics. He was then accepted into Penn State’s Mathematics Advanced Study Semester, which he would attend in the fall, but that left his summer completely open. He had plenty of time and energy to get something done, and a lecture given earlier that year by Alan Taylor of Union College had given him the perfect inspiration. A voting system he had been kicking around in his head for years turned out to be his own original invention, and so he wrote it up, formalized it, proved a few traits, and thanks to the generous funding of Pi Mu Epsilon, presented it at MathFest 2009. He won the Pi Mu Epsilon Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research and Presentation and the paper version is currently being reviewed by PME for publication.
In Fall 2009, Thomas attended Penn State’s MASS Program. The classes were extremely hard, and his so-far limited background made them more so — but it may have been for the best, as he was forced to learn an extraordinary amount to keep pace. Anatole Katok taught Groups and Their Connections to Geometry, an extremely difficult class, but the one he ended up doing best in. Andrew Belmonte taught Complex Analysis From a Fluid Dynamics Perspective, which seems to have been a unique class, to say the least. Sergei Tabachnikov, in addition to holding weekly seminars and arranging the colloquiums, taught his favorite class, Explorations in Convexity. That was the class that crystallized his love of geometry.
The following spring Thomas attended the Budapest Semester in Mathematics. I took Combinatorics from Attila Sali, Number Theory from Szabó Csaba, Topics in Analysis from Ambrus Gergely, Differential Geometry from Csikós Balás, and audited Conjecture and Proof. This semester formed the bedrock of his undergraduate mathematical education, finally getting in most of the basic classes he may have found useful before going to the MASS Program.
That summer, after travelling to Africa the first time, he looked back to a project he had done for MASS: a construction of the convex regular polytopes in every dimension. He expanded it into a more thorough paper and a rather creative presentation. Thanks to Pi Mu Epsilon he again was given the opportunity to present at MathFest, and his talk was a hit. So much so in fact that David Massey of Northeastern University and the Worldwide Center of Mathematics invited him to be the first undergraduate expository speaker at the Center. The paper version is currently being edited before submission to Mathematics Magazine.
In Summer 2011, Thomas attended the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence’s Rationality Boot Camp, where he trained in epistemic and functional rationality, in order to better be able to learn true things and act within in the world. As a result, he decided to switch his career track from primarily academia to the private and nonprofit sector, in order to attempt to make a bigger and more important impact in the world.
To that end, he cofounded a philanthropic foundation, Saving Humanity from Homo Sapiens, of which he ais the Executive Director. SHfHS uses its $1.5 million endowment to seek out researchers and academics doing work in the field of Existential Risk Reduction — reducing the chances that a global catastrophe could cause humans to go extinct — and provide them with funding.
In particular, Thomas is concerned about the possibility of the Singularity, a hypothesized future event where a smarter-than-human Artificial Intelligence with the ability to edit its own code makes itself so much smarter and more powerful than humanity that we cannot hope to stand in the way of it accomplishing whatever it was programmed to do. This could, for example, include, if programmed poorly, turning all available matter (including humans) into rocketships or some equivalent. Conversely, if programmed well, the Singularity could be the single most beneficial event in the history of humanity. To that end, he is taking Stanford’s online Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning courses.
Thomas authored Explorations in Negative Voting and A Construction of the Regular Polytopes of All Dimensions. Read his blog.