Learning How to Learn


When I was 10 years old, a teacher said something that stayed with me my whole life. It kick-started my whole learning and life journey, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

In the 5th grade we always had kickball Tuesdays. There was one particular Tuesday when assigned team captains were allowed to pick their teams. I was not the first pick (my small Chinese frame was not built for tough American sport). After the 3rd or 4th pick my teacher said, “You guys should pick Johnny, he’s really fast.” I’m not sure why she said that because I’d never demonstrated any physical ability in front of her apart from swinging on some monkey bars. I was finally picked by the second team. Here’s the strange thing, I ran really fast for the whole game. I actually ran faster because he told m I was fast.


Same teacher, different day. We had a drawing exercise in which we had to turn a number into a character. I think I drew a 6 and turned it into an unrecognizable dragon. The teacher put our drawings on the wall and said, “Johnny, you draw well.” I really didn’t, but from that day on I kept drawing. I drew so much it became a part of my character. For college I decided to pursue animation and media arts. I found a career in video game concept art which lead me into a career of fashion.

I think about the enormity of that moment all the time. She told me those things, and then my malleable young brain did them. What if she had never said those words to me? It’s insane to think about how much bearing something simple like that can have. My teacher taught me that you can really be or learn anything that you want to, if you’re told you can. So my passion is learning. Not designing, not drawing, not poker (I played professionally for a while), but learning. I’ve changed careers multiple times. Every time I felt I wasn’t learning anymore, I quit.


I’m currently the VP of Product at AirHelp, which leverages AI and justice to help air passengers globally. We’re building and scaling an incredibly efficient system, just by imitating and automating human thought processes. Imagine if you could always have the power of a malleable ten-year-old mind. Well, that’s AI. Except the difference is AI can be trained in every discipline and at lightning speed.


We tell the algorithm a truth, then the algorithm gets to work acting on that truth. It’s as simple as that. I’m coming to TEDx to show why I believe AI is not just something that should be embraced by any company that wants to create impact, but by everyone, everywhere. magine a child who never gets bored, or tired, or hungry... and whose ability to learn increases exponentially.