As a teenager in Yugoslavia, Zoran Popovic loved computers and video games. He gained work study in America in the mid-80s and returned for college at Brown where he studied computer science. After earning a Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon, Popovic consulted in gaming for a few years before joining the staff at the University of Washington in 2004, where he became the Director of Center for Game Science in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering.

Listen in as Popovic shares more about where his journey in computer science has taken him both in his education and professionally, and how we can help today’s students be successful using artificial intelligence:

Podcast Interview Highlights

With a couple graduate students, Popovic led the development of Foldit, a game designed to tackle the problem of protein folding. By knowing how protein structures, we can better understand their function, and better attack disease involving proteins including AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s. The game launched in 2008 and won many awards and put Popovic on the international map.

As the Director of Center for Game Science, launched in 2010, the combination of gaming, crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence continues to be his academic sweet spot.

In 2012, Popovic founded a nonprofit to help teachers personalize learning. The Enlearn platform uses classroom data to make content and learning more effective.

  • Enlearn diagnoses misconceptions and helps teachers identify learning gaps and provide the right content or learning experience at the right time for every student,” said Chief Learning Officer Sandi Everlove.
  • Enlearn uses open content in math. In English languages arts, Enlearn powers a K-5 solution from Voyager Sopris.
  • Popovic hopes to keep the platform free with premium background services.

With growing concerns about data security, Popovic hopes parents don’t opt out of our smart apps and “miss out on leveraging learning experiences with kids with similar preferences.”

On the rush to “coding for all” Popovic thinks it’s the wrong thing. He’d like to see a focus on computational thinking. He’d like to see students solving problems, learning what to do when stuck.”That’s the essence of computer science.”

Like his UW colleague Pedro Domingos, author of Master Algorithm, Popovic sees big data tools being applied more broadly to global problems. How will novice advocates pick the right data tool? Popovic is on it: “I’m an Accessibility guy.” With an NSF grant he’s working on a system that keeps the user in the loop and combines algorithm and experts to apply data tools to real world problems.

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