Photo of Jeremy in front of trees and a skyline

Jeremy Goldwasser Is Making AI More Trustworthy

By on March 6, 2024

Jeremy is a PhD candidate in Statistics but he’s just as much “art” as “science.” It very much felt to me that this burgeoning stats wonk had the spirit of a poet—one who is keenly interested in language, reads avidly, and plays the flute no less. I found that reassuring in this time of proliferating AI, which Jeremy works on, by the way, with a refreshingly humanitarian focus.

Over Zoom, we discussed scathing (but playful) Yiddish phrases, a secret grotto, different ways of thinking about ritual, and the recent proliferation of AI. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Jason: Jeremy! What was your Jewish community like growing up in Marin?

Jeremy: I always complained upon going to college that my Jewish upbringing was not Jewish enough, which is ironic because then I met people from actual rural America or somewhere like Texas, and that was something else entirely. I did grow up around Jewish friends. Nevertheless, Judaism for me then was grounded in family and the home rather than something I felt super-communal about. We celebrated the major holidays and occasionally went to services. 

Was there any aspect that you felt particularly connected to?

I loved the Yiddishisms I learned from my dad or his friends or my grandfather. That was always something really special and exciting and became a fun part of my identity. They were almost like these magic phrases, because Yiddish felt like such a weird, whimsical language. 

It’s so silly but I thought the insults were the funniest thing. For 13-year-old Jeremy, “Du zolst vaksn vi a tsibele mitn kop in dr’erd” was the peak of humor. It means “May you grow like an onion with your head stuck in the ground!” So, yes, the wit is something that I gravitated towards.

It sounds like college might have been an inflection point in your Jewishness? 

It wasn’t until college that my Jewish identity flourished. When it had been more family-oriented, it had felt like a more of a top-down expression of who I was. But in college, I got to really grow more into it in my own sense. I met more Jewish friends, ventured into more Jewish spaces, and got to the point where most weeks I would go to Shabbat services and dinner. I also definitely grew more connected to Israel. I did Birthright and also a summer internship in Tel Aviv midway through college.

What was it like to live in Tel Aviv? 

Such a good experience. I grew a lot culturally as a Jew from it and politically, in terms of understanding the conflict better. Learning about Israel felt incredibly formative in an intellectual sense. It gave me the capacity for a lot of nuance where I was able to acknowledge the limitations of what I knew and was capable of feeling strongly about. Because it’s like a hydra; you learn one thing about Israel and then you realize, you hardly know anything.  

The hydra is such a good image! What about these days? What shape has your Jewish life been taking?

I’m doing my PhD at Cal [UC Berkeley], which is wonderful and an amazing school but there isn’t too much of a institutional Jewish community for grad students, which is a challenge. I’m feeling a desire to plug into more Jewish communities or cultural life or even more religious learning. Gather has helped and been great. I’ve met some really wonderful friends and had some nice experiences. 

After October 7 in particular, I felt a strong need to develop connections with people who felt very deeply about what was going on there, and I’ve made a number of strong friendships around that, which has been a silver lining of the last few months. 

So, you’re a PhD student in statistics. When did that path start beckoning to you? 

I was a stats major with the very boring notion of wanting to do something with math, but I wasn’t thrilled about it. Then I did that internship in Israel and had an exciting opportunity with an AI startup to learn about that space. I found that this transformative technology at the core of AI is just tying together a lot of different areas of math, including statistics. That made me really enthusiastic about a potential career and gave me a focus.

With all the hype and talk and hysteria about AI these days, how are you feeling about it? 

I definitely didn’t expect it would be this good this fast. The pace of progress is exciting but a little terrifying, too. The big players in the AI spaces are all gigantic tech corporations so I’m skeptical that it’s going to be used all that responsibility. That’s one reason I’ve made my focus working on explainability and trustworthiness, especially in the context of potentially using AI for things like epidemiology. I want to use these powerful tools to benefit human society. The way I know how to do that is to use them in a very grounded way with theoretically-fleshed out processes.

On another note, you’ve been part of GatherBay’s first learning cohort. Anything stand out about that experience so far?

It’s been a very inviting space for people without too much institutional Jewish knowledge, which has been wonderful. The theme is ritual, which I thought was a really nice way to dive into exploring Jewish community and my own sense of practice. I’ve been thinking a lot about something Rabbi Gray said which is that there can be this attitude with Jewish ritual where what’s emphasized is what you can’t do, taking stuff away.

“I won’t use electricity.” “I won’t eat this.” 

Rabbi Gray brought up another attitude towards Shabbat, which is,“What are you bringing in? What are you creating for yourself in a more constructive way?” 

I thought that was really beautiful.  

Lovely. Has that influenced your practice at all? 

With regard to Shabbat, I’ve been thinking about what it would mean to develop my own notion of a space of rest and rebirth. For me, it’s been something as simple as going on a walk by myself and grabbing coffee and sitting down at a cafe and having a moment, which is enriching in a way that I hadn’t expected. I’ve appreciated that very personalized but nevertheless faithful interpretation of the spirit of the law.

Now, onto our in-house Proust Questionnaire. Tell me any movie, book, play, song or piece of art or media that you love! 

Apeirogon by Colum McCann is one of many books about the Israel-Palestine conflict but I thought it took a really interesting perspective and focused on the humanity of it. The novel chronicles the stories of two real-life men, one of whom is Palestinian whose daughter was killed in an IDF raid with a stray bullet, and an Israeli man whose daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. I found the book to be very moving. 

What’s the Bay’s best-kept secret? 

Because the GatherBay community is full of good people, I’ll disclose a serious secret: there’s a place called Grotto Rock Park in the Berkeley Hills, which is the most random place but it has arguably the best views of the entire Bay Area. This is such a serious secret to the point where my friends and I agree, if we bring someone there, they’ve really got to be “grotto-worthy.” 

When was a recent time that you felt a spiritual connection?

I play the flute, and this last weekend we had our orchestra concert and were doing a symphony I had pestered the conductor to program—it was one I’ve really wanted to do for almost a decade. It’s a work by Rachmaninoff that I absolutely love, Symphony number two. There was definitely a moment where I felt emotionally connected in a way that I almost never almost never do and I had this moment of seeing the divine, which was gone as quickly as it came. But it was the most rare transcendent feeling. So gratifying.

GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! The series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email