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Undergraduate Spotlight: Renos Zabounidis ‘22

Renos Zabounidis

Renos Zabounidis '22, a junior majoring in computer science, mathematics, and a Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) in computational and cognitive science, recently received a UMass Amherst Rising Researcher Award and a Goldwater Scholarship.

Having taken advanced classes at UMass Amherst, worked in campus labs, and benefited from summer internships, Zabounidis has settled on a bold research quest: to fuse principles from cognitive psychology and statistical machine learning to better understand the nature of intelligence. He plans to continue his research into the human side of artificial intelligence as a doctoral student and eventually as a university professor.

Zabounidis dug into undergraduate research early, working in the Advanced Healthcare and Human Analytics Lab (AHHA) during his first semester at UMass. There, he and another undergraduate created a mobile application for the monitoring and management of movement disorders such as Parkinson's Disease.

Through that lab work, Zabounidis discovered he was more interested in theoretical than applied research and, after thriving in a master's level machine learning class, moved on to work in the UMass Information Fusion Lab with Madalina Fiterau, assistant professor of computer science. His work there was unparalleled and speedy. "He is exceptionally gifted, demonstrating enthusiasm about doing research and diligence in completing projects," Fiterau says. In addition to Fiterau, Zabounidis lists Hava Siegelmann, professor at CICS, and Katia Sycara, research professor in robotics at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, as his mentors.

Last summer, Zabounidis participated in a robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University. There, drawing on his two years of UMass research and advanced courses, he created an algorithm, called "Introspection," that applies an interdisciplinary approach to imbuing artificial intelligence with more human qualities.

"Humans can't fully understand what's in another person's brain and, furthermore, people change their beliefs over time," Zabounidis explains. "In order for AI to be helpful, it has to understand what a person is thinking as well as what they should be thinking and are not. The intent of the algorithm is to make inferences about what humans feel, their confidence level, and what they might do at any given moment." He will continue work on the algorithm this summer.

"This field of research is what I'm passionate about," he says. "There's always more to be found."

Recently, Zabounidis was one of three UMass Amherst juniors who were awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, covering tuition, mandatory fees, books and room and board.

The original version of this story appeared as a UMass Amherst featured article.