Carol E. Reiley is a computer scientist, roboticist, and entrepreneur. She is a pioneer in teleoperated and autonomous robot systems in applications such as surgery, space exploration, disaster rescue and self-driving cars. Carol E. Reiley has built products for surgical robotic systems at Intuitive Surgical, space robotic systems at Lockheed Martin, and self-driving cars at drive.ai. In 2011, Carol E. Reiley founded and ran Tinkerbelle Labs, a company focused on empowering hobbyists to build low-cost, do-it-yourself projects. She was an instructor at Johns Hopkins University co-teaching intersession courses Haptics For Surgical Robotics (2006), and Developing Facebook Apps (2009). Carol E. Reiley is also a children’s book writer and brand ambassador and is the author and publisher of Making a Splash, a children’s book about growth mindset (2015). In 2015, she co-founded drive.ai, and is now founding a new startup launching this year, as well as serving on the Santa Clara University Engineering Advisory Board. Please enjoy my interview with the inspiring Carol E. Reiley.

When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?

I’m a roboticist. I want to save the world – one robot at a time. I do that through building and leading tech companies that help humanity at scale.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been reading several books to gain more of global perspective and learn lessons from history. I’m focused on foreign diplomacy, world history, and human rights which has had a profound impact on my recent thoughts. I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of emotions as I’ve been horrified to read about things we as humans have done to each other. Things we weren’t taught in school. At first, I felt naive and now feel an urgency to do something. At the same time, I also feel a sense of deep appreciation for the resiliency and kindness in people. I’ve been trying to understand the layers of being human to feel empathy for what some others have gone through. It’s opened me up to how lucky I am to be living in this time period and the rights that I have. And the fights for injustices around the globe still to be had.

What’s your earliest memory of reading?

Sounds super nerdy but the public library was one of my favorite spots when I was a young kid – a chance to see and explore things I hadn’t seen in my young world. Libraries still are a very special place for me.

the babysitters clubMy earliest memory reading was during silent reading time in elementary school growing up in Washington state. I remember being in 2nd and 3rd grade getting little prizes for milestones hit on pages read such as popcorn scoops to free Round Table Pizzas to free books. It really encouraged me to read if just for the free swag at first.

Series books are fantastic and now I think of them like fictional case studies for kids. I used to devour Goosebumps by R.L. Stine, American Girl, The Babysitters Club by Ann M. Martin and the Sweet Valley High books by Francine Pascal to name a few of my favorites.

The Babysitters Club actually inspired me to start my own business at age 10 which expanded into a neighborhood dog walking business. I copied a variation of the business model that those fictional characters built. It was fantastic to read about kids who ran a long-term small business and the organizational pieces necessary beyond a weekend lemonade stand example. They had dues, bylaws, meetings, financial woes, marketing and low clientele issues, competitive threats, employee morale, and customer satisfaction problems.

What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact has it had?

The book that had the single biggest impact on my life was Mindsets by Carol Dweck. The growth mindset framework helped me understand that it’s not just about “being smart”, it’s about how to elegantly encounter failure and stay motivated during tough times. It made me realize that the brain is like a muscle that needs training and to be constantly worked out. It’s helped me overcome obstacles, challenges life hands you, take bold risks. It inspired me to found an education company, Squishybotz, and write a children’s book on the topic called “Making a Splash” because there were none at the time since I felt this was such an important concept, particularly for those that grew up in the trophy generation.

If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?

I’d hope that my growth mindset children’s book Making a Splash influences young minds. I’m working on the sequel/Series because as I believe in seeing a certain concept through various different examples so you have a mental model. Honestly just read anything that resonates, just read! I would just advise them to reach for topics they know little about to help them expand their mind.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?

I’ve been fortunate and loved the jobs I’ve had – from my first job on a local cable tv show Homework Helpline to being a hospital volunteer, to working at the computer lab in college, to tech companies, to doing my own startups. If I had to pick one job I liked the least, it would be back in college when I worked at the front desk of the student body office. It was frustrating for me since I wasn’t able to make leadership decisions or do anything impactful. It made me realize that having a job with impact and having a strong voice was more important than money. It was a great place to get homework done though. Time is the same for everyone, so spend it on something that made you feel fulfilled and feeds your soul. This perspective helped me make the choice to go to grad school where I earned close to nothing, but I loved it.

Do you read as much as you’d like to?

This year has been fantastic! I’ve had some time off and I’ll be exceeding my goal of 100 books through reading books and listening to audiobooks. The more I read, the more books I want to read. I’ve come to the sad realization that there’s too many great books I’ll never get to read. But I think it’s important not only to read but to take action and do something! There’s just never enough time for everything.

If a complete novice was looking to read just five books as an introduction to A.I., which three would you recommend and why?

Fictional:

1) I Robot by Issac Asimov.

2) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Textbook:

3) Machine Learning Yearning by Andrew Ng (free copy).

4) Machine Learning by Tom Mitchell.

5) Deep Learning by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio, Aaron Courville.

the hard thing about hard thingsIs there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?

I reread The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz recently about the wild ride of entrepreneurship. It’s resonated in different ways and new insights came up now that several years have passed. I took different messages to heart as I’m starting a new startup.

What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?

The books I recommend the most are also my all-time favorite books, and they are: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. All for very different reasons.  I’ve reread them multiple times. Growing up, I also loved Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott which showed me there could be headstrong heroines – coincidentally both characters loved books and were educators. As well as anything by Roald Dahl.

What’s your favourite genre of book and why?

I read mostly nonfiction – a lot of startup and entrepreneurship books. I’ve learned so much about leadership through the experience of others.

What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?

I am always fascinated by learning – whether it’s humans or machines. I’m constantly trying to train my brain to think in new ways. I wrote a book on growth mindset to dive into children’s’ psychology of motivation. My grad studies were focused on how surgeons are trained and how they learn to become experts. And I work in machine learning to figure out how robots can have intelligence.

A lot of people assume that artificial intelligence is neutral and it has no error. However, one of the biggest problems with AI today is our existing human bias being reflected and amplified. When we’re designing products for applications like self-driving cars or healthcare, it’s important to make sure all minority groups are accurately represented and heard to ensure safety and fairness. So I’ll be delving heavily into this issue as well.

If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?

Learning to learn: a manual for humans or robots.

If you’d like to learn more about Carol E. Reiley, you can find her on her website and Twitter.

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