Dustin Eric Sharon Erin Sheila

Thirty one years ago Dustin was baptized at Christ Church in Rye, New York. In those days they had private baptisms. So, our family gathered–almost all of whom are here today.  If I recall correctly we started a bit late, but as a result when the priest finished and held Dustin up to welcome him to the church family it was 12 noon and the church bells began to chime. My heart leapt for joy for I thought he was one of God’s chosen. Perhaps, chosen for the priesthood. But of course that was not the path he took.

He was however, one who showed love, kindness and a special gentleness to all he encountered. Reading the many remembrances of his friends and even of people I have never met, I was struck by the word sweet that appeared time and time again to describe our Dustin. And though I know he was especially close to me, as he would call me every day on his way to and from work, I now realize he made most people feel special that way.

When he was about five he took a karate class. I would sit and watch all the little boys go through steps, bowing, arm and foot motions, and kicking a soft pillow the teacher would hold up. Dustin’s teacher pointed out to us that Dustin was one of the best at mastering the steps and moves. But, when it was time to actually kick his mates rather than the pillow he obstinately refused and stood aside.

In second grade he had a big part in the school play but he also experienced some bullying by a boy who would push him around when they stood in line. Erin was typically his protector in school but at that time Tokeneke school was grades kindergarten through 2nd grade so she was off at Hindley for the 3rd to fifth graders. Though she couldn’t be by his side, she reminded him to stand up for himself saying “Dustin as a second grader you are in the oldest grade and you are one of the biggest boys in your grade.” The day after, Dustin came home bursting with pride saying he had conquered the bully. When I asked how, he said “Well, when he was punching me, Parker Young said ‘stop it! Dustin is my friend’. Then Parker pushed him down, and the boy kept threatening me. So I sat on him. He didn’t bother me again.”

Sharon Erin Dustin
Noah Dustin Matt Eric

In December of 1997 a sonogram showed Eric and me that our next baby was a girl. We were so excited. We decided to wallpaper the room for the baby with pink roses. Every day after I came home from work Dustin and Erin and I would put up a strip of wallpaper. As a result it was more perfect than if a professional had done it. No shrinkage spaces. When we brought Alexis home from the hospital Dustin asked if He could be the one to carry her into her room. He proudly held her up and said “Look Alexis we wallpapered your room for you!” I never told my sweet 15 year old son that babies cannot see that far at only 3 days old. He was so proud of her.

During that time, he went off to Trinity Pawling, a boarding school, and he loved it. Yet he asked to come home after one year saying he didn’t want to miss his little sister’s first steps.  We found out he papered his dorm room wall with letters from family and friends.

As you all know he went from there to Wake Forest and then on to MIT.

This week one of his housemates, Gleb was kind enough to send a video of Dustin talking about how he became interested in artificial intelligence.  The full interview by Gleb will be on a computer at the reception. The following paraphrases some of the critical parts of the interview and elucidates Dustin’s noble beliefs and desires about the future potential of Artificial Intelligence.

In the video Gleb asks Dustin what drew him to the field of artificial intelligence. Dustin answers “I am about to turn 30 and I am looking around and wondering and to quote David Byrne ‘how did I get here?’ I am always interested in the problem of thinking and what human minds are and what is the nature of thought and consciousness and all of these heady problems that you find in an introductory philosophy class. When I started as an undergrad at Wake Forest I studied philosophy, and psychology and neuroscience and all the while I was always doing computer science on the side…

Dustin Sharon Alexis Eric Erin

And then, when I found the field of AI I thought this is perfect, this is wonderful. I came across AI while reading a few books by Marvin Minsky and several papers and one book in particular the society of the Mind. Once I saw that AI was, as I envisioned it, a real possibility, it seemed to be a silver bullet that could solve all the world’s problems, so it seemed like an obvious thing to work on. In that, what problem on earth could not be solved with more intelligence and more memory and more reasoning abilities.”

As most of you know Dustin was diagnosed with HOCM hypertrophic obstructive cardio myopathy the week he graduated from Wake Forest. We saw many cardiologists over the last ten years and thought we had his situation under control. I know he took his condition seriously and because he was at MIT had access to many medical papers, which he would share with me, and I would send him any articles from the New England Journal of Medicine or other items I came across. When I would visit him in Boston we would take out our yellow magic markers and discuss these. We thought it was under control, but for me at least, there was always an uneasy feeling.

What I find remarkable was the fact that Dustin took any fear he had and turned it into power and determination. He wrote numerous papers, spent all nighters working on the business he co-founded with Cameron Levy– Beansprock, spent all nighters helping others to prepare for their oral exams and he never let himself be incapacitated by fear.

This may sound so dreary…yet not so…he had a unique and quick sense of humor. Dustin was a volunteer AI teacher through MITs Splash program for middle and high school students. One of my favorite stories is about a power point presentation he prepared to interest young students in the field of artificial intelligence. He sent the draft to me and asked me what I thought. The first page said “What is artificial intelligence?” The second page showed a picture of a Paris Hilton next to a picture of a computer with a question mark!

Dustin enjoyed this work immensely and was gratified when more than one parent came up to him and told him that his child  had been so interested in presentations by Dustin and the MIT students that he once again became interested in school.

Dustin did not choose to be a priest in the traditional sense of the word, but he shared the same noble aspirations in his desire to serve humanity through the use of AI.

I loved him with a passion. And I will continue to love him forever. He accomplished in 31 years what many cannot hope to achieve in many more decades not only in his learning, papers and writing but in his reaching out to such a variety of people with humility, kindness, and an ability to listen and hear them with an intense focus. I cherish the time I was given with him and although my heart is broken, I know his light will continue to shine through all who knew him. He was indeed one of God’s chosen.