ESP Biography



JOHN RAISBECK, Mathematics Major, UMass Lowell




Major: Mathematics

College/Employer: Massachusetts General Hospital

Year of Graduation: Not available.

Picture of John Raisbeck

Brief Biographical Sketch:

I've switched majors three times, from Biology to Chemistry to Mathematics, and I'm still going to graduate on time (roughly)!

I love discrete math, and I'm interested in (but bad at) symbolic logic and programming.

If you want to talk about politics (international or domestic), science, math, or something in between, I'm probably interested in it.

Je suis en train d'apprendre fran├žais.

I'm writing this instead of doing homework, and you're probably reading it instead of doing homework.



Past Classes

  (Clicking a class title will bring you to the course's section of the corresponding course catalog)

M13633: The Mathematics of Teaching Computers to Play Video Games in Splash 2019 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2019)
This class is about a type of Machine Learning called Reinforcement Learning, which is the part of computer science which studies methods for teaching computers to play video games, drive cars, and which is considered by many interested in artificial intelligence to be the future of the field. We will begin by discussing the core concepts of machine learning itself, objective functions, gradients, and function approximators, before moving on to more specialized topics including neural networks (bots), MDPs (games), and reward functions (score) and key concepts in modern approaches to the problems of Reinforcement Learning. If there is extra time at the end, I may talk about whether or not I think AI is possible, and the current state of the technology. **Please note that this class will not contain any programming. It is about the theory and the methods, but not the practice, of Reinforcement Learning! I am a recent graduate in mathematics doing research in the field, so expect a mathematical perspective on things. I won't be talking a lot about languages or packages (my team uses python and pyTorch). Instead, the class will be about the concepts that underpin the optimization algorithms that researchers use to teach computers complicated tasks.


Z11979: Mini Model US Congress in Splash 2017 (Nov. 18 - 19, 2017)
Do you think that you know better than the Congress? What would you do to make a difference if you were elected? How would you convince the rest of the body to follow along with your plan? In this class, you'll be playing US legislators. You, the representatives of your assigned states, will be given an issue, and tasked with preparing competing bills to find a solution. You'll have to act as representatives of your state, writing and voting on legislation as they would. You'll decide when bills are voted on, and then you get to vote. Since we can't simulate the Congress exactly, we'll be using some modified rules of parliamentary procedures, but the goals will be the same.


S10850: Acid-Base Chemistry in Splash 2016 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2016)
Come learn acid base chemistry! In addition to detailing the theory behind acid-base reactions, we'll actually apply the theory, tying each part of the class to the real world. Learn how acid and base theory can be applied to make food products and additives, pharmaceuticals, and cleaning products. Learn why and how drain cleaners work, and why NaHCO3 seems to clean everything.


Z11088: Voting Systems, Democracy, and Electoral Reform in Splash 2016 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2016)
Learn about different voting systems, the superiority of the alternative vote, and the reason we (well, adults) are forced to choose between two of the most hated candidates to ever run for president. We will discuss potential modifications to electoral systems in this country, far beyond the electoral college. We will also examine other aspects of voting unfairness, with a focus on mathematically resolvable problems like gerrymandering. In addition to discussions of voting theory, we will talk about the practicalities of implementing these systems. This class will focus on the implications of various single-position voting systems, with relatively little time allocated to proportional systems for representative bodies. If there is interest, time can be allocated at the end of class to discuss adjacent issues.