ESP Biography



STEPHEN M. HOU, Instructor




Major: EECS & Physics

College/Employer: MIT

Year of Graduation: G

Picture of Stephen M. Hou

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Stephen Hou has four degrees from MIT in physics and engineering, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He is licensed to practice US patent prosecution. He was a Dean's Award Scholar at the NYU School of Law and an InSITE Fellow, advising start-up companies on technology, entrepreneurship and venture capital.

His background is in technology, entrepreneurship and education. Prior to his career in law, he was involved in three award-winning start-up companies, serving as co-founder, chief engineer and software engineer. He has written two MIT graduate theses on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and have also conducted research in quantum physics and wireless communications.

Stephen's teaching interests include natural and social sciences, engineering, and languages with the central theme of using apparent paradoxes and analogies between disparate disciplines to uncover ideas students otherwise would never encounter in school. Stephen is a recipient of several teaching distinctions, including the Goodwin Medal, MIT's highest honor for excellence in teaching by a graduate student.

ESP classes Stephen has taught in the past are listed below. Stephen has also served as a head teaching assistant, course director, and instructor for undergraduate and graduate subjects in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT, where he was the principal author of the popular "Tutorial Notes for 6.003 Signals & Systems", editor-in-chief of "The Underground Guide to Course VI", and president of the EECS Graduate Students Association.



Past Classes

  (Look at the class archive for more.)


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Spark 2014 (Mar. 15 - 16, 2014)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Santorum, Santorum beats Gingrich, and Gingrich beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Santorum, Santorum beats Gingrich, and Gingrich beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Santorum, Santorum beats Gingrich, and Gingrich beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Introduction to Mandarin Chinese in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
Did you know that more people speak Chinese than any other language in the world? Or that Chinese is a tonal language, where shifts in musical pitch affect the meaning of every word? Or that Chinese verbs never conjugate, and nouns & adjectives don't have gender? This class is an introduction to Standard Mandarin, the official form of Chinese spoken in mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore. We will start with pronunciation and basic conversational phrases, followed by some simple grammar and dialogues. We will learn how to pronounce Chinese names and numbers. Finally, we will discuss some common Chinese idioms with roots in Chinese history and culture. This class is designed for those who are fascinated with languages, so instead of learning and memorizing lots of phrases, the emphasis will be on the linguistic and cultural aspects of the Chinese language.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Santorum, Santorum beats Gingrich, and Gingrich beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Apportionment in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What happens when perfectly fair division isn't possible? Say you and your two siblings inherit your parents' cattle ranch, but the number of cattle isn't a multiple of three. How do you split the cattle? At the national level, how do we apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives? If a state's population indicates that it deserves 7.23 seats, is it awarded 7 seats or 8 seats? Or maybe even 6 or 9? Interesting paradoxes in fair division will be shown. For example, can a state lose a seat if the size of the House is increased by a seat (and the populations of all states remain unchanged)? You'll see...


Awesome Paradoxical Ideas You May Have Never Heard Of in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Some of the coolest ideas of all time contain nuanced paradoxes that make them seem hard to believe at first. In this class, we will explore fundamental ideas from a wide range of disciplines, including mathematics, physics, computer science, political science, and economics. Can math be both complete and consistent? Does a perfect election system exist? If a nation can produce everything more cheaply than another nation, does it make any sense for them to trade? Is it possible to determine, given a computer program and input set, whether it would run forever? If Einstein's relativity states that time slows down for moving objects, but motion is relative, whose time is slower? If everyone makes a decision that is best for himself no matter what others do, can there be another set of group decisions that makes everyone even better off? Can I construct a "demon" that violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics? Can every single department within a university admit men at a higher rate than women, yet for the university as a whole, women are admitted at a higher rate?


Introduction to Chinese Writing in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Chinese writing is unique among the world's major languages in that it uses thousands of characters as opposed to an alphabet with a few dozen letters. We will learn some basic characters, their organization and structure, the distinction between traditional and simplified scripts, calligraphic styles and typographical fonts, how new characters are created, how Chinese characters are used in the modern Japanese and Korean languages, and how Chinese is typed electronically. I will also discuss Chinese dialects and why the Chinese language did not (and will likely never) switch to an alphabetical writing system. About one-third of class time will be devoted to practicing writing characters by hand.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in ESPrinkler Summer 2012 (Jul. 08 - Aug. 19, 2012)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Santorum, Santorum beats Gingrich, and Gingrich beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Wanna Bet? Interesting Puzzles from Betting and Probability in Spark! 2012 (Mar. 10, 2012)
Are you the type who calculates the odds of getting a particular hand when you play poker? Do you enjoy explaining the Monty Hall problem to your parents and friends? If so, this class is for you! We will examine some classic puzzles that involve betting or probability. If time permits, I'll discuss the mathematical, economic, and psychological reasons why people buy insurance policies and lottery tickets, even though they know that, on average, they will lose money in the long run (and the insurance companies and lottery commissions will earn a profit). Note: This class is intended to teach mathematics and to have fun solving challenging puzzles. This is NOT to promote or endorse gambling.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Spark! 2012 (Mar. 10, 2012)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Gingrich, Gingrich beats Paul, and Paul beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Perry, Perry beats Cain, and Cain beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Introduction to Chinese Writing in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
Chinese writing is unique among the world's major languages in that it uses thousands of characters as opposed to an alphabet with a few dozen letters. We will learn some basic characters, their organization and structure, the distinction between traditional and simplified scripts, calligraphic styles and typographical fonts, how new characters are created, how Chinese characters are used in the modern Japanese and Korean languages, and how Chinese is typed electronically. I will also discuss Chinese dialects and why the Chinese language did not (and will likely never) switch to an alphabetical writing system. About one-third of class time will be devoted to practicing writing characters by hand.


A Taste of the Classical Chinese Language - 【文言之味】 in Splash! 2011 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2011)
Get a taste of the language of Confucius! Classical Chinese (文言), which is as distinct from Modern Chinese as Latin is from Italian, is highly revered for its logic, sophistication, and elegance. It can be vague, yet can also achieve a level of expressive precision limited only by the human mind. Until the early 20th century, Classical Chinese had been the international written language across East Asia for thousands of years, much like Latin had been for Western civilization. Before 1750, more books had been published in Classical Chinese than in all other languages of the world combined. As late as 1850, Classical Chinese books still outnumbered those in any other single language. We will learn some basic vocabulary and grammar, examine a few proverbs, analyze excerpts from Chinese philosophical literature, and practice constructing sentences. By the end of the class, you'll be able to translate sentences like: 「天下爭順以仁義行德之君。」 ("The whole world vies to obey a lord who practices virtue by means of kindness and justice.") Let's have fun with this ancient and rich language!


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in SPICY Delve 2011 (Oct. 23, 2011)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2012 primaries, Romney beats Perry, Perry beats Cain, and Cain beats Romney? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Republicans? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Introduction to Chinese Writing in SPICY Delve 2011 (Oct. 23, 2011)
Chinese writing is unique among the world's major languages in that it uses thousands of characters as opposed to an alphabet with a few dozen letters. We will learn some basic characters, their organization and structure, the distinction between traditional and simplified scripts, calligraphic styles and typographical fonts, how new characters are created, how Chinese characters are used in the modern Japanese and Korean languages, and how Chinese is typed electronically. I will also discuss Chinese dialects and why the Chinese language did not (and will likely never) switch to an alphabetical writing system.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in ESPrinkler Summer 2011 (Jul. 10 - Aug. 21, 2011)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2008 primaries, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Wanna Bet? Interesting Puzzles from Betting and Probability in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Are you the type who calculates the odds of getting a particular hand when you play poker? Do you enjoy explaining the Monty Hall problem to your parents and friends? If so, this class is for you! We will examine some classic puzzles that involve betting or probability. If time permits, I'll discuss the mathematical, economic, and psychological reasons why people buy insurance policies and lottery tickets, even though they know that, on average, they will lose money in the long run (and the insurance companies and lottery commissions will earn a profit). Note: This class is intended to teach mathematics and to have fun solving challenging puzzles. This is NOT to promote or endorse gambling.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2008 primaries, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Introduction to Chinese Writing in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Chinese writing is unique among the world's major languages in that it uses thousands of characters as opposed to an alphabet with a few dozen letters. We will learn some basic characters, the organization and structure of characters, the distinction between traditional and simplified scripts, calligraphic styles and typographical fonts, how new characters are created and how Chinese characters are used in the modern Japanese and Korean languages. I will also discuss Chinese dialects and why the Chinese language did not (and will likely never) switch to an alphabetical writing system. Since the focus of this class is intended to introduce you to the concept of Chinese writing, we will not be learning Chinese conversational phrases or grammar. That's taught in another class =)


Introduction to Mandarin Chinese in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Did you know that more people speak Chinese than any other language in the world? Or that Chinese is a tonal language, where shifts in musical pitch affect the meaning of every word? Or that Chinese verbs never conjugate, and nouns & adjectives don't have gender? This class is an introduction to Standard Mandarin, the official form of Chinese spoken in mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore. We will start with pronunciation and basic conversational phrases, followed by some simple grammar and dialogues. We will learn how to pronounce Chinese names and numbers. Finally, we will discuss some common Chinese idioms with roots in Chinese history and culture. This class is designed for those who are fascinated with languages, rather than for students who simply want to memorize a lot of phrases, so the emphasis will be on the linguistic and cultural aspects of the Chinese language.


Wanna Bet? Interesting Puzzles from Betting and Probability in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Are you the type who calculates the odds of getting a particular hand when you play poker? Do you enjoy explaining the Monty Hall problem to your parents and friends? If so, this class is for you! We will examine some classic puzzles that involve betting or probability. If time permits, I'll discuss the mathematical, economic, and psychological reasons why people buy insurance policies and lottery tickets, even though they know that, on average, they will lose money in the long run (and the insurance companies and lottery commissions will earn a profit). Note: This class is intended to teach mathematics and to have fun solving challenging puzzles. This is NOT to promote or endorse gambling.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2008 primaries, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Apportionment in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What happens when perfectly fair division isn't possible? Say you and your two siblings inherit your parents' cattle ranch, but the number of cattle isn't a multiple of three. How do you split the cattle? At the national level, how do we apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives? If a state's population indicates that it deserves 7.23 seats, is it awarded 7 seats or 8 seats? Or maybe even 6 or 9? Interesting paradoxes in fair division will be shown. For example, can a state lose a seat if the size of the House is increased by a seat (and the populations of all states remain unchanged)? You'll see...


Introduction to Chinese Writing in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Chinese writing is unique among the world's major languages in that it uses thousands of characters as opposed to an alphabet with a few dozen letters. We will learn some basic characters, the structure of characters, the distinction between traditional and simplified scripts, calligraphic styles and typographical fonts, how new characters are created and how Chinese characters are used in the modern Japanese and Korean languages. I will discuss why the Chinese language did not (and will likely never) switch to an alphabetical writing system. If time permits, I will demonstrate how Chinese is typed on a computer. Since the focus of this class is intended to introduce you to the concept of Chinese writing, we will not be learning Chinese conversational phrases or grammar.


Wanna Bet? Interesting Puzzles from Betting and Probability in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Are you the type who calculates the odds of getting a particular hand when you play poker? Do you enjoy explaining the Monty Hall problem to your parents and friends? If so, this class is for you! We will examine some classic puzzles that involve betting or probability. If time permits, I'll discuss the mathematical, economic, and psychological reasons why people buy insurance policies and lottery tickets, even though they know that, on average, they will lose money in the long run (and the insurance companies and lottery commissions will earn a profit). Note: This class is intended to teach mathematics and to have fun solving challenging puzzles. This is NOT to promote or endorse gambling.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Elections and Voting in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races during the 2008 primaries, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have.


Paradoxes of Democracy: Fair Apportionment in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What happens when perfectly fair division isn't possible? Say you and your two siblings inherit your parents' cattle ranch, but the number of cattle isn't a multiple of three. How do you split the cattle? At the national level, how do we apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives? If a state's population indicates that it deserves 7.23 seats, is it awarded 7 seats or 8 seats? Or maybe even 6 or 9? Interesting paradoxes in fair division will be shown. For example, can a state lose a seat if the size of the House is increased by a seat (and the populations of all states remain unchanged)? You'll see...


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice: Elections in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have. If you want to learn more about paradoxes of democracy, please come to the instructor's other class on apportionment (instead of elections) as well!


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice: Apportionment in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! The seats in the House of Representatives is given to states in proportion to their populations. But the division is never exact. Is it possible that, in using a "fair" division method, an increase in the size of the House leads to a state losing a seat? (Yes.) We'll discuss the Balinski-Young Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of fair division. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every division method must have. If you want to learn more about paradoxes of democracy, please come to the instructor's other class on ELECTIONS (instead of APPORTIONMENT) as well!


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have. Finally, interesting paradoxes in fair division (in particular, apportioning Congressional seats) will be shown. The prerequisites for this class were: Comfort with arithmetic; interest in voting, political science, decision-making, and/or economics.


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats Obama, Obama beats Edwards, and Edwards beats Clinton? Is this even possible? (Yes.) What would then be a fair way to decide the "best" preferences of Democrats? Whether it's a T-shirt design contest or a presidential election, voting converts preferences of individuals into a single preference for the community. We'll discuss Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which states that there is no "perfect" way of doing so. We'll demonstrate a few of the mind-boggling flaws that every voting method must have. Finally, interesting paradoxes in fair division (in particular, apportioning Congressional seats) will be shown.


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in SPLASH (2007)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats ...


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in SPLASH (2007)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats ...


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in SPLASH (2007)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats ...


Paradoxes of Democracy, Voting, and Social Choice in SPLASH (2007)
Come learn ideas with applications in mathematics, economics, engineering, and political science! What if, in hypothetical two-way races, Clinton beats ...