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Tilghman chess captain intrigued by AI

by Kelly Farrell
The Paducah Sun
February 10, 2020
Used with permission. 
 
Chess is a fairly recent hobby for Paducah Tilghman High School senior Paulo Garcia, but the game grabbed his interest and didn't let go.

It also helped Garcia decide a career field. He'd been interested in computer engineering or computer science, as he built a computer in middle school, but a chess video online helped narrow things down. He wants to study artificial intelligence.

"It was AlphaZero, which is a machine learning algorithm by Google DeepMind, they work in London and all that," he explained. "They essentially had a deep learning artificial intelligence and it played itself for four hours and then it went and beat the best chess player in the world, essentially, and it almost beat the best chess engine at the time, like 50 to 51."
 
"That really blew my mind, so that's when I decided that I wanted to go into computer science for sure and get into machine learning and artificial intelligence. I joined the Coding Club right after that."

The 17-year-old doesn't know yet what career path he'll take, but he's curious about machine learning and using it for environmental sustainability. He's also interested in computer vision, which is a field involving computers understanding images or videos.

Garcia wants to attend Cornell University in New York for college, but is also looking at the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"I would really like to go there because ... the professor Carla Gomes, she's over there and she's the one who works with environmental sustainability, which is really applicable to me because I used to live overseas in a little, middle of nowhere island called Seychelles," he said, about Cornell. "It's really beautiful and I got really close to nature over there."

Garcia, son of Amy Glick-Garcia of Paducah, is the Paducah Bank Teen of the Week. 

Every Monday and Tuesday, The Sun profiles area high school seniors chosen from a pool of nominees for Teen of the Week consideration. Near the end of the school year, a selection committee chooses one of these students as Teen of the Year, which carries a $5,000 scholarship. Another student will receive an Inspiration Award and a $1,000 scholarship.

Garcia ranks in the top 10 of his class at Paducah Tilghman with a cumulative weighted GPA above 4.25. He earned a 33 composite ACT score and is an AP Scholar with Distinction.

At Paducah Tilghman, Garcia is chess team captain and participates in Interact Club, National Honor Society, Coding Club and varsity academic team. Garcia is a former member of the wrestling team too and had served as captain.

Out of everything though, it's chess that Garcia considers his main extracurricular activity. He participates in chess tournaments and tutors elementary students on the game.

About a year or year-and-a-half ago, Garcia said he was browsing online and came across a chess video and started playing. He later joined the school chess team in junior year.

"I knew the rules of chess," he said. "I knew how all the pieces moved and the rules for castling and all that, but I never actually played, played it - competitively. Playing chess casually and playing it competitively are like completely different fields. Once it gets competitive, you have to remember a lot of stuff."

It's not just about remembering, though. Chess players need to plan their moves ahead of time and find patterns in how the pieces move, among other aspects of the game.

"You have to think strategically and plan ahead," he added. "It's not just useful for board games and stuff. It's kind of useful for life."

Posted Wednesday, February 12, 2020