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16-year-old Cal grad's next stop: MIT

Evan Ehrenberg is taking the college fast route, now working on a PhD.

June 08, 2010|By Tom Ragan

Evan Ehrenberg, who attended Harbor View Elementary, is headed off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a full fellowship, where he will earn a doctorate in computational neuroscience.

Here's the kicker: Evan is 16 years old, and it was just a couple of months ago that he graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor's of science in cognitive science with an emphasis in computational modeling.

At age 11, Evan enrolled in Irvine Valley College, where he graduated with an associate's degree at 14. He was the youngest graduate in the history of the college.

"I'm sure it's genetic," said his father, David Ehrenberg, a software engineer who chalked up his son's unusual intellect to his wife, Elizabeth. "She has a photographic memory and she's a 'visual-spatial' learner while I'm more 'auditory sequential.' And Evan has been able to learn in both ways."

Sure of many things, even Evan isn't quite sure where he got his book smarts, and as he begins to launch into a discussion of nature versus nurture, he's sidetracked for the moment and has this much to say for certain: As soon as he started kindergarten he remembers looking for the lecture halls only to be mortified that there weren't any.

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"I eventually got there," said Evan, who now lives in Berkeley, referring to the lecture halls. "I guess I always just pushed for it."

And now the road ahead is going to get more complicated as Evan delves into the complexities of creating greater and more sophisticated computer software.

As Evan sees it, it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility to create a computer in the future that would exhibit "human consciousness ... with a conscious brain."

"It's all about creating the software," he said.

But it's not going to happen right away, he points out.

"We're still struggling, after all, with visual recognition and understanding language," he said.

He hopes to use his doctorate degree to either conduct research for a company or become a professor.

While there's no limit to what a computer can do in the future, the same can be said for Evan: His accomplishments would seem boundless.

His parents are quite proud of him, and yet he's also still just a boy, somebody who likes to play "speedball" paintball and can't wait to blend in more with his fellow students at MIT.

Even though he'll still be relatively young — everything is relative — he won't be as young looking as he was, say, at Irvine Valley College, where he stuck out among the 20-somethings.

"But whatever happens, happens," he says. "I'm used to being around older people."

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