New Faculty Q&A: Honghao Wei

Honghao Wei.
Honghao Wei

In general terms, what does your research consist of? How would you explain it to a class of freshmen?

My research aims to develop efficient data-driven algorithms for online learning and decision-making problems, particularly with constraints. I primarily focus on three areas: 1) the theory and applications of safe reinforcement learning, 2) sample-efficient reinforcement learning algorithms, and 3) reinforcement learning algorithms applied to large-scale systems.

When explaining my research to freshmen, I like to begin with captivating real-world success stories and examples of reinforcement learning. For instance, I discuss the use of reinforcement learning to play Atari games, its application in robotics, the groundbreaking achievement of AlphaGo, and other notable examples. I believe these illustrations can effectively help students grasp the concepts, ignite their curiosity, and capture their interests.

What drew you to your field of study and to being a professor?

The main reasons that drew me to my field are curiosity, passion, and a desire to make a positive impact. Initially, in the early stages of my research, I focused on developing novel and scalable data-driven approaches for decision-making problems. However, as AI applications continue to emerge in our daily lives, it has become increasingly apparent that these applications carry significant implications for safety and privacy. As a result, I shifted my research focus to developing efficient algorithms that address safety-related problems while providing provable guarantees. It is crucial to ensure that these AI applications prioritize safety alongside their functionality.

What do you like to do when you’re not teaching or researching?

I usually go hiking, snowboarding, and play tennis, and of course, I seek out delicious food.

What advice do you have for students?

The first suggestion is to actively engage in the classroom and seek timely feedback from professors. I have observed that students who actively participate in class tend to perform well.
Secondly, diversity and interdisciplinarity play a significant role in enhancing learning because similar groups are more predictable, more agreeable, and tend to share similar goals. In a classroom with diverse backgrounds, students bring unique perspectives and ideas, promoting a richer learning experience. By forming groups with individuals from different cultures and backgrounds, you can broaden your horizons and exchange valuable insights. Additionally, making friends from different countries can provide you with a deeper understanding of different cultures and foster a more inclusive learning environment.