A comment of Nando de Freitas from his AMA

which is,

Awesome! Enjoy it. When I was a teenager working selling beer and at a supermarket till in a very racist South African town, I kept a copy of this book under the counter (the copy was passed on to me by my brother Jose de Freitas, who is a fantastic engineer at IBM in the UK). I would solve an ODE exercise every time I had a chance. I also had an old torn calculus book that my dad — J.R. de Freitas — patched for me, and Stephen Hawking’s book — a great inspiration.

I’ll never forget that I was once solving one of the book’s exercises (by this time I had started studying at Wits University) during my work time (weekends at my parent’s shop), when a nice old white lady approached me and told me that the town’s white community was very proud of me because they never thought it was possible for a Portuguese boy to go to university and do well. Such is the fragile nature of humanity.

Years later my dad was murdered in a violent despicable cold manner at the same spot where I used to read this book. Someone walked to him and without saying much pointed a gun at his heart and shot him. The three other young males with him proceeded to rob. These people acted like this because they were de-humanized by one of the most vile racist regimes of modern times. So when I say we need more people of other races in the AI field and leading the discussion in the media, I know where I’m coming from. Very few people are capable of transcending their environment to see what is going on – Mandela and Ghandi were among the few examples I know of.

And while I’m opening my heart, here are a few other pieces of wisdom from my life:

(i) I was a refugee of war in the 70’s escaping the war in Mocambique – I ended up in a hut in Madeira, without water and electricity and all sorts of disease and worms. My parents had to spend all their money and get into debt so that I could get a passport – to pay their debts I had to become separated from my parents at the age of 4 for more than 3 years. I believe I’ve paid back very generously anything that any country has ever given to me. Refugees are people like you … and definitely me – they are terribly exploited and face heart tearing injustice. John Lennon was right about country borders in Imagine – such borders are very recent inventions in the history of humankind.

(ii) Civilians should never carry guns – It’s one of the worst mistakes of my life. I started doing this after struggling to deal with my father’s death and as a way of protecting my family. I almost ended up shooting myself. Guns are a mistake and should be banned from the hands of civilians throughout the world.

(iii) My mother was taken out of school because unless she was to become a nun, there would be no school for her. Such is the oppression that some organized religions can bring upon people.

Fortunately, the world is a much better place today than it ever was. I hope Yoshua Bengio is right when he tells me that he believes in people and that tolerance and compassion will prevail.


4 thoughts on “A comment of Nando de Freitas from his AMA

  1. Wow – I’m a South African Software Developer who just went from working full time -> part time and have enrolled to do my MSc Computer Science and want to involve both Machine Learning and Audio Processing (Since i love recording music at home so much). I’ve just recently learned of Yoshua Bengio and will be reading his Learning Deep Architectures for AI shortly! I have not known of Nando de Freitas before

    This is all quite amazing for me 🙂


      1. Oh, yeah without no reason I assumed you would look for other schools to transfer for your PhD. Sorry if it was bit weird!


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