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Chris Tanner

Born and raised in Atlanta, Chris now spends his time traveling the world while getting his Ph.D in Computer Science and Natural Language Processing. We found time in Chris's busy schedule to catch up and get his thoughts on tech, travel, and of course his favorite Wool&Prince shirts.

Photography by Chris Tanner and Chris's friends @chriswtanner

Let’s say you meet someone new in a hotel lobby. How would you describe yourself to a total stranger in just a paragraph?

I was raised in a suburb of Atlanta, but I’ve lived all over the USA. I worked for a research lab before darting back to school, where I’m now doing the Ph.D thing at Brown (Computer Science, Natural Language Processing). I’m a photographer on the side who enjoys travelling and stepping out of my comfort zone as much as possible. Some would say I’m an Olympic-level parallel-parker as well as a legendarily awful baker.

You’ve managed to travel extensively while both studying and working. Any tips for those who look longingly at living a similar lifestyle?

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to work remotely from a laptop, you’re golden. Otherwise, use all of your vacation days wisely. Don’t waste a vacation day on the transit there; travel on weekends, holidays, or consider adding personal plans onto business trips (saves money and time, too). If possible, try to shape your work-schedule by chunking work into fewer days, then take extended weekend trips. While in between jobs or school semesters is the prime time to take long trips. And you don't have to spend a ton of money either, there are many opportunities while travelling to teach English or work at hostels/hotels. Aim to pack light, see and do as much as possible, and leave no trace.

You’re a big proponent of only packing what you need. What kind of gear gets you through a typical weeklong journey?

It’s all about the right fabrics. Some fashionable, durable nylon pants from Outlier, a pair of merino wool shirts and underwear, add my camera and lenses, and I’m a happy camper for a long time. If I’m going home to Georgia, then I’ll throw my baseball glove in the bag.

You’re on track to get a Ph.D in Computer Science. Will software, robots, and autonomous overlords really rule the future?

My latest models predict a 62% chance of robots winning the arms race. (I kid.) A.I. will never be as good as humans, in an overall and robust sense; sure, on select tasks (e.g., face recognition, autonomous driving, translating languages) computers can rival or outperform humans, but these specific problems have received immense research for decades. The jobs most likely to be automated are the ones found at the lower-paid, lower-skilled end of the spectrum, including driving-based jobs. In late-2016, under the Obama Administration, The White House wrote a great paper summarizing this topic.

Let us in on how you perceive, or appreciate, the juxtaposition of being a digital benefactor while seeking to spend so much time in the wild.

Fortunately, I grew up before the Internet was commonplace, so to me, being outdoors and playing outside will always feel natural. I believe the whole point of computers is to make things easier and our lives better. So, having a career in computer science simply feels like a luxurious, intellectually-stimulating puzzle to me. It’s completely independent from the wonders of mother nature, but I love them both.

What’s the most vital technology introduced in your lifetime? And, for kicks, the tech that we should most look forward to in the next 5 to 10 years?

Technically, the Internet was invented in 1969 – well before my time – but I’d say the proliferation of it, along with the advent of smartphones, has been truly revolutionary. Even in developing countries, within rural towns lacking reliable electricity, I’ve seen citizens happily glued to social media on their phones. Driverless cars and drone-technology will be really interesting to watch in the coming decade – imagine quick, home delivery of goods and groceries (à la WebVan’s vision over 20 years ago).

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You’ve been to a great many countries; which locale has impacted you the most?

My first few times flying out of the country were to Indonesia, so Indonesia will always hold a special place in my heart, and it set my baseline for travel. Every city and country is distinct and has its own flavor, but at large, I particularly love Laos and Myanmar. Southeast Asia is my favorite region of the world.

What keeps your soul refreshed? Any hobbies that you latch onto when you have downtime?

The gym has always been one of my biggest passions, and it’s often the highlight of my day. Lately, I’ve been making time for painting and yoga.

What’s ahead for you? Any exciting projects on the horizon?

The current goal is to finish the Ph.D in May 2018, at which point I’ll travel for 9-12 months – a “world tour” wherein I visit places I’ve been curious about for years (e.g., Papua New Guinea, Northern and Eastern India, Namibia, South Africa, Colombia, etc.) – ideally followed by starting a research job within Machine Learning / Natural Language Processing.

What’s your impression of your Wool&Prince shirts?

Honestly, they’re amazing. I’ve been a huge proponent of merino wool for years, but for nicer dress shirts, including when I travel, I was resigned to linen. Over the past few months, the W&P shirts have performed perfectly, and they look sharp: from my annual fall foliage road trip, to research meetings, to hanging out on a beach in Cuba. I’ve received numerous compliments, and they’ll undoubtedly have a spot in my bag for my big trip next year.

Chris is 5'8", 155 lbs, and wears a size S regular fit button-down and a size S tee.

See Chris's photography at

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