On science and faith

Rosalind Picard is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consistently ranked one of the top two or three universities in the world and the number-one university in her field.

Early in her academic career, she had it figured out: Science is the clear winner in the search for truth. She was proud to call herself a staunch atheist who couldn’t understand why anyone would believe in God. Most people just don’t understand science, she thought to herself.

“What I saw of religion was pretty offensive,” she said. “I thought it was people who were emotionally crippled, or didn’t think. Maybe they just weren’t very intelligent. Maybe they believed some myth they were taught and never thought to question it.”

When challenged with, “Have you ever read the Bible?” she responded that she hadn’t, because she had just always believed the Bible was wrong.

She said, “It occurred to me that that was a rather inconsistent intellectual position.”

So, she did buy a Bible which she read and reread over the course of several years.

“I discovered that there was incredible wisdom in there. And I, who thought religious people were so stupid, had to acknowledge that there was a lot for me to learn.”

The message landed.

After praying for the first time and deciding to become a follower of Jesus, she said, “My world changed dramatically, as if a flat, black-and-white existence suddenly turned full-color and three-dimensional. But I lost nothing of my urge to seek new knowledge. In fact, I felt emboldened to ask even tougher questions about how the world works. I felt joy and freedom — but also a heightened sense of responsibility and challenge.”

That responsibility pushed her to pursue science in a powerful way. Since then, Picard has authored or coauthored over 350 scientific articles and chapters spanning computer vision, pattern recognition, machine learning, human-computer interaction, and wearable sensors.

She wrote the book “Affective Computing,” which became instrumental in starting a new scientific field. Today, that field has its own journal, international conference, and professional society. Picard helped launch the field of wearable computing.

She has multiple patents for inventions that have applications in autism, epilepsy, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep, stress, dementia, autonomic nervous system disorders, human and machine learning, health behavior change, market research, customer service, and human-computer interaction. Thousands of research teams worldwide use those products and services.

CNN named Rosalind Picard one of seven “Tech Superheroes to Watch.” She has been honored with dozens of international awards. Since there is no Nobel Prize in computing, she was awarded the Lombardy Prize in 2022, along with its $1 million award, which she donated to epilepsy and sudden infant death syndrome research.

Serving on numerous international and national science and engineering program committees, editorial boards, and review panels, she is also a member of the Board of Advisors for Scientific American.

Picard interacts regularly with industry and has consulted for companies such as Apple, AT&T, BT, HP, iRobot, Merck, Motorola, and Samsung.

One of her inventions is now available as a smartwatch that can warn of epileptic seizures before they happen. It sends an alert to summon help and is actively saving lives today. She discusses that in a TEDx talk that has been viewed millions of times.

She has started two successful companies.

She has said that her intellectual doubts (about God and Christianity) were ironically based on myths that she picked up from society. She was told that religion is not based on anything substantial.

She said, “What I was finding was that the Bible was based on a lot of solid historical events and a lot of incredibly brilliant and wise instruction and knowledge and experience that I certainly couldn’t dismiss as non-intellectual or as non-relevant to my life.”

Appropriately, she compares her realization to engineering:

“Have you ever tried to assemble something mechanical, and it only kind of works? Maybe the wheels spin, but not smoothly. Then you realize you were missing a piece. When you finally put it together correctly, it works beautifully. This is how it felt when I handed my life over to God: I thought it had worked fine before, but after it was ‘fixed,’ it worked exponentially better.

“That’s not to say nothing bad ever happened to me — far from it. But, in all things, good and bad, I could count on God’s guidance, comfort, and protection.

“I once thought I was too smart to believe in God. Now I know I was an arrogant fool who snubbed the greatest Mind in the cosmos — the Author of all science, mathematics, art, and everything else there is to know.

“Today, I walk humbly, having received the most undeserved grace. I walk with joy, alongside the most amazing Companion anyone could ask for, filled with desire to keep learning and exploring.”

Phil Cook is a teacher, works in northern Michigan with Biglife, an international disciple-making ministry, and serves on the Board of Directors for Sunrise Mission in Alpena.


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