Daniel Zhang, SSP'20
Policy Research Manager, Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI)
Before joining SSP, Daniel had never thought about the technology dimension of international relations (IR)—let alone working in tech policy. With an undergraduate degree in IR and Middle Eastern studies, he worked in education policy and fundraising at various non-profit organizations, hoping to influence change from the ground up, but soon realized that he wanted to pivot back to international affairs.
When Daniel started at SSP, he intended to continue his focus on the Middle East. This changed once he started working as a Teaching Assistant for Elizabeth Prescott, then an SSP adjunct professor and the Director of Curriculum for Georgetown’s undergraduate Science, Technology and International Affairs program. Through Dr. Prescott, he met Professor Ben Buchanan, an SSP alumnus and core faculty member, who inspired him to consider the Technology and Security concentration.
Daniel describes Dr. Buchanan’s “thought-provoking” class on artificial intelligence (AI) as the main reason for his decision to focus on AI. Dr. Buchanan guided the class through discussions of AI policy through various lenses, such as geopolitics, ethics, and diversity. Daniel also found opportunities to explore the study of AI at the Center for Science and Emerging Technology, where he helped produce research on AI talent flow and security risks. With these experiences, he realized the potential to harness the power of AI as well as the importance of safeguarding its development and application, which ultimately pushed him to pursue a career in AI policy.
Daniel’s experience at Georgetown involved taking advantage of resources both within and outside of SSP. His favorite SSP class was Dr. Elizabeth Grimm’s Writing for Security Professionals class, which vastly improved his ability to write in tech policy and to think critically about others’ writings. Outside the program, Daniel also pursued a certificate in International Business Diplomacy, which allowed him to explore his curiosity in investment and consulting. “I absolutely recommend pursuing a certificate,” Daniel says. “It’s good to learn more about aspects of IR outside the security realm.” The program helped him develop valuable skills like negotiation, leadership and making effective presentations.
Within the broader SFS community, he describes benefiting from the help and advice of mentors like IBD’s then-Associate Director Rosie O’Neil and Rebecca Bonco at the SFS Graduate Career Center.
Reflecting on his time in the program, Daniel thinks each piece of his SSP experience has helped him in his current position as the Policy Research Manager at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). At HAI, he leads the development of the AI Index program that measures and evaluates the rapid rate of AI advancement, enabling leaders and decision makers to take meaningful action to advance AI responsibly and ethically. Daniel also works with HAI's policy team to develop and manage several policy research programs, building the bridge between technology research and policy communities. To SSPers, especially international students, Daniel advises, “Embrace yourself. Find a support group, people who would care and listen to your goals and the challenges you face.”