Tech Aspirations Led Student from New Zealand to Duke

After a gap year, William Reynolds came to Duke University with a vision about emerging technology.

-By Amanda Solliday

During the 18 months between high school and college, William Reynolds worked in London and China and then traveled through San Francisco for a few months. There, he attended conferences to meet people who worked in technology, and as he sees it, were building the future.

“There are few technologies which are going to shape our world, as we master things that we’ve never had control of before,” Reynolds says.

He became immersed with the possibilities of artificial intelligence as a new technology to address existing problems. One of his connections in the tech entrepreneur community suggested that Reynolds try to study at Duke, so Reynolds decided to apply for undergraduate admission.  

“I wanted to come develop the skills to go into that future with a stronger grounding,” he says.

Reynolds sought to supplement his business interests within the liberal arts setting at Duke. In his first semester, Reynolds took a philosophy class with Alexander Rosenberg, a professor in philosophy, who also teaches in the biology and political science departments. The class appealed to Reynolds’ desire to have a well-rounded education, in addition to becoming an expert in philosophy and computer science.

“I’m mainly at university to work on the way that I structure my thinking, and I’ve had the perfect group of professors and flexibility to do so,” Reynolds says.

His advice for future and fellow undergraduates who are trying to break into a new field? Take some time to send cold emails to people.

“There are so, so many opportunities out there,” Reynolds says. “There’s a world of opportunity out there which just requires that you start asking.”

“I look at life through a series of positive feedback loops where each leap that you take, if you take five of them, one may lead to a path which is hard to imagine,” William says. “And staying within a system or doing what everyone else is doing won’t lead you to those loops.”

See the climate change research project William Reynolds has been building with his fellow Duke students at