Many people ask us how instaGrok came to be. Here’s our story:
Back in the USSR
I grew up in Minsk, Belarus. My school, with the obligatory photo of Lenin in each classroom, was a perfect symbol of the rigidity of the Soviet educational system.
Kirill in 1st grade in Minsk
As a curious kid, I spent most class periods daydreaming of the fascinating things I’d read about in my spare time, such as Red Giant stars, the Ice Age, and Isaac Asimov’s intelligent robots. However, my curiosity about the world around me was thwarted by an inflexible, dogmatic educational system, and it drove me to find better ways to learn.
When I was in 8th grade, my school opened its first computer lab, stocked with Amiga 500s. We learned the BASIC programming language. I started with rudimentary line drawings, then coded a painting program, and eventually wrote whole videogames. My interest in programming also encouraged me to learn other topics along the way: from mathematics to music and artistic skills.
The Windy City
When the Soviet Union collapsed, my family moved to Chicago. My high school teachers encouraged me to pursue my interest in computers: I learned LISP and did an independent study on fractals and chaos theory. I also devoured the book “Metamagical Themas” by Douglas Hofstadter, which open my mind to the parallels between art, language, artificial intelligence and the probabilistic workings of the brain.
In my doctoral studies at the University of Colorado, I got my hands dirty with artificial intelligence, all while learning about cognition, linguistics and philosophy of the mind. I viewed human knowledge as a vast network structure, which led me to embrace the power of graphical concept maps. Working alongside visionaries such as Gerhard Fischer and Clayton Lewis, I was inspired to envision ways in which computers can enhance learning.
The Other Side of the World
In the summers I traveled to Laos and Nepal to volunteer at schools and work with One Laptop Per Child. I learned that the key to helping people in developing countries is to provide them with access to education.
Kirill teaching about planets at a rural school in Laos
The “Aha” Moment
Even though years had past and the reasons were different, those kids faced the same issue I did: they were unable to satisfy their curiosity about the world around them. With my background in computer and cognitive science, I realized that I could help. A few months later, a first prototype of instaGrok was born.
An early prototype of instaGrok
Soon thereafter instaGrok was accepted into the Imagine K12 edtech incubator program. There I enhanced the capabilities of instaGrok, received feedback from many educators, and met my co-pilot Andrew, instaGrok’s CEO.
… And Beyond
What you see now is just the beginning. Every day we’re coming up with new ways to help people learn, explore and share information. One fun example is our Global Map of Knowledge; you’ll see plenty more enhancements in the weeks and months ahead, so stay tuned. And if you have a suggestion for us, please let us know in the comments below!