This is a cautionary tale of curiosity gone awry.

If you’ve been following this , you know that I’m awaiting word on whether or not I have been accepted to a PhD program. To this date I’ve heard nothing. So, drawing a naïve allusion to the famed cat, one might say that, as far as I know, I'm both accepted into and rejected from all of the programs. Seems simple enough.

Cornell Grad SchoolHowever, thanks to the marvels of modern technology and my own tinkering nature, I'm now even more confused about my quantum status at Cornell University.

You see, a few days ago, I paid a visit to the Cornell site to see if they had any more information up about dates. There was nothing there to speak of. So I did some poking around on the graduate admissions page. One of the links there is "Accept an Offer of Admission Online.” Being the positive (and impatient) thinker I am, I figured “what the heck, might as well see what’s there.” A click or so later, I find myself at Embark, Cornell’s online application tool. This password protected website is how I submitted my application in the first place. And it’s requesting that I log in.

So I faced a decision: do I log in and possibly find out my status? Or do I wait to see if I get a big envelope or a skinny envelope?

Curiosity (or perhaps temptation) got the best of me, I logged in, and was asked if I want to accept the offer to attend Cornell.

This discovery has launched me into a existential/​systems dilemma. Had I just gotten notification that I’ve been accepted to Cornell? Was the system “smart” enough to have that record on hand? Or had it been designed with the fundamental assumption that only people who had been accepted would follow that link? Did the programmers not envision someone like me?

As much as I wish this was confirmation of an offer, I tend to think it’s probably a “dumb” system.[1] Considering that my notification note from Chicago was dated February 26th, there a good chance a final decision has yet to be made at any of the programs. And even if the decision has been made, typically computer systems are the last ones to know. But more than anything else, I don’t want to work myself up and then get crushed.

So, for the moment I remain both accepted into and rejected from all of the programs. Only I’m just a little more so at Cornell.


[1] — The irony that, once again, I’m twisting on the end of questions about Machine Intelligence isn’t lost on me. Just as with my work on bots, the crux of all of this is a question of whether or not the machine knows as much as I give it credit for knowing. Oh well, while these systems may be toying with my emotions, at least I didn’t give my credit card out this time.