He does what he wanted to do when he grew up (kind of)
Born 1964, New York, N.Y.; Arrived in Washington 1991
Even as a boy growing up in Israel, Oren Etzioni knew he wanted to be a scientist. He attended a school for gifted students when a reporter from a children’s magazine came for a visit.
“The interviewer asked the natural question you ask a 9-year-old, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Oren says. “I said a biochemist. Both my parents were sociology professors and I always knew I wanted to be a scientist and a researcher at an early age.”
Oren moved back to New York at age 13 to live with his father. He did his undergraduate degree at Harvard, where he was the first graduate with a computer science degree in the university’s history. He completed his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon, and came to Seattle because his then-wife loved the beauty and the opportunities for her career.
“I realized the department at the University of Washington was an up-and-coming department and Seattle is a lot better place to live than Providence,” the other natural choice for Oren’s career, he says.
Through the years Oren cultivated a love for teaching and mentored fifteen Ph.D. students. But he also had an entrepreneurial bent, and was in the right place at the right time to launch several Internet companies that were soon gobbled up by larger Internet companies.
In 2014, Oren left his position at the UW to lead the Paul Allen-founded Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research organization on the cusp of leading technology.
Though his family belongs to Temple Beth Am, “my own personal journey has been to be less close to Judaism as an organized religion,” he says. “At the same time, I’m very proud of being a Jew. I’m very proud of Israel in a time when Israel is very much criticized, if not vilified.”
Even though he loves being in Washington, “I am very cognizant that I and my children have given up something that is impossible to quantify—living in Israel—that wonderful thing,” he says. “I recognized ultimately that it’s a trade-off that we make in exchange for the peace and prosperity and the green that we have here.”