A University of Michigan alumni, Kellen Bixler is an Artificial Intelligence Engineer III with SoarTech. When considering a path for himself after graduation, Kellen was interested in applying recent AI advances toward generating content and creating interactive worlds for video games.

“The game industry seemed to be very development focused, so I figured innovative approaches would be best explored elsewhere,” he explained. “SoarTech focused more on the research side of things, with serious games as one of their primary applications, so I thought it might be a good place to start.”

He didn’t always think about becoming an engineer but was very much into games, so becoming a developer or designer seemed interesting to him. “I had some success with competitive programming in high school after sinking a copious amount of time into it and decided to transition it from a hobby into a career,” he said.

Since joining SoarTech, Kellen has primarily worked on the SwarmMATE family of projects. “I find these projects interesting, as the most robust approaches often rely on emergent behaviors and are inspired by natural systems,” he said. “Swarming requires one to think of causation in the context of concurrency, which is a large deviation from the sequential systems that are most familiar.”

With regard to SwarmMATE, he said, “My greatest accomplishment has been collaborating with John Sauter, taking the vision for SwarmMATE, and building it into a core technology that is slowly becoming a cornerstone of the SoarTech brand.”

Kellen believes thathaving a background in artificial intelligence is uncommon for military personnel deployed in the field, and it is important that they have confidence in the tools they are using.

“Most forms of modern AI, like machine learning, tend to be rather opaque and difficult to understand even when effective,” he said. “Humans have many years of experience built up interacting with other humans. As a result, human-centered AI solutions such as cognitive approaches tend to be much easier to understand, which helps build confidence.”

As part of his SoarTech experience, Kellen said he is really enjoying the focus on work-life balance, and the flexible hours, though lately there’s been less of an emphasis compared to the past due to timekeeping requirements.

“It has really alleviated some of the pain points associated with short crunch periods as well as long integration events where you are sometimes expected to work 12-hour days including weekends for the duration of the event,” he said.

When Kellen isn’t working alongside his SoarTech teammates, he likes to play strategy games, something that he has been hooked on since his brother taught him how to play Magic the Gathering at an early age. “I had a few years stint with Hearthstone towards the end of university before moving onto Teamfight Tactics, where I’ve attained the rank of Challenger in each set with peak ranks of 45 on the North America server and 91 on the Western European server.”

Kellen also enjoys music in various forms and spent 10 years playing Trombone in various concert bands, symphony orchestras, and Trombone quartet groups. He also enjoys rhythm games as well as casual listening.

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