MIT Professor Daskalakis Says Pursuit of Excellence Crucial for Greek Society

Noted MIT computer science professor Constantinos Daskalakis stressed the importance of the pursuit, and rewarding, of excellence as a way for Greek society to move forward.

The Greek computer scientist, who won the prestigious Rolf Nevanlinna Prize in August of 2018, was interviewed on Greek public television recently. The MIT professor spoke about his life, and the work which brought him academic fame when he solved John Nash’s famous mathematical riddle.

Daskalakis stressed the importance of excellence not only in academia, but in all aspects of life. He said that the notion of excellence is crucial for Greek society to move forward and leave behind the inertia of the economic and social crisis the nation has experienced the past nine years.

“Excellence should be promoted,” the professor said on ERT2. “If excellence is not rewarded, the country cannot move forward. Who is going to push the limits in knowledge, who is going to push the limits in sports, who is going to push the limits in thought?

“This is why excellence should be rewarded… A society of mediocrity is a damaged society… We can not survive being mediocre,” Dr. Daskalakis declared.

The MIT professor has expressed his disappointment over the massive exodus of young, educated and talented Greeks in recent years because they cannot find decent jobs, much less advance and prosper in their fields.

In October, President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos invited the 37-year-old scientist to Greece’s presidential mansion and congratulated him personally on his reception of the Nevanlinna Prize, as well as his overall achievements.

President Pavlopoulos said that Daskalakis had made all Greek people proud of his important contributions to computer science.

American mathematician and Nobel Prize-winner John Nash with Daskalakis in 2013. Photo: Vasilis Sygkanis

Athens-born, Cretan at heart

Constantinos Daskalakis was born in Athens on April 29, 1981. His grandparents were from Crete and this is probably where his pride and his restless, free spirit derive from. Both his parents were high school teachers, and he has a younger brother, Nikolaos.

When Daskalakis was in eighth grade, his father bought him an Amstrad CPC. The teenager then stayed up all that night, trying to figure out how it worked. He graduated from the private Varvakeio High School and enrolled in the National Technical University of Athens, from which he graduated in 2004 with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Daskalakis graduated with almost perfect marks, earning 9.98 out of 10; he was the first student in the school’s history to score such a high grade. He got a 10 in all classes except for one, a 9, in macroeconomics.

He completed his undergraduate thesis, which was titled “On the Existence of Pure Nash Equilibria in Graphical Games with Succinct Description.” He continued his studies at the University of California, Berkeley where he received his PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2008.

The Greek scientist became well-known in 2008 when he won that year’s Doctoral Dissertation Award from the Association for Computing Machinery for advancing our understanding of the behavior of complex networks of interacting individuals. It was such individuals as those who enabled the invention and creation of the Internet.

His dissertation, entitled “The Complexity of Nash Equilibria,” offers a novel, algorithmic perspective on Game Theory and the concept of the Nash Equilibrium. For this work, Daskalakis, along with Christos Papadimitriou and Paul W. Goldberg, was awarded the 2008 Kalai Prize for outstanding articles at the interface of computer science and game theory.

At the age of 28 he became an assistant professor at MIT, where he still teaches today.

Daskalakis has won a number of other awards and distinctions, including the Career Award from the US National Science Foundation, the Sloan Fellowship in Computer Science, and the 2011 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Outstanding Paper prize.

The brilliant scientist has also won a Microsoft research scholarship and a research award from the Vatican’s Giuseppe Sciacca foundation.