Konstantin Vorontsov, scientist

Stereotypically, Russian brokers at the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) are wedded to their mobile phones and drive swanky inomarkas (foreign-made cars).

Broker Konstantin Vorontsov does not fit this mold. The affable, handsome 29-year-old sports a student’s rucksack and apologizes for being late for a meeting: “buses don’t come on time these days.”

And there is more: the MICEX is just Vorontsov’s day job. He is also a highly respected scientist doing path-breaking research in artificial intelligence.

“Kostya Vorontsov paved the way for the solution of a whole new class of tasks where classic mathematics is helpless,” said Konstantin Rudakov, a  corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “He followed on the research of Academician [Yuri] Zhuravlev—a renowned international name in the creation of artificial intelligence—and Kostya has already made his own name in informatics.”

Indeed, his work earned him a Medal from the Russian Academy of Science as a top young scientist in informatics. Vorontsov has found a way to considerably broaden the scope of tasks that can be solved through artificial intelligence—a leap that will make the infamous Big Blue computer which defeated chess champion Gary Kasparov look like an obsolete calculator.

Vorontsov is truly a sign of the times. All day he works at the frenetic heart of Russian capitalism—the MICEX is where banks and enterprises trade currency. Then, in his off hours he works as a “pure scientist,” as part-time researcher at the Computing Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (CCRAS).

And yet, the young scientist does try to bring his two worlds together. His job at the exchange includes monitoring the computer that watches over currency trading. This has led him to start work on a software-based simulator for persons who want to learn how to make honest money on stocks. “In the West, [stock market investing] is one of the major sources of revenue for millions of people,” Vorontsov notes. “They don’t put their savings in banks or in socks. Their fortunes are in stocks. In this respect, we are almost totally illiterate; it’s like virgin land here.”

Vorontsov does not despair about the economic conditions that required him to work in the “real world” rather than purely in the world of science. Born into the relatively stable and calm life of the family of a professor, he was a second-year student at the famous Fiztech (Physical-Technical Institute) when his father died. He quickly went to work repairing computers to support his mother. It was the heyday of so-called “shuttle capitalism.” His institute buddies took out loans, struck deals and invited Kostya to join in, but he refused. Soon most of his friends had quit science, many losing their capital as quickly and easily as they earned it.

In fact, Vorontsov says he likes his difficult work at MICEX, because it allows him to put his new theoretical work into practice. And, despite numerous offers, he has no desire to work abroad. Sure, he says, he could make more money at a big western software firm, but here he has a name in science, and whenever he participates in scientific conferences or seminars, his credentials as a research fellow at CCRAS confer a very high level of respect.

As Rudakov opined, “we do have people who leave us [for the West]. But in terms of scientific talent, it is the rearguard who is leaving. The vanguard stays here with us.”

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