Essay by Jiayao Li

Jiayao Li of Irvine won the $2500 Carol Martinez Scholarship awarded on the national level by the Mensa Foundation.

Since seventh grade, I have religiously devoured computer science videos on Youtube. Galleries of thumbnails would flash by until something caught my eye—and instantly immersed me into Python programming, data structures, and algorithms. Through programming Arduino-powered robots that could lock doors, training machine learning models capable of recognizing numbers, and building web apps that shortened paragraphs of text into summaries, I discovered the power of computer science–enabling me to solve practical problems.

Once, a random click took me to Dr. Andrej Karpathy’s talk at the 2019 ICML conference. In it, he explained the Tesla autopilot team’s effort to transition their object-depth-detection systems into using pure computer vision methods relying on images captured by cars. How cool is a car that can interpret streams of RGB-image pixels–data so confusing to the human brain–to detect traffic protocols like stop signs?

Mind-blown, I pondered other problems that could also benefit from a computer’s ability to visually analyze images. As a ballet dancer, I have recognized that in ballet classrooms, since usually, one instructor corrects the postures and technique of all dancers, miscalculated movements often go unnoticed, resulting in serious injuries. After much research, I developed a neural network-based ballet motion analyzing software that could scan a dancer’s video to recognize and output individualized corrections. While I had the honor of publishing my work, my most exciting moments occurred during the ten months of designing, coding, and testing prototypes; the long hours of troubleshooting software bugs rewarded by unexpected discoveries; the experience of watching my concept become a reality.

Struck by exhilaration, I think to myself that this sense of exploration and learning in attempts to solve real-world problems is what I want to dedicate my life towards.

In college, through continuing my two years of AI research both independently and with Dr. Yingjie Lao, I’m excited to further my experience in human-centered computer vision technology. To holistically deepen and broaden my AI knowledge beyond the online courses I self-learned in high school, I hope to take classes in niche topics such as “Social and Ethical Issues in AI” through majoring in Computer Science. Learning to become a balanced and morally conscious AI researcher is an important goal of mine. By taking advantage of the entrepreneurial culture within my college, I hope to discover fresh, innovative concepts through active learning and researching with others. In college and beyond, I aspire to start a company that develops and deploys serviceable AI-based products to people’s everyday lives. With a goal of such difficulty, I have already started brainstorming and researching ideas, submersing myself with experts in the field, and trying to absorb as much information as I could from the internet resources such as online courses, articles, forums, and research papers. I plan to continue doing so.

To me, a successful college experience also entails fostering support within my community. As a continuation of my work at ARQuest SSERN and Girls Who Code, I would participate in and help organize mentorship and outreach projects to achieve my lifelong mission of inspiring young individuals to engage in research that promotes social good.

Whether through computer science, entrepreneurship, social service, or the arts, I would fully utilize the opportunities that life offers, striving to grow into a socially aware and balanced individual.


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