MacKenzie Baker, a sophomore at the USC Iovine and Young Academy, has always been drawn to the artistic and analytical duality of technology. Recently, she became one of 13 recipients of the 2017 Advancing Women in Technology (AWT) Scholarship, which means she will receive $5,000 in financial assistance for her college education and greater opportunities to turn her ideas into reality.
“Technology is more than just computers, coding, and machinery,” said Baker. “The original meaning of the word is art, skill, and cunning of hand. I have always believed art is a way for us to envision the world the way we want it to be. Technology is the means to get us there.”
Baker is an artist and scientist who, as a high schooler, had minimal exposure to coding and artificial intelligence. Lack of exposure, however, has not stopped her from bringing forth big ideas with major impact.
Last year, Baker participated in the Iovine and Young Prize competition in which small teams had to pitch a product idea in five minutes. Baker’s team proposed a 3D modeling device called Blueprint which utilized hand gesture technology to enable a person to physically sculpt a 3D model with their hands rather than with digital tools and key commands. This idea landed Baker’s team a spot in the finals and a $1000 prize to continue developing their concept.
“The idea originated from my traditional art background,” said Baker. “I knew how to sculpt using clay and wire, but when I took a 3D design class, it was quite difficult for me to wrap my head around the different digital tools. So I asked myself, ‘What is the most intuitive way to sculpt something in 3D?’ To use your hands.”
This summer, Baker interned at Adobe where she had the opportunity to consult with the company’s 3D modeling software team, Project Felix, about her own Blueprint device. She also proposed yet another big idea – using artificial intelligence in the assessment of art and design.
“In addition to proposing a project that would use existing AI technology, I developed my own parameters for an algorithm that would allow a machine to evaluate and, more importantly, understand an image,” said Baker. “The feedback I received from the Adobe Education team was simply, ‘Let’s do it!’”
This is just the beginning for Baker who still has her old notebooks full of ideas yet to be realized.
“I look back at my notebooks – which, yes, I did bring with me to college – and sometimes I laugh at the ideas scribbled in them,” said Baker. “But it’s because of that creative spark that I’m able to make strides towards the advancement of technology. The only difference between then and now is I’m now in a place where I have the resources to actually execute them. I am so grateful to have access to such incredible opportunities and plan on pursuing many more in the future.”
Baker, along with four other USC scholarship winners, attended the Annual AWT Wine Tasting and Scholarship Fundraiser on November 9th. AWT is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the influence of women in technology. Every year, the foundation awards educational scholarships to help attract diverse talent to local corporations. Since 2007, AWT has awarded over $200,000 to women studying at California colleges.