Seokho Hong, Tracy High

For more about Seokho and the other scholarship winners…click here.

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Seokho Hong, Tracy High, 2012 Carol Phan College Scholarship Essay

My passion in life is computer programming. It’s not simply what I want to do for a living in my future; it’s something I’ve done for many years. I have worked on dozens of major projects not to mention countless smaller ones. I’m quite proud of my programs, some of which I have spent hundreds of hours on. I made a video to showcase a few of the more recent ones (see above).

My first inspiration to program was in fourth grade. I was playing a video game on a Nintendo 64 when it first occurred to me that someone had to make these games. I wanted to try. Unfortunately, fourth graders barely have the ability to program, let alone code entire games. I was mostly reduced to poking at programs, unable to do much until sixth grade. During middle school I wrote in the DarkBasic language, which was simplified to the point where I could create reasonably sophisticated games. I started with 2-D games which included simple puzzle or arcade style games, then expanded later into 3-D ones including a Real-Time Strategy and a First Person Shooter. Of course, the graphics weren’t stellar, but it was good for the work of a lone middle school student. I would perhaps have included pictures here, but the programs were wiped with the loss of the computer holding them. At least I learned to keep copies of them.

By high school, I felt that programming was something I’d continue in the future. I switched to the Java programming language, a professional language that is considered mainstream. I continued to write games, but while coding a strategy game, I was particularly interested in making an intelligent opponent. I found it fun to try to make the computer intelligent enough to defeat me consistently. I didn’t succeed, but I was inspired to switch paths from writing games to creating artificial intelligence, or AI.

Since sophomore year, I have created different sorts of intelligent programs. Games have always been a good arena for intelligence, and a few of my programs are written to play them strategically. I also have worked in the area of computer vision, or teaching a computer to see and identify objects in a picture or a video feed. In particular, I am interested in machine learning, which is essentially writing programs designed to improve and teach themselves.

The programs I have written are obviously not going to change the world. To many people, my programs are perhaps “cool”, but that’s about it to them. In the back of their heads, there’s always the question of: “so what?”. But they are perhaps valuing a program based on what it can accomplish, a standard not always applicable to AIs. At their cores, my AIs perform the same function as any other intelligence, not simply artificial intelligences: to make sense of data. Whether the input is a few numbers, a picture, or a vast database, the task of the AI is the same. The program exists to interpret the information. So I evaluate the success of a program not based on how useful it is, or how complicated the task is, but how well it does its task, how much sense it makes of its data, even if its task is very simple. I’m still in the stages of infancy in terms of creating intelligence, so I’m focusing on creating intelligence, rather than applying them. My hope in the future is to improve my ways of teaching programs, and then put these AI’s to work solving problems in our society.

Artificial intelligence has captivated me from the moment I started working on AI programs. It was one thing to learn, educate, and become intelligent myself, but a whole new challenge to pass this invaluable ability to a computer. As the programmer, I was the teacher of a cold, hard, unthinking machine, to learn to think and make decisions. And while my programs are far from being anything human, there are times when my AIs surprise me, thinking in ways that even I, as its creator, never expected. These moments are the joys of programming intelligence, the moments I live for.

-Seokho Hong

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