Donna Lee – PhD Research in Artificial Intelligence for Video Games

UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA

Currently I’m leading an initiative to organize the most well educated individuals in the bay area to steward our influence in ways that will transform the world.

Who are you?

I’m a Computer Science PhD student at the University of California Santa Cruz. I grew up in a Taiwanese-American Buddhist family and had a life-changing moment with God when I was 10 years old. As a young child, I loved playing video games and have grown to appreciate the expressive power in interactive technology. Jazz is my favorite type of music, as it beautifully captures the reality and rawness of our human nature. People who play jazz music are heroes to me, because of the sacrifice they make to be true to themselves. Living for something real can be a lonely road, and none has experienced this more than Jesus Christ.

For my career, I research the use of Artificial Intelligence in expanding the possibilities of storytelling in video games. I’ve presented most of my work at various academic and commercial video game conferences. More accessibly, I’m a game and culture blogger, doing other projects such as video journalism for the game industry and author for game and culture books. Currently, I’m one of the coordinators for the Christian Game Developers Conference and the Monterey Jazz Festival. I’m also a band leader for the Terminal Degree Jazz Band, a group of Science and Engineering PhD students and friends that play gigs all around Santa Cruz.

In my community, I’ve organized a number of events to help bring Christians together to inspire and help the needs of our city. In my school, I’ve created my own seminars to help educate people on the cutting edge research in new technology. In my lifetime I aim to see the world transformed and unified through faith, music, and technology.

Tell us about your organization / project, your role, and its impact?

I’ve had the privilege to serve so many organizations all throughout my life. Currently I’m leading an initiative to organize the most well educated individuals in the bay area to steward our influence in ways that will transform the world. I’ve been constantly networking with PhD students from Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and UC San Francisco. Of all my other leadership endeavors, this is at a comparably early stage; however, it’s the movement that I am most passionate about. Pictures, photos, and stories are all documented on my blog. I believe through a sincere friendship with people passionate about the same things, we can accomplish goals such as: (1) sending professors overseas to countries that need academic reinforcements, (2) bridging the education gap among social classes within the US and internationally, (3) inspiring a a generation of students that will never have to deal with apathy or lack of purpose. In regards to my own story, it’s basically, seeing the need, finding a solution, finding the resources and making the friends, and not letting go of that vision. I’ve made many friends along the way, and things definitely move slower than I’d like to see; however, the possibilities are worth the wait. This movement is called Reclaim! Currently, we’re blogging and trying to plan our next big event, scheduled for 2012.

Where do you find your inspiration and motivation as a student leader?

I am most inspired by Jazz cats, hackers, and missionaries. There would be no greater honor than to be part of these three communities.

Jazz music keeps a person sane in a world that holds strongly to a status quo. The culture and musicians inspire me to consider the possibilities and push to find my own voice and message. The reverence that Jazz music has for its history points to key individuals that did what was true to them despite what everyone else was doing. Jazz music connects you without conforming you.

In Silicon Valley, my profession, and research communities, I’ve met some of the most inspiring individuals. In the hacker culture, you don’t settle for how things are, because anything worth using is worth understanding. These people hold me accountable, that any statement worth stating should be proven first. If you can dream it, then you better be able to build it. So many people build their dreams daily, and I see it through game developers, app developers, web developers, and other engineers.

Finally, missionaries inspire and motivate me as a student leader, because the go into the darkest in the world, bringing hope. I aspire to have the love and vision that it takes to be a missionary and live through the worst in hope for the best.

What is your vision for the organization / project and the role that it may play in the broader community?

I hope to inspire a world through faith, music, and technology. I want to see a world that makes the most of the influence they’ve been given, and that the live lives worthy of the calling they have received. My organization will find answers for the most hopeless problems and bring light to the darkest places of the world. Reclaim!

Why are you proud to be of Taiwanese heritage?

I’m a second generation Taiwanese American and have spent part of my childhood in Taiwan. I’m proud to have these ties to the East in a time when so many exciting changes are happening. There’s indeed and increase and shifts in the sort of influence we are gaining in the East, and I have to privilege to in direct connection to what is going on in all of Asia, through Taiwan.

What does the future of Taiwanese America look like to you?

As international and cross-cultural interactions become more prominent, Taiwanese-Americans have a big role in effecting how and at what rate the world changes. There are three interesting things that have been emerging from the Taiwanese Americans over the decades: (1) introducing and translating the aspects of Eastern culture to the West, (2) Western Culture to the East, (3) and developing our own rich and unique culture among the two.

Any additional information you would like to share?

I would be a professor in Afghanistan and North Korea if someone gave me the opportunity to, but also MIT or Stanford. I could see myself living in a mud hut, eating rice everyday or traveling first class around the world living in 7 star hotels. I’m happy as long as I can play Jazz on my tenor saxophone and love people; although, having a computer with internet now and then would be nice too.

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