Adedolapo Adedokun has a lot to look forward to in 2023. After graduating in electrical engineering and computer science next spring, he will travel to Ireland to undertake a master’s degree in intelligent systems at Trinity College Dublin as the fourth MIT student to receive the prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship. But Adedokun, whose name is Dolapo, is not limited to academic success. In addition to being a talented computer scientist, the senior is an accomplished musician, an influential member of student government — and an anime fan.
Q: What excites you most about going to Ireland to study for a year?
A: One of the reasons I became interested in Ireland was when I learned Musical generation, a national music education initiative in Ireland, with the aim of giving every Irish child access to the arts through access to music lessons, performance opportunities and music education in the classroom and in out. It made me think, “Wow, this is a country that recognizes the importance of arts and music education and has invested in making it accessible to people from all walks of life. I’m inspired by this initiative and wish it was something I could have had growing up.
I’m also very inspired by the work of Louis Stewart, an amazing jazz guitarist who was born and raised in Dublin. I’m excited to explore his musical influences and delve into Dublin’s rich musical community. I hope to join a jazz band, maybe a trio or a quartet, and perform all over the city, immersing myself in Ireland’s rich music scene, but also sharing my own musical styles and influences with the community there- low.
Q: Of course, while you’re there, you’ll be working on your MS in Intelligent Systems. I’m intrigued by your invention of a smart home system that allows users to layer different melodies as they enter and exit a building. Can you tell us a bit more about this system?
A: Funny enough, it actually started out as a system I worked on in my freshman year in 6.08 (Introduction to Embedded Systems) with a few classmates. We called it Smart HOMiE, an IoT [internet-of-things] Arduino smart home device that collected basic information such as location, weather and interfaced with Amazon Alexa. I had forgotten I had worked there until I passed 21M.080 (Introduction to Music Technology) and 6.033 (Computer Systems Engineering) in my freshman year, and started learning about it more about the creative applications of machine learning and computing in areas like audio. synthesis and design of digital instruments. I discovered amazing projects like Google Magenta Tone Transfer ML — models that use machine learning models to turn sounds into legitimate musical instruments. Discovering this unique intersection of music and technology, I started to think about bigger questions, such as: “What kind of creative future can technology create? How can technology allow anyone to be expressive?
When I had downtime while at home for a year, I wanted to play around with some of the audio synthesis tools I had learned. I took Smart HOMiE and improved it a bit – made it a bit more musical. It worked in three main stages. First, multiple people could sing and record melodies which the device would record and store. Then, using some Python pitch correction and audio synthesis libraries, Smart HOMiE corrected the recorded melodies until they fit together, or generally fit into the same key, in musical terms. . Finally, he would then combine the melodies, add harmony, or layer the track over a backing track, and in the end, you’ve created something truly unique and expressive. It was definitely a bit rambling, but it was one of my first times messing around and exploring all the work that has already been done by amazing people in this space. Technology has this incredible potential to make anyone a creator – I would love to create the tools to make it happen.
Q: You are a jazz instrumentalist yourself. Tell us more!
A: I always had an affinity for music, but I didn’t always feel like I could become a musician. I had played saxophone in college but it never really caught on. When I arrived at MIT, I had the chance to take 21M.051 (Fundamentals of Music) and delve into music theory for the first time. It was in this class that I was exposed to jazz and completely fell in love with it. I will never forget coming back to New House from the Barker Library in my freshman year and coming across “Undercurrent”, by Bill Evans and Jim Hall — I think that’s when I decided I wanted to learn jazz guitar.
Jazz, and in particular improvisation, taught me a lot about what it means to be creative: to be willing to experiment, to take risks, to rely on the work of others and to accept failure – all skills that, I sincerely believe that have made me a better technologist and leader. More importantly, though, I think music and jazz taught me patience and discipline, and that mastering a skill takes a lifetime. I would be lying if I said I was happy with my current situation, but every day I look forward to taking a step forward towards my goals.
Q: You have focused on music and arts education, and the potential of technology to enhance both. Is there a particularly influential class, technology, or teacher in your past that you can point to as a changemaker in your life?
A: Wow, tough question! I think there are a couple of inflection points that have really been game changers for me. The first was in high school when I heard about Guitar Hero, the music rhythm video game that started as a project in the MIT Media Lab trying to bring the joy of making music to people from all walks of life. It was then that I was able to see the multidisciplinary influence of technology at the service of others.
The next one I would say took 6.033 at MIT. From the first day of class, the teacher [Katrina] LaCurts emphasized understanding the people we design for. That we should see system design as inherently people-driven – before we think about designing a system, we must first consider the people who will use it. We need to consider their goals, their personalities, their backgrounds, the obstacles they face, and most importantly, the consequences of our design and implementation choices. I envision a future where music, the arts, and the creative process are accessible to everyone, and I believe 6.033 has given me the foundation to build the technology to achieve that goal.
Q: You’ve also developed a passion for broadband infrastructure, which at first glance people may not be connecting to – music and education, your other two goals. Why is broadband such an important factor?
A: Before we can think about the potential of technology to democratize accessibility to music and the arts, we first need to step back and think about accessibility. Which communities increasingly have access to appropriate technology that we often take for granted? I think broadband is only one factor in the area of the bigger problem, which is accessibility, especially in minority and low-income communities. I consider technology to be the key to democratizing access to music and the arts for people of all backgrounds – but this technology can only be key if the basic infrastructure is in place for everyone world benefits from it. Just as I learned in 6.033, this means understanding the barriers of less accessible people and communities and investing in crucial foundational technology resources like equitable high-speed internet access.
Q: Between your work on the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group at EECS, the Harvard/MIT Cooperative Society, the MIT Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and of course all of your research and many academic interests, many readers have to wonder if you’ve ever eaten or slept! How did you balance your hectic life at MIT and maintain a sense of yourself while accomplishing so much as an undergrad?
A: Big question! I’ll start by saying that it took me a while to figure it out. There have been semesters where I had to drop classes and/or give up extracurricular commitments to find some balance. It’s always difficult, being surrounded by the brightest students in the world who are all doing incredible and amazing things, not to feel like you have to add another class or an extra UROP.
I think the most important thing, though, is to stay true to yourself — figuring out what things bring you joy, what excite you, and how many of those commitments are reasonable to make each semester. I’m not a student who can take a million and one courses, researches, internships and clubs at the same time, but that’s totally fine. It took me a while to find the things I loved and figure out the academic load that was right for me each semester, but once I did, I was happier than ever. I realized that things like playing tennis and basketball, playing with friends, and even sneaking in a few anime episodes here and there are really important to me. As long as I can look back each week, month, semester, and year and say that I’ve taken a step toward my academic, social, and musical goals, even just a little bit, then I think I’m taking steps in the right direction.