DEG Presents 5th Annual Hedy Lamarr Award to Former Dolby Exec Poppy Crum

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group Dec. 6 awarded Poppy Crum, former chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, the Hedy Lamarr Award for Innovation in Entertainment Technology in a virtual presentation.

In its fifth year, the Hedy Lamarr Award recognizes female executives in the fields of entertainment and technology who have made a significant contribution to the industry.

At Dolby, Crum is responsible for integrating neuroscience and data science into algorithm design, technology development and technology strategy. She is also an adjunct professor at Stanford University, focusing on the impact of modern technologies and immersive environments such as augmented and virtual reality on neuroplasticity and learning.

“It’s an absolute honor to receive this award in Hedy Lamarr’s name,” Crum said after being introduced by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association. “She’s truly one of the most creatively inspired and impactful inventors of our time.”

Crum noted the imaginative thinking behind Lamarr’s inventions.

“Her creative and artistic talents and perspective were part of the brilliance that inspired her to see successful solutions and opportunities that were whimsically unconventional and not stuck in the past, whether wanting to help provide safe transport at sea during wartime and finding the inspiration behind frequency hopping in the compositional strategy and orchestration of player pianos or improving flight time and safety in the wing design of an airplane conceived as Frankenstein features of different animals, each having its own aerodynamic superpower to include,” she said.

Crum pointed out that Lamarr also had failures, notably the “cola-cube” a sort of bouillon cube that was designed to turn water into a cola drink.

“It didn’t end up working the way Hedy had planned as an inventor because it turns out the water that would be needed to reconstitute the cube across the United States had different chemical compositions, state by state,” Crum noted. “Everyone who does standards, this probably rings true to them. And when the ratios or output of the intended experience didn’t work, she couldn’t create one cube for everyone that would guarantee a successful experience. So Hedy’s cola-cube failure beautifully demonstrated that one-size-fits-all solutions just don’t work very often.”

Technologists must keep this in mind, she said.

“As we fill our lives, our work in entertainment, with increasingly immersive technologies like augmented reality, we have to map the true translation of the technological intent, the user’s perception, rather than model averages or exemplars with OK fits for some and, frankly, poor fits for others,” she said. “One size fits all wasn’t good enough for Hedy, and it can’t be good enough for us. Generating the most relevant features for a personalized experience regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, size and accessibility is fundamental to creating successful and predictable experiences.… Our next steps as innovators in technology are going to see huge benefit to all of us as machine learning and AI play their part in removing existing bias in the success, consistency and impact of the technologies we build across all our users.”

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During the virtual event, the DEG also presented the 2021 Hedy Lamarr Achievement Award for Emerging Leaders in Entertainment Technology, honoring a female college student whose studies in the fields of entertainment and technology have shown exceptional promise, to Shambhavi Mishra, an undergraduate student at Carnegie-Mellon University. Mishra is double majoring in humanities analytics and music composition. Brianna Seaburg, a communications major at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California (USC), was runner up.

Both will receive a financial award to continue their education, with donation assistance from PBS Distribution. PBS Distribution president Andrea Downing virtually presented the award to both students.

A past honoree, Dean Willow Bay of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, led a virtual panel with past student honoree Cassidy Pearsall and the two 2021 winners discussing the transition to work life from college.

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Austrian-American actress Lamarr, the namesake of the DEG award, was a Hollywood legend who is best known for her roles in film classics including Samson and DelilahThe Strange Woman and Tortilla Flat. She was also a lifelong inventor whose innovative work included pioneering “frequency hopping,” which became the foundation for spread spectrum technology. Conceived by Lamarr and composer George Antheil for radio guidance systems and patented in 1942, this highly secure technology resists interference and dropout, and is utilized today for a variety of cellular, Wi-Fi and bluetooth applications.

Other past Hedy Lamarr Award honorees include Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Nonny de la Peña, CEO of Emblematic Group; and Sara DeWitt, VP of PBS KIDS Digital.

To determine the award winners, DEG enlists its Canon Club Advisory Board, which comprises a cross-section of leaders representing the entertainment, technology, IT and consumer electronics industries.

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