US-based Pranjali Awasthi, a child prodigy in the truest sense, is currently working on the overlap of neuroimaging and ML at the Neural Dynamics of Control Lab at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. At present, she is busy building a classifier for error detection in cognitive tasks using EEG imaging. This project has also received a grant from the New York Institute of Technology. The 14-year-old has also worked on an AI-based sign language detector, a mental health companion app, and an RNN-based diabetic retinopathy diagnostic tool.
Awasthi moved to the US from India with her parents when she was just 11. “I grew up in an environment where learning and curiosity were encouraged. My parents are well-versed in academia, with my mother in humanities and my father in science fields. The importance of education has been stressed in the environment I have been growing in. I got into research because of my dad who was also pursuing research in the field of the computer-brain interface. Further, the factor of social impact was a big factor in my upbringing. I was always told that it is always how much impact you have made in your community at the end of the day,” said Pranjali.
She is also an entrepreneur and has founded Indic Valley, an online store for underrepresented artists in India.
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For the event, Pranjali spoke on the importance of introducing AI to children from a younger age. “When I first started, I realised people don’t take AI very seriously. It is also limiting the number of opportunities available for AI enthusiasts to connect and grow significantly,” she said.
She feels that there are three main challenges that hinder AI learning among young students:
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- Learning in itself is a daunting task, and applies to AI as well
- Poor support from authorities
- Investments required for instructions
Pranjali believes that, despite the penetration of AI technology in almost every facet of our lives, the knowledge base is very concentrated in limited hands. Younger children especially are often left out from the conversation and discourse around it. “This should not happen. Instead, there should be more assertiveness and programmes built specifically for young students to teach and practice AI,” said Pranjali.
“There are programmes for high schoolers, there are programmes even for middle schoolers, but I feel we need to start even more early and introduce AI as a core subject even in elementary school starting from basic projects to increase their knowledge base. Mandating AI learning and establishing teaching certifications should be considered,” she added.
The average age in the US for a child to use social media is 10. Pranjali said this could be a good opportunity for introducing them to the algorithms running behind their favourite apps. She also believes children should be allowed to harness their creativity and translate that to learning and researching in AI.
Pranjali also spoke about the accessibility and availability aspect of AI. “Learning AI in the current situation seems very out of reach for a lot of people. There are a lot of opportunities and resources available on the internet but they should be made available to all.” Apart from making these resources available, attention should also be given to enforce and encourage AI learning. “The focus should be on creating better innovators and making them excited to learn.”