Geetanjali Rao made history when she won the first-ever ‘Kid of the Year’ award and featured on the coveted Times’ cover this year. This 15-year old Indian American scientist and inventor has been trying to work across a range of issues such as water contamination, opioid addiction and cyberbullying using artificial intelligence. In an interview with Time, she said that her mission is to create a global community of young innovators who can solve world problems. “Don’t try to fix every problem, just focus on one that excites you,” she said in an interview with Angelina Jolie for Time.
She won the award from among 5000 finalists aged 8-16 who have already achieved a positive impact in all sizes. Before winning this title, she has been named America’s Top Young Scientist of 2017 and won Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She has also been recognised as Forbes 30 U 30 for her innovations. As she confesses, many of her inventions have been inspired by just watching the news.
The Tech Journey Of This 15-yo
The child prodigy shared in her interview that there was no specific ‘aha’ moment before beginning her experimentations with science and technology. It was her everyday goal to make someone happy that soon turned to bring positivity in the larger community. Her venture with science and technology started at 10 when she wanted to research carbon nanotube sensor technology at the Denver Water quality research lab.
Motivated by the Flint water crisis, she invented a system called Tethys, Greek Titan Goddess of clean water. The instrument which looks like a 3D-printed box is about the size of a deck of cards and contains a battery, Bluetooth and carbon nanotubes. In an earlier interview, Rao had stated that she got the idea to use carbon nanotubes to detect lead in water after reading about how similar technology was deployed to detect hazardous gas in the air. She is now collaborating with senior scientists from the industry to create a working prototype that can be launched in the market. Rao believes that her tool can derive more conclusive and reliable results.
Furthering her research, she is currently working on an easy way to help detect bio-contaminants in water such as parasites. “I’m hoping for this to be something that’s inexpensive and accurate so that people in third-world countries can identify what’s in their water,” she said in an interview.
AI-Based App That Detects Cyberbullying
Kindly — an app and Chrome extension — was also built by Rao in order to help detect cyberbullying at an early age. Powered by artificial intelligence, this app was developed as Rao started to hard-code in some words that could be considered bullying. Further explaining how it works, she said that her engine then took those words and also identified similar words. The engine can self-learn and is adaptive, that can be invoked on a variety of different platforms.
Explaining how it works, she said that one could type in a word or phrase, and it can pick if it is bullying or not. It further gives an option to edit it or send it the way it is. Instead of lashing out the bully, it gives a chance for teenagers to rethink what one should say to the other person.
Numbers suggest that 1 in 5 people gets cyberbullied, and thus this app is a step towards ending cyberbullying to help make students feel better. Natural Language Understanding and artificial intelligence-based algorithms and APIs can efficiently detect cyberbullying. With guidance from several AI experts, she is now aiming to run the app efficiently on larger platforms.
Her goal is not just to drive tech-led innovations and create devices to solve the world’s problems but inspire others to work on them as well. As a part of her effort, she has even mentored around 30,000 students to create a community of innovators. She strives to help this community to drive innovations that can come for a larger help to society. She wants to put out a message that, “If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.’
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Srishti currently works as Associate Editor at Analytics India Magazine. When not covering the analytics news, editing and writing articles, she could be found reading or capturing thoughts into pictures.