This Young Innovator Is A Champion Of AI For Good

This Young Innovator Is A Champion Of AI For Good

At the AIMed conference 2019, UCI’s sophomore, and Dalai Lama Scholar Karishma Muthukumar gave an opening speech about her idea of using empathy-based artificial intelligence to improve human connection in the healthcare field.

AIMed conference is an annual conference dedicated to bringing technologists, entrepreneurs, clinicians, and healthcare professionals to define AI-enabled solutions to create efficient, humane, and patient-centric solutions for the future of medicine.

At the age of 14, while she was in high school, Karishma came up with the idea of using an emoji-based communication board for patients with Locked-in Syndrome. These patients are mentally aware but unable to move or verbally communicate. Her emoji-based communication board, OutLoud, won the abstract competition for Artificial Intelligence and Big Data in the International Society of Pediatric Innovation’s annual Pediatrics 2040 conference.

In 2018, she was named the 2018 Young Innovators to Watch, a national scholarship program by Living in Digital Times and Lenovo.

This month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Karishma to talk about her goals, aspirations, and current projects. Her intelligence and her heart drew me into our conversation. But, ultimately I was deeply moved by her humility.

What was the source of your inspiration for your OutLoud project?

Every Tuesday we used to volunteer at a brain injury center. There was this one patient who was a stroke survivor. One day, she held my hand and said, “Thank you, this really meant a lot.” She really struggled to say that, given her speech impairments. I realized that these types of simple communication is really difficult for people who have suffered traumatic injuries. Imagine being locked into your body, unable to communicate your needs and wants. It can be devastating. This incident inspired me to find a better solution to help these patients communicate.

How did you go about developing OutLoud from this inspiration?

There was a little bit of serendipity involved. At the time, when I was thinking of the types of solutions that might be good, I was playing with my phone’s emoji icons. I find emojis to have a “glanceable nature”. You can just look at them and immediately you understand what they mean. If you were to look at a “burger” or a “happy face”, you don’t even have to say all the words, you just have to look at the icon.

In high school, I tested this idea with a patient-caregiver scenario. These were all able bodied participants. In this scenario, the patient would get a sentence, “I am feeling happy.” Then, the patient had to translate that into an emoji. After that, the emoji is sent to the caregiver where the caregiver has to translate it back into a sentence. Finally, the patient can evaluate the sentence sent back by the caregiver to see if the understanding is correct. Essentially, the patient can determine the accuracy.

What is the next phase of your OutLoud project?

We are in the development stage of our product. With the guidance of a fantastic board of advisors, we are looking to secure grant funding and launch proof of concept trials in clinics. Specifically, we are trying to integrate artificial intelligence into our product. We will use AI to help us recommend the most frequently used emojis. One of the biggest issues that we found while testing our initial product was that the time from the start of communication to the correct interpretation could be improved. We want to shorten the time to achieve understanding. We are also going to add “health-specific” emojis. This will improve the understanding as well.

What do you think is the biggest benefit of integrating emotion AI into the patient-caregiver scenario?

I think a product that is focused on emotions inspires an emotional approach in the patient-caregiver scenario. If the language that patients and caregivers are using is emotion-based, then there’s more of a likelihood that it will inspire an emotional response from all the caregivers, nurses, physicians, etc.. Just starting the conversation around emotions will help caregivers to understand the patient’s point of view.

How does it feel to gain such attention with your first project?

It’s been amazing seeing so much support from the medical community and the technology community around this project. It’s been reassuring for me to collaborate with experts: medical experts, technology experts, and business experts who share the same vision. It brings me a lot of confidence in this project as a whole.

You have another project, Synapse Connection. What is it? How did you get involved?

We started Synapse Connection, a non-profit organization to bring neuroscience education to children of all ages. We focus on education and raising awareness of the brain, brain disease, and brain injury. For instance, we are teaching high school students neuroscience, developing curriculum with students and teachers. Then, we all teach middle school and elementary school students from the curriculum that we developed. The curriculum is full of hands-on activities using play-doh, pipe cleaners, etc.. We made it curriculum fun and engaging to inspire interests from these students.

Were you always interested in artificial intelligence? What was the starting point?

I think it’s very special how one thing builds on the next thing. It all started with my involvement in the Medical Intelligence and Innovations Internship, just seeing how patients would interact in the hospital environment. Then, I entered the AI category of a competition without having any prior knowledge of AI. There was a steep learning curve. There’s always so much to learn. But, once you dive in, you just learn it all.

How do you juggle between all your projects and school work?

It’s challenging. It has a lot to do with your mindset. If I were to view everything as a task, then it will be a lot more difficult. Because I truly enjoy this work, it’s not as difficult as people might think. I’ve met a lot of mentors who have inspired me in their work. It makes it easier for me to juggle. At times, I feel the “time” pressure of trying to make everything perfect to make deadlines. But, at the same time, pushing through that gives me more motivation.

Now that you are inside the medical community working with physicians and researchers, do you want to be a physician or a researcher?

I do. I want to be a neurologist. I’m also interested in neurosurgery.

Now that you are in college, what would you say to a high school student who doesn’t yet know what he or she wants to do in life yet?

For me, mentorship played a huge part in being able to find my direction in life. Also, I was very dedicated to exploring my interests. I initially wanted to pursue science writing. Then I moved on to neurosciences. Eventually, I moved onto exploring neurology. In between, I explored technology. Now, I’m back to exploring neuroscience and neurology in hopes of going to medical school. My interest changes constantly. But, there’s always been people in my life to motivate me to stay true to my core interests. I would say to these students, “Reach out!” A lot of people such as mentors, family, friends, can support and guide you in your explorations.

In the age of innovation, we are all looking to young innovators such as Karishma Muthukumar to inspire us in our work of “AI For Good”. Our next generation of innovators will look to role-models like her to guide them. 

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