The Outliers 11: From child prodigy to AI champion, the second coming of Tanmay Bakshi

Pankaj Mishra March 29, 2017 2 min

The last time I met Tanmay Bakshi, the world’s youngest IBM Watson programmer at 13, he was just a child prodigy. Our conversation in June last year, which resulted in this video that now has over 2,00,000 views on YouTube, was mostly about things that child prodigies are made of — learning to code early, stardom, and so on.

Nine months later, last Tuesday, I got on a call with Bakshi to record this episode of Outliers, and I was blown away. He still sounds the same — one word tumbling upon another, yet each emphasised with great passion.

This time though, he seems to have found a new life mission, and some serious new questions for himself to answer.

How can AI (artificial intelligence) be applied to solve real world problems?

Can AI help give voice to a 29-year-old woman in Canada suffering from the Rett Syndrome?

Bakshi is now part of The Cognitive Story project, an open source initiative that applies cognitive technologies to help individuals who are unable to communicate to express their emotions  

Bakshi is now part of The Cognitive Story project, an open source initiative that applies cognitive technologies to help individuals who are unable to communicate to express their emotions. It’s about using AI to give a voice to those who cannot express themselves.

And Bakshi is all too excited about his newfound passion.

As part of the cognitive project, Bakshi, along with the Darwin Ecosystem, is trying to help a girl in Northern Ontario, Canada, who’s an advanced quadriplegic and cannot communicate, express herself.

“She’s literally trapped in her body, and that’s not good,” says Bakshi. “What we are trying to do is to give her back the ability to express her emotions through cognitive and machine learning,” he adds.

They’re trying to do this by analysing her brainwaves, and deciphering them, so the system can tell the girl’s mother what she girl wants and what she’s thinking about.

Some progress this!

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Podcast produced by Anand Murali.