It was much more than learning about AI, it was about empathy first and foremost.

by Kritik (16), UK

During the COVID lockdown, I had the privilege of taking part in the Teens In AI 2020 AI Accelerator. I learned so much from this. It was a great experience from start to finish.

In the first week, we had the chance to take part in 3 courses as part of a Tech Bootcamp. We learned a lot in only 5 days about the fundamentals of Machine Learning, Software Development and Problem Solving.

Peter, Asmaan, Jam and Alfonso were all great mentors who were always there to support my learning.

In the Machine Learning course with Asmaan and Jam, we would learn the basics of machine learning, developing many models including linear regression and K-means Clustering as well as building our own classifier for dog images. Alongside this, the software engineering course taught us about different methodologies of work in the real world such as Agile and Scrum. Not only that we gained skills that would become essential for us to employ in the next two weeks such as how to collaborate using Git and how unit testing was carried out.

In the second week, we were put into our teams and started to work on our projects. I was with Racheal, Sarah G. and Valentino. We all had our roles: Racheal was the User Experience Designer, Sarah G. was the Content Writer, Valentino was in charge of Design and Marketing and I was the project manager. The week was mainly focussed on design thinking and ideating. We first needed to decide on a problem, then narrow it down into a problem statement and then start thinking about possible solutions to this problem, always keeping humans in mind. While all of us had different ideas initially, we were all able to come together under the guidance of our Design Thinking Mentor Ayo.

Eventually, we decided to tackle the problem of teens becoming demotivated during COVID-19 which had additional negative impacts on their mental health.

To combat this, we decided to build an app which could help teens learn new hobbies as it was shown in NHS studies that trying new activities can be beneficial for someone’s mental health.

We also had the opportunity to listen to many speakers. Some of my favourite speakers were Julian Harris and Matt Celuszak. They both had very engaging talks titled “Speaking Naturally with Computers Conversational AI, NLP & ChatBots” and “People First, and Always” respectively. They discussed the process of NLP and emotion recognition as well as the potential biases and dangers. We made sure to follow their advice when designing our own chatbot in the last week of the Accelerator.

The last week was geared towards building our solution as well as deciding on a business plan and value proposition. As recommended by Ayo we first prototyped and got user feedback before starting to build. Initially, we tried to dabble in React Native, but realising we were out of our depth we quickly changed to coding in Java under the guidance of our Tech Mentor, Marcus. He was always very helpful and would often be willing to spend hours with our team to help us sort out any issues while coding.

While Racheal and I coded, Sarah and Valentino were busy preparing a pitch deck, value proposition and business plan with Dr Emilios and our Business Mentor, Kiran. Working together like a well-oiled machine, our team finished ahead of schedule which gave us plenty of time to rehearse our pitch with mentors before the Demo Day on 7th August.

The demo day was a nerve wracking experience. We rehearsed our pitch many times and then presented in front of a large panel of judges from various industry leaders including Business Insider, Mastercard and CARE International. Then, after a nervous 45 minutes of judging, the results were announced and we were the runner-ups! A fulfilling end to an amazing experience.

Overall, the AI Accelerator helped me develop my tech and soft skills. It was much more than learning about AI, it was about empathy first and foremost. I enjoyed working with my team and hope to carry on working on the project some day. Thank you to Elena, Peter and all the other mentors and speakers who made this event possible during a tricky time for the world. It was an incredible experience from start to finish.

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For more information about the AI Accelerator: https://www.teensinai.com/accelerator/

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