14-year-old Tanmay Bakshi is not your average Joe. A self-taught coder, Bakshi is a neural network architect and IBM Champion for Cloud, based out of Canada.
Having developed his first app at the age of 9, he has been collaborating with IBM, using their Artificial Intelligence platform Watson. One of these include a collaborative project that aims to help a quadriplegic woman in Canada who cannot communicate. Bakshi chats with TOI on how he got drawn into the world of coding, his current projects and coding as basic skill. Excerpts:
How did you get initiated into the world of coding?
When I was 5, I used watch my father program and watch the fascinating things computers could do. But I wanted to find out how it happens. Seeing my interest, my father introduced me to programming. At 7 I used to struggle with multiplication tables. I created a small windows app, 'TTables', that helped me get a good grade. When I was 9, I created an iOS app on the same lines for others. Couple of years back, I saw a video on how IBM Watson played jeopardy (a US quiz show) and I wanted to see how to use IBM Watson myself. I started creating videos but I couldn't get IBM's attention. When I reported a few bugs on a developer community website, I didn't get any response. I then tweeted about it and within 2 hours, several IBMers reached out to me. They saw my twitter post, fixed the bug and also saw my Youtube channel and what I am doing with IBM Watson. IBM then invited me to their event in 2016 and I
have been collaborating with them ever since.
AI is being looked as the solution to world problems. Where do you think AI will work best?
There are some sectors that are more ripe for AI such as healthcare. Enormous amount of data and the ability to see subtle patterns that are prone to human error - these are traits that make healthcare ideal for AI. Of course there are some areas where AI can do a much better jobs than humans, so they can be diverted towards more useful jobs, such as Olli, the self driving mini bus powered by IBM Watson.
Tell us about the project you are working on.
One project I am looking forward to is in the area of mental health. Here, the end is not suicide prevention but early detection of depression. We are analysing different aspects of a persons daily routine like exercising, monitoring who they communicate with, tracking them on GPS, their social media profiles etc. We will then put it through IBM Watson to understand its impact and build an early warning system for depression. We are collaborating with mental heatlh institutions in New Zealand and India. Currently, I am working on machine learning algorithms that will work in the back end. Another project that I am really excited called Cognitive story is for a quadriplegic lady named Boo (name changed) in Toronto.
She can't communicate and so we are trying to understand brain waves to collect electrical impulses in her head. My role is to use algorithms to understand these brain waves. Right now, her parents can understand what she is trying to convey even with an eyelid movement. Even with them, it is an informed guessing game. Right now, we are in the process of developing a 3D printed headset that she can wear through the day that will collect data. My mentor Ross is working on the stretchable 3D headset while I am working with Rob High, CTO, IBM Watson and Darwin Ecosystem on the algorithms and we are hoping to have a working demo by 2018.
What is your advice to kids who are new to the world of coding?
Make sure you are passionate about it. If you stop at the first, second, tenth error, you will never get anywhere. You have to be perseverant. Start small, easy and playful. Don't go for AI at first. Take small steps - scratch, swift, python. There are a lot of initiatives to promote coding for kids. For instance, the Hour of Code with Chatbots for Good is an initiative where kids can build a chatbot in an hour. Without any prerequisite or knowledge of coding, you can build a bot. Coding is a basic skill. It is not for geniuses but for anyone who wants to do it.