16 Years Old and Living My Dream

Aug 14 2019

by Shagun Maheshwari, XPRIZE Intern

Imagine you are a 16 year old who has the mission of wanting to positively impact at least a billion people in the world through technology. Now imagine you had an opportunity to intern at a company that was doing exactly that! I’m pretty sure I’d classify that person as the luckiest 16 year old in the 🌎.

The crazy thing is, that’s my reality right now and I do feel like the luckiest 16 year old in the world.

Day before my first day interning at XPRIZE!

This amazing company is called XPRIZE which is probably one of the most revolutionary companies you have ever come across. This is because XPRIZE sets hugely ambitious but audacious goals to improve the world.

The mission is to create incentive competitions that target a pressing problem we see in our world today. These competitions are focused around topics such as increasing water abundance, recycling CO2 from the atmosphere into valuable products, and increasing adult literacy, etc.

But the thing that really makes me the luckiest 16 year old in the world, is the fact that I get to work on the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE! This was literally a dream come true as over the past year I have developed a huge passion for artificial intelligence and the impact this technology can have in improving our world today.

My deep interest in this technology led me to research into understanding the theory of complex deep learning concepts as well as self-learn how to build numerous different AI models. I found a particular interest with applying machine learning to genomics data which led me to build a model called a variational auto encoder that can identify which genes lead to cancerous tumors.

The $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE

What excites me the most about this XPRIZE is that it’s not creating an incentive competition to target just one problem, but actually numerous problems ranging over the topics of health diagnosis, health treatment, mental health, environment, education, humanizing AI, and improving the developing world.

For example, ORBEM is a team a part of the AI XPRIZE that is leveraging image classification AI technology + MRI tech to differentiate between male and female chicken eggs. This is a huge problem they are tackling as previously no one could identify the gender of an egg before it was hatched. Not knowing the gender beforehand actually resulted in 7 billion baby male chicks being killed every year + billion of eggs going wasted that could have been used to feed the population.

Another team called Element Inc, is using image classification to give digital identity to children in poverty. Around 1.1 billion people in the world don’t have any digital identity because of their economic situation. Element is making this scalable by enabling a smart phone camera to capture a child’s biometrics data in order to give them an identity.

As you can see, both teams are using a subsection of AI called image classification, but they are leveraging that technology to solve 2 completely diverse problems. These are just 2 out of the 34 teams using the power of AI to tackle some of the world’s most known and unknown problems!

Personal Thoughts on AI

One of the main reasons I’m so passionate about AI is because I see it as a tool with enormous amount of potential to leverage in solving the challenges we face in our world.

The current status of AI is pretty much a tool that is being used to:

a) Optimize & Personalize our life
b) Model complex problems and reach the output with more efficiency + accuracy

I see development in AI as building new tools and filling our toolbox to help solve problems that were tedious to solve before with our bare hands.

However, majority of people think of AI and instead of seeing it as a toolbox, they see it as this…

The reality is, we have not yet reached the stage of Artificial Super Intelligence which is AI that is 10x smarter and more powerful than us. Our current status quo is Artificial Narrow Intelligence.

Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI)

ANI is AI that extremely good at one particular task but cannot translate that intelligence to do another task.

Examples are:

Google’s AI system was able to beat the world’s best Go champion, in a match held in 2017.

A computer vision algorithm was created to use pattern recognition to identify breast cancer in the slide images of a patients tissues. This AI model had an 89% accuracy in detecting breast cancer while the average accuracy of a trained pathologist was 73%.

But an AI system has not yet been created that can output and perform on many diverse tasks like our human brain can.


Artificial Narrow Intelligence can be 10x more efficient/accurate that humans, when trained to do a particular task but the current status of the technology is not able to generalize and do multiple tasks like the human brain can.

For these reasons, I truly believe investing in the current state of AI is extremely important for humankind. However this is not to say that ANI does not have the power to be used for malicious intent.

With the huge amounts of data being aggregated about us through the technology we are using, privacy becomes a huge concern when companies like Dessa are able to create voice cloning technology that is accurate to the extent they can generate audio of your voice saying anything they want it to. Or when this technology is used in the wrong hands to create a DeepNude app that uses neural networks to remove clothing from the images of women, making them look realistically nude.

Importance of AI for Good

AI has the potential to do harm but it also has the potential to do a lot of good.

Incentive competitions such as the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE challenge and the Google AI Impact Challenge are structures to catalyze innovations with a positive impact using this AI technology. 🚀

by Shagun Maheshwari, XPRIZE Intern