If I can do it, so can you, reminds TIME’s first-ever kid of the year

It has been a little overwhelming, but TIME, Nickelodeon and my parents are a great support.


Purva Grover

Published: Mon 14 Dec 2020, 12:22 AM

A revolution is happening outside our windows and it’s been led by the youth. No wonder, 15-year-old scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao, in the millennial lingo is ‘husting’ all the time, and doesn’t mind it. Gitanjali, TIME’s first-ever kid of the year, was one of the five ‘Kid of the Year’ finalists selected from 5,000 young American adults in the age group of 8 and 16, to recognise the work done by these changemakers. She is based out of Colorado, and we managed to speak to her after a week of she making it to the cover of the magazine and whilst we thought she’d be tired or overwhelmed with giving interviews and more, she said, “I have always loved to stay busy. Often, my parents ask me to choose activities, but I want to do it all. There is a difference between wanting to do something and having to do it. If we want to do it, we will find ways.” Now we know how she hustles it all in 24 hours! She was selected for her work using technology to provide solutions to issues like cyber-bullying, opioid addiction, contaminated drinking water, and more. Excerpts from an e-mail interview.

The spotlight is on you, how have the last few days been like?

It has been a little overwhelming, but TIME, Nickelodeon and my parents are a great support. They talked to me and allowed me to focus on what I want to, which is conducting more innovation workshops and I have several lined up in for this month, during my break. I have partnered with School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), and am planning a few in India, a few for within the United States, and also with an organisation, Transformation Ghana.

You were interviewed by Angelina Jolie, how was that experience like? In the future, if you’d like to be interviewed by another icon, who’d that be?

I am a huge fan and loved the interview. Jolie is a UN ambassador and a humble person. In the future, let me think, may be Malala (Yousafzai) as I love her passion.

How did your eight-year-old brother react to the news?

Anirudh has always been supportive of me. From the time he was three-year-old, he has seen me working on something or the other. He is a big help and coming up with ideas is natural to him. He is a big nature and animal lover, and he comes up with some incredible solutions for saving mountain gorillas or black-footed ferrets! He is an artist as well and loves to read about history. For my Human Geography course, I would go to him to clear my doubts because I know he will not go wrong and if he doesn’t know, he will find out the answer for me. He is our encyclopedia on culture and traditions. If we visit a new place, we let him be our tour guide.

In your interview with TIME you spoke about how if nobody else is going to do it, you can, and so can everybody else. Do you recall a time that led to that thought process?

I don’t think there was a specific age or time when it stuck with me. However, our family watches the news together and we discuss the issues. Some of the issues get stuck with me longer. And when I see that regularly coming up in the news, I feel a sense of responsibility to try at least with the resources I have. I may not bring all the ideas to reality, but bringing awareness and influencing universities and organisations to further work on a solution is possible. Hence, I try doing that.

Tell us more about the app, Kindly, which is a tool to fight cyberbullying.

It is an artificial-intelligence based service to detect and prevent cyberbullying at an early stage. It uses the latest developments in Machine Learning and NLU/NLP in order to identify words and phrases that could be considered bullying. The service can be seamlessly invoked to a variety of different front ends. For example, I have created a standalone app and browser extension. The current solutions in the market, while effective, are limited in their capabilities since many are based on a fixed bank of words when in reality, the vocabulary and terminology used are constantly evolving. Kindly’s self-learning service adapts to this by learning about the latest emojis, memes, and slang used. Along with this, Kindly attempts to be non-punitive by allowing users the option to rephrase or edit their message.

As a teen, being bullied is a painful topic to speak about, even amongst our peers, how does this app help the youth?

We teenagers are impulsive and if we are told to make the right choice and prevent a hurtful message, I believe we are open to that. The idea of getting reported, not understanding our moods, and forcing us to stop using hurtful language is where it fails. Kindly tried to solve these by its self-learning model.

In a world overcrowded with apps, do we need more apps?

Each piece/element technology has pros and cons. We created the Internet, but we needed to secure it in the background. We created medicines, but we need to know when to prescribe and when not to avoid addiction. We created robots, but we need to know how to safely operate it.

Very similarly, if we create apps and social media, it’s our duty to secure the language used in those.


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