Updated: Sep 2, 2021
The COVID-19 lockdown forced isolation on many people. Even those who thrived on social contact were forced to remain in their homes with limited or no direct contact with other people. This isolation, now prolonged for over a year, has caused mental health issues for people of all ages across the globe.
Anudi is a 14-year-old student in Colombo Sri Lanka, an island nation with 21 million people. In 2020, Sri Lanka went into forced lockdown and Anudi saw for herself the impact on people around her, including a friend who had a mental breakdown. She realized the seriousness of loneliness and was inspired to build an app to help her community.
She did research on the problem, including a survey where she gathered input from nearly 50 people of all ages around her. She found that loneliness was a serious problem, with more than 60% of the respondents saying that they felt lonely more than twice a week, well above the medical definition of the condition. She also realized that while COVID-19
had increased loneliness, it had been a problem across the world well before COVID-19. The United Nations defines loneliness and mental health as a key element of sustainable development goals and studies show that 3 in 5 US adults report loneliness. She also spoke with several psychologists to better understand the problem. See a video with all the details above.
Anudi used her learnings to create COLBY, a chat app where a friendly robot talks to people and helps them be less lonely. For those with serious mental health concerns. COLBY recommends local mental health agencies in Sri Lanka who have stepped up to assist. Her app uses AI to detect a person's emotional state via a form of Natural Language Processing (NLP). The chatbot uses this information to engage the user in different conversation topics depending on their mood. With guidance from her AIClub mentors, Anudi built her app in Python/Kivy and used cloud-based AI from AWS. She also designed custom animations for her app to build COLBY to life. See a demo of her app on the right.
Anudi's app has gotten rave reviews from users and from organizations in Sri Lanka focused on mental health.
We are very proud of Anudi, her accomplishments, and her passion to help her countrymen and community. She has successfully applied the 4C's of AI-Literacy for K-12 (Concepts, Context. Capability, and Creativity) to imagine a unique solution for a serious problem. She worked with her community to understand their needs and applied her knowledge to solve them. We hope that other kids around the world follow in her footsteps and apply their AI learnings to envision and realize a better future. AI for kids is a way to energize the next generation of students, the first AI-native generation in our world.