Gitanjali Rao Named TIME’s First Ever ‘Kid of the Year’

The world belongs to those who shape it. And however uncertain that world may feel at a given moment, the reassuring reality seems to be that each new generation produces more of what these kids—five Kid of the Year finalists selected from a field of more than 5,000 Americans, ages 8 to 16—have already achieved: positive impact, in all sizes.

A 15-year-old scientist and inventor has been named as Time magazine’s first “kid of the year”. Gitanjali Rao, from Denver, Colorado, has invented new technologies across a range of fields, including a device that can identify lead in drinking water, and an app and Chrome extension that uses artificial intelligence to detect cyberbullying.

She said she hoped she could inspire others to dream up ideas to “solve the world’s problems”. Gitanjali was chosen from a field of 5,000 US-based nominees, which was whittled down to five finalists by a committee of young people alongside comedian and TV presenter Trevor Noah.

She and the other four finalists will be honoured in a TV special next Friday. In an interview with actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Gitanjali said: “I don’t look like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white, man as a scientist.

“Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.” That is what the brilliant young scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao told actor and activist Angelina Jolie about her process, over Zoom, from her home in Colorado, during a break in her virtual schooling. “I feel like there wasn’t really one specific aha moment. I was always someone who wanted to put a smile on someone’s face. That was my everyday goal, just to make someone happy. And it soon turned into, How can we bring positivity and community to the place we live?”

“My goal has really shifted, not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems, but inspiring others to do the same as well.“Because, from personal experience, it’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you. “So I really want to put out that message: If I can do it, you can do it, and anyone can do it.”

The visionary kid Gitanjali seeing how bullying has affected millions, sought to help those impacted by it. “It’s a service called Kindly—there’s an app and a Chrome ­extension—which is able to detect cyberbullying at an early stage, based on artificial-­intelligence technology. I started to hard-code in some words that could be considered bullying, and then my engine took those words and identified words that are similar. You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is. The goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do next time around.”

Time began awarding its man of the year honour in 1927, later updating it to person of the year, but this is the first time it has named a kid of the year. Time, which also produces the child-friendly Time For Kids, teamed up with children’s TV channel Nickelodeon for the new award.

Last year, climate activist Greta Thunberg became the youngest ever person of the year when she was given the honor at age 16.

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