Language learning depends on input. By age three, a child from a high-income family will generally have been exposed to millions more words than a child from a poorer socio-economic background (research shows that higher-income parents have more time and energy to talk to their toddlers). By closing this “word gap,” the playing field can be levelled and the underprivileged, empowered.
U of T’s Team Attollo – alumni Peter Cinat (BASc 2002, MBA 2014), Lak Chinta (PhD 2009, MBA 2015), Aisha Bukhari (BASc 2008, MBA 2015) and Jamie Austin (PhD 2012, MBA 2015) – have found a way to do that. Their Talking Sticker project is one of six finalists for the US$1-million Hult Prize – the world’s largest student competition to solve global problems and implement social change. The winner will be announced in September.
How do stickers talk? A child points a low-cost electronic reader at a coded sticker (which cost just pennies apiece) and the sticker responds – speaking, reading or even singing – with pre-recorded content that can include the voices of their own parents. Talking Stickers can speak different languages, present a range of age-appropriate content, and, as Austin explains, “turn any household item into an educational toy.”
They’re already raising funds, are partnered with U of T’s Semaphore Research Cluster and Toronto’s Autodesk Research, and are in talks with global organizations such as Right to Play, Aga Khan Foundation and UNICEF.
By bringing artificial intelligence into chemistry, Prof. Aspuru-Guzik aims to vastly shrink the time it takes to develop new drugs – and almost everything else