When Emma Yang was 7 or 8 years old, her grandmother became increasingly forgetful. Over the next few years, those memory problems, caused by early Alzheimer’s disease, worsened. Yang, who learned to code at an early age, decided to create an app to help.
Adele Peters | Fast Company
“I have personal experience with how the disease can affect not only the patient, but also family and friends. When I was about 11 or 12, I got really interested in using technology for social good to help other people around the world,” says Yang, who is now 14.
In her app under development, called Timeless, Alzheimer’s patients can scroll through photos of friends and family, and the app will tell them who the person is and how they’re related to the patient using facial recognition tech. If a patient doesn’t recognize someone in the same room, they can take a picture and the tech will also try to automatically identify them.
“I saw a lot of things about how AI and facial recognition were really evolving and being applied in more and more areas, especially healthcare,” she says. She partnered with mentors at the tech company Kairos, which makes the facial recognition software that is now used by the app, and learned to code for the iPhone for the first time.
The app also includes a simple reminder screen that lists appointments for the day, along with a simple contacts screen that shows photos of family members along with names. If a patient tries to call a contact repeatedly–something that can sometimes happen because of the disease–the app will flash a quick reminder: “Are you sure you want to call? You just called less than five minutes ago.” A “me” page shows the patient’s own name, age, phone number, and address.
A caregiver maintains some of the other parts of the app, including putting events on the daily calendar, and inviting friends and family to send an initial set of photos that the facial recognition algorithm can use to learn to identify them.