Tuesday 17 July 2018

From chatbots to conquering fake news - the stand out projects at this year's BT Young Scientist Exhibition

Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Thousands of students across Ireland have lined the halls of the RDS as budding scientists showcase their projects at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2018.

The iconic event, now in its 54th year, will see students address social issues such as combating fake news as well as striving to make innovations in the digital sphere.

BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2018
BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2018

This year there are 550 projects on show at the exhibition.

First year student Madelyn Fahey is investigating how fake news has affected our trust in the media.

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Madelyn (13), who attends Kinsale Community College in Co Cork, told Independent.ie that she chose this topic because "fake news is everywhere".

"A lot of people don't trust news anymore. I spoke to some journalists and many were angry that the public doesn't trust their work anymore."

Madelyn did a survey among 181 students in her school to see if they could identify fake news.

"I gave the students a selection of stories and asked them to choose which ones were real and which ones were fake. Girls were better at identifying fake news according to the survey."

After researching the topics, Madelyn said she was alarmed to find that over 64 per cent of Americans used social media to consume news.

"The impact of this is alarming. Unverified news spreads like wildfire on social media. A lot of children are also getting their news from social media so this needs to be monitored.

"My research has found that we need to be more aware of our news consumption. We also need education programmes in schools so children can consume news properly. People also need to take responsibility for fake news and post things responsibly online."

Transition year students Claire Cooney (15) and Ellen Murphy (16) developed a project to prevent hot car deaths.

'Baby on Board' is a device that alerts parents that they have left their child in their car.

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Claire Cooney, from Laurel Hill in Co Limerick, told Independent.ie that the pair have been working on the project since last August.

"Our project works through an app and a key fob. We have developed a sensor that attaches to a child's car seat and will alert parents if a child is left in the car.

"Through bluetooth, the sensor will send a message to the parent's phone or to their key fob to remind them their child is still in the car.

"It also send the location of the car so parents can get to their child faster. We hope this project will stop hot car deaths."

The students came up with the idea after a tragic incident in Tipperary last summer where a young baby died after she was left in a hot car.

"After that tragedy, we wanted to come up with something to help. It took a lot of research and we found that some companies have a similar product, but I think ours is the best. Ours is the cheapest and works as a key fob and an app."

Claire said that the technology costs approximately €10.

"If we got more funding we could develop the project further. We're really looking forward to the exhibition."

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Student Sarah Sweeney is developing a chatbot (Virtual Agent) capable of winning Alan Turing's Imitation Game.

The 15-year-old from Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Co Cork started programming when she was nine-years'-old after attending CoderDojo.

"My first project was a chatbot called Lila. Last year, I decided to make a better chatbot that could win the Imitation Game , also known as the Turing test."

The Turing test, developed by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human.

"My chatbot is a simulation of Alan Turing. I'm going to train the chatbot to know everything about Turing's work, life and relationships so that you can have a conversation with the chatbot as if it is a human. The Alan chatbot is made with a neural network which is an algorithm based on the brain," Sarah told Independent.ie.

"No-one has ever won the Imitation Game, but I want to see how close I can get. It takes years to train a chatbot because you have to gather a lot of data. The chatbot doesn't have to know everything because no human knows everything."

Sarah said that her chatbot is at the basic stages but she hopes to develop it further after the exhibition.

"At the moment the chatbot has been trained with 1,000 questions and answers. If I eventually get enough questions programmed the chatbot should be able to have a conversation.

"I have to generate training data myself because the data I want is not available anywhere else. I have written software that will curate the data and pass it to the model (Neural Network - the chatbot's "brain"). The code for the model is open source, meaning it's freely available on the internet for anyone to use.

"I have a twitter account, @ask_turing, where members of the public can send in questions they have for Alan. For the time being, it's me answering and putting in the questions and answers as training data but the long term goal, after the bot is trained, is to use the Twitter API to connect the bot to the account so it can answer the questions itself."

The age old question of why kids and adults don’t like vegetables has been under the scrutiny of a group of second year students at St Joseph of Cluny in Killiney.

Cara McCrystal, Daisy Gavigan and Susie Holahan examined the conundrum of whether we are picky eaters or if our dislike for greens is genetic.

The students who are exhibiting at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition say their findings show that we are indeed genetically disposed to finding the taste of Brassica vegetables; cabbage, kale, cauliflower, sprouts and broccoli a bitter pill to swallow.

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Pic back row: L-R –Amy Kelly, Ella Jones and Daisy Gavigan Front row: (L-R) Jennifer Kestell, Cara McCrystal and Susie Holohan

They are joined at the exhibition by their classmates Amy Kelly, Jennifer Kestell, and Ella Jones whose project ‘to create an app that helps detect glaucoma and other eye diseases using the torchlight and camera on a phone’ attracted the attention of President Michael D Higgins.

“We met with President Higgins and he was extremely nice to us and interested in our project,” said Amy. “The week has been a fantastic experience and we hope our project will help people with sight problems.”

This year's winner of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, to be announced on Friday, will be presented with a cheque for €7,500, a trip to the historic Bletchley Park and the BTYSTE perpetual trophy.

The 2018 overall winner(s) will also receive the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 30th EU Contest for Young Scientists when it is hosted in Dublin in September.

Judging begins today, and the Exhibition opens to the public from Thursday 11 to Saturday January 13.

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