Things That Matter

14-Year-Old Latina Student Developed Technology Allowing People To Ask Alexa Immigration Questions In English And Spanish

Alexa, am I allowed to get a driver’s license? Alexa, how long does it take to get a visa? These are the kinds of questions immigrants are now able to ask the virtual Amazon assistant in Spanish and English, thanks to “Immigration Bonds,” an Alexa Skill created by a 14-year-old Latina.

Suguey Carmona, a high school student at KIPP Brave High School in Austin, Texas, developed an Alexa Skill that allows English- and Spanish-speaking immigrants to get answers to questions related to their rights.

Carmona first developed an interest in coding after taking a computer class in the sixth grade. She then joined Hello World, a K-12 computer science program based in Austin and San Francisco. She became exposed to different programming languages and discovered a way to meld her love of coding with an idea to help out immigrant families in her community.

The 14-year-old set out to help her own friends and family with this app.

I chose to work on this technology because I see my own friends and family who have questions and who are struggling to make a living, and I thought maybe I should do something about it,” Carmona, whose family is from Mexico, told NBC News.

Carmona’s technology helps create a judgement-free safe zone for people to ask questions freely.

Language barriers and lack of access to information can be a major source of confusion for immigrants and can prevent them from accessing the services they need, according to numerous studies. Carmona’s technology addresses those challenges by providing a judgment-free zone to ask questions at people’s pace and in their own language.

The teen worked on everything, from research to coding, to develop “Immigration Bonds.”

After interviewing people about their most pressing immigration questions and conducting research on the logistics of obtaining paperwork, finding employment and navigating other areas of life as an immigrant, Carmona began working on the technology, which she named “Immigration Bonds.” And so began a monthslong process paved with coding challenges. “I’d work on it for hours each day,” Carmona said. “I’d start a new paper and it would crash and break and I’d be like, ‘Oh, shoot. Now I have to start over again.”

Sabina Bharwani, the founder of Hello World, said that her team assisted Carmona on her app but they also let her struggle, which “made all the difference” when the teen was successful.

“Suguey struggled to use the Alexa interface, which is usually used by developers with 10-15 years of experience,” Bharwani said. “It was a steep learning curve, but when she mastered it, it meant more.” Throughout this time, Carmona experimented with different ways to present the technology. She said she wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be a video game for children or a phone app, but she ultimately decided on issuing it as an Alexa Skill because she liked “how you didn’t need certain keywords for it to work.”

Alexa would reply no matter what you respond,” Carmona said. “The problem with text boxes is that if you don’t put in certain words or phrase things a certain way, it won’t read it and that can make it really complicated for people who are trying to use it to get answers.”

After developing a prototype, Carmona tested the technology with her friends and family and made adjustments as she saw fit.

Once Alexa users download ”Immigration Bonds,” they can ask Alexa questions directly, as they would for Apple’s Siri or other voice-automated technology. For example, if a person wants to know whether they can apply for a driver’s license depending on their immigration status, the app will respond by asking them where they live, for example, so that it can provide the user details based on their geographical location, as laws differs by state.

Latinos are vastly underrepresented in computer science.

Latinos in computer science (aka. coders) only make up 7 percent of the STEM workforce, according to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center. And at Google — one of the largest tech companies — only 1.4 percent of its new tech hires in 2019 were Latina and less than 4 percent were Latino. This is why stories like Carmona’s  draw attention to the importance of endeavors like Hello World and Computer Science Education Week — which recently took place globally from Dec. 9-15 — which foster students’ interest in computer science.

Those who are interested can download the “Immigration Bonds” app on the Alexa Skills store on the Amazon website.Though the technology was published in the Amazon app store earlier this year, Carmona plans to keep adapting it and eventually publish it as an Apple app too.

These Latinas Are Changing The World With Their Groundbreaking Inventions In Science, Technology, And Engineering

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These Latinas Are Changing The World With Their Groundbreaking Inventions In Science, Technology, And Engineering

@techreview_es / Twitter

Women are under-represented in the tech sector. Not only that, but they’re underpaid, often passed for promotions and faced with everyday sexism. It’s no wonder women are more likely to leave the industry within a year compared to their male counterparts. But there’s hope. Last week, the MIT Technology Review published a list of the leading Latin American innovators of 2019, and we wanted to highlight the women, who have pushed through in a male-dominated industry and are creating solutions for issues like climate change, terminal illnesses, and other threats. 

In a field that requires women to work alongside men who don’t believe women have the intelligence and inclination to work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), these Latina innovators are proving otherwise.

Renee Wittemyer, director of program strategy and investment at Pivotal Ventures —Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company— says that women, and particularly women of color, “are being systemically left behind.” And, she adds, “these stats are moving at a glacial pace.” According to Wittemeyer, African American women and Hispanic women represent 3% and 1% of tech workers respectively.

There is an extensive underrepresentation of women in STEM fields. 

Women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce. To make matters worse, only 3 percent of Latina women are working in STEM fields. So these Latina innovators are worth celebrating. 

These scientists, biologists and engineers are making a social impact by solving many of the world’s most complex questions and threatening issues—from climate change to terminal illnesses to social problems.

Here are five Latina innovators shaking up the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) sphere and using technology to create a greater impact for the world:

Lucía Gallardo

technologyreview.es

Lucía Gallardo is the brain behind “Emerge,” a start-up that aims to solve social problems with emerging technologies, such as blockchain, Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). “Through her company, Gallardo tries to bring these tools to people who work on social impact projects, especially in impoverished countries such as her native Honduras. One of Emerge’s main sources of support is women and marginalized communities, who are driven by both technology and advice,” MIT Technology Review writes.

María Alexandra Tamayo

technologyreview.es

This Colombian innovator, is purifying water in a country that has the second-most water resources but where only 8% of households have access to drinking water. This way, the biomedical engineer hopes to avoid diseases and death caused by water.

“This is how NanoPro was born, a device ‘capable of eliminating fungi, viruses and bacteria from water without affecting its taste, smell and color,’ the engineer explains. “The filter can be applied in both rural and urban populations, since it is incorporated both in faucets and in thermoses for those areas whose supply network does not reach homes.” With her invention, Tamayo hopes to democratize the access to drinkable water.

Marcela Torres

technologyreview.es

Marcela Torres wants to help refugees and immigrants in Mexico through “Holacode,” a software she developed to provide immigrants with access to employment and better integrate themselves into society. “Marcela Torres realized that in Mexico there were not enough people with the qualifications needed for the software developer positions that were open in the country, so she decided to use technology to solve the problem,” the MIT magazine wrote. “This is how ‘Holacode’ was born, a start-up that offers software development courses for the migrant community in Mexico.” Holacode offers coding and software courses for migrants in Mexico. The courses lasts five months, and with this start-up, Torres hopes that technology education can become more democratic and accessible. “The start-up allows these jobs to be filled by especially vulnerable people such as migrants.”

María Isabel Amorín

technologyreview.es

Amorín, 28-year-old Guatemalan chemist discovered an innovative way to clean sewage. On top of emissions and the excessive rate at which we are consuming resources, another great impact that global industrial activities have on the planet, is water pollution. In short, textile industries use a lot of chemical dyes for the production of clothing, which not only results in massive water waste but these chemicals can pollute rivers and other bodies of water. 

The Guatemalan chemist, Maria Isabel Amorin, “synthesized a polymer from shrimp shells that’s capable of retaining the dyes used in the textile industry.” According to the MIT Technology Review, “The filter works by recirculating and retaining the dye used to dye clothes. This project is particularly focused on artisanal textile production, since the technologies available to treat the waters are very expensive. Now, the young chemist is in the process of patenting her ecological method of filtration and hopes to scale production.”

Mariel Pérez Carrillo

technologyreview.es

This Mexican biochemical engineer and entrepreneur, helps farmers increase their crop production through Innus Technologies. Carillo recalled, “I went to the countryside to learn from the farmers and I realized that they don’t know how their crop is. They also don’t know what state their soil is in.” She invented Enviro, a device that identifies soil conditions and climate in real time and, from them, offers recommendations to improve crop yields.

Thanks to its sensors, Enviro can measure temperature, humidity, conductivity, pH and salinity. The device can help farmers reduce crop losses. Pérez affirms that Enviro also reduces the need of agricultural supplies, “which reduces the contamination of soil and aquifers caused by to excessive use of agricultural chemicals.” 

Brazilian Researchers 3D-Print Part Of The Face For Cancer Survivor

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Brazilian Researchers 3D-Print Part Of The Face For Cancer Survivor

@mr_nobody / Twitter

A Brazilian cancer survivor has been fitted with a prosthetic eye and face to cover the hole that a devastating bout of skin cancer left. Denise Vicentin, 52, beat her cancer a decade ago and has since been living without a part of her jaw and her right eye ever since. Vicentin was so self-conscious about her battle scars, she became afraid to go out in public. People would stare at her everywhere she went and, soon, her social life and marriage fell apart. “[Before] when I was on the metro or train, I tried not to pay attention to the stares. At places like the bowling alley, I felt them looking, and the person would even leave when they saw me,” she told the Daily Mail.

Ten years later, researchers were able to create a custom prosthetic using just a smartphone camera and a 3D printer. Now, she feels like she has her ‘missing piece’ and says she is so happy that she even sleeps with it on.

Years ago, she was offered a hand-made prosthetic, but it would have cost her half a million dollars.

CREDIT: @MR_NODOBY / TWITTER

A portion of her right jaw was removed, making it difficult for her to eat and slurring her speech. One of Vicentin’s most painful wounds left behind by the cancer was her inability to navigate throughout society without being ostracized or made to feel different. When doctors offered her the opportunity to have a prosthetic made for her, she had no choice but to turn it down. It would have cost over half a million U.S. dollars. 

Waiting for the right moment may have paid off for Vicentin. As technology has advanced, the capabilities of 3-D printing are only just now being realized. Vicentin sought out an alternative treatment at São Paulo’s Paulista University just last year and is already walking into 2020 with a new lease on self-confidence.

The final prosthesis just took 12 hours to create and a fraction of the cost thanks to 3-D printing technology.

CREDIT: @VAZIYETCOMTR / TWITTER

The research team at Paulista University formulated a plan to give Vicentin her ‘missing piece.’ Vicentin would have to undergo several surgeries over the next year in order to fit the prosthesis. Then, the doctors took 15 photos of Vicentin’s right eye socket from a simple smartphone. From there, they were able to use all the images to digitize a 3-D model that would eventually become the blueprint for the 3-D printer. 

The final model was printed and refined in just 12 hours, from a mixture of silicone, resin, and synthetic fibers. After the 3-D printer created the technical piece that would sit flush on Vicentin’s face, a bit of human artistry was applied to make the prosthetic as realistic as possible. The researchers painted the prosthetic to match Vicentin’s exact eye hue and skin color. They even individually secured lashes to resemble that of her other eyelid.

The research team has been perfecting 3-D prosthetics since 2016, offering new levels of confidence to over 50 patients so far.

CREDIT: @CANAL_44 / TWITTER

Dr. Rodrigo Salazar has specialized in maxillofacial prosthetics for the last few years and has married technology with medicine to create lasting change for his patients. In order to get a proper model for a prosthetic, he used to have to create a mold of the patient’s face, on the patient’s face. Today, he needs only a smartphone camera to capture the necessary data to create a model prosthetic. 

Vicentin never expected skin cancer to become a defining chapter of her life.

CREDIT: @VAZIYETCOMTR / TWITTER

When Vicentin was in her early 20s, she found a strange growth on her face and went to the doctor. It was a tumor, but it was benign, non-cancerous. She had it surgically removed and thought that was the end of it. It returned again, once again, benign. She had it removed a second time and enjoyed nearly 20 more years tumor-free. Ten years ago, the tumor came back, but it was malignant, slowly ravaging the right side of her face.

Today, Vicentin has titanium hooks surgically placed around her eye socket in order to be able to securely wear the prosthesis and take it off when she pleases. So far, Vicentin has been wearing the prosthetic for just a month and she loves it. ‘It was a long time looking at a face which was missing a piece, so I am so happy. I only took it off to clean it – I even slept with it,” Vicentin told the Daily Mail