Oak Brook teenager Jui Khankari received the highly acclaimed Diana Award last week for her nonprofit AInspire, which strives to diversify the field of artificial intelligence.
Khankari, now 17, was 16 when she learned last month she was going to get the award, named after the late Princess Diana.
The award is the highest accolade in the UK given to young people between the ages of 9 and 25 for their social action or humanitarian efforts, according to officials.
“Princess Diana has actually been one of my role models ever since I read about her in a biography when I was little,” Khankari told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And I’m so honored that I’m able to continue her legacy of empowering women and of teaching minorities the skills that we need to know to be successful.”
There were 300 Diana Awards distributed this year — 24 in the United States. Khankari was one of the two recipients from Illinois.
Khankari was nominated for her Diana Award by Milton Keynes AI, a nonprofit she collaborated with for a workshop in England.
“We urgently need more female role models like Jui in AI, and it is important to us that Jui is recognized as an important industry figure,” said Milton Keynes AI’s Executive Chairman Richard Foster-Fletcher.
Khankari’s nonprofit runs entirely on donations and serves over 7,500 students in 58 countries with virtual workshops, videos and educational curriculum the teenager created.
Khankari got her start investigating behind-the-scenes aspects of how Siri and Netflix operated.
After attending various workshops where she was the only girl, Khankari almost quit studying AI. She said she often had instructors perform coding for her, to the point where she wasn’t actually learning anything.
The teenager said it was a frustrating reality for her and many other girls and women, as only 32% of the data and artificial intelligence workforce are female, globally, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2021 report.
In the summer of 2019, Khankari decided to try AI one more time and was selected to attend an AI Camp at Stanford University with 31 other girls from other countries. There, she learned about how AI can be applied to energy optimization, health care and mental health.
“Naturally, technologies that only affect women would be less likely to be developed if there aren’t women fighting for them to be developed,” Khankari said. “Men might have different agendas, or they just might honestly forget that this is something that we need. It’s a real need, and so that’s why I just really want to get more women inspired and empowered to enter the field so we can make our voices and our needs heard.”
Khankari started AInspire is February 2020 with neighbors interested in AI and her 10-year-old little sister, Neha.
“Jui remembered how she struggled in those first AI camps,” said Khankari’s father, Dr. Kishore Khankari. “She was Neha’s age when she first began, and she didn’t want her younger sister to go through the same things she did.”
Jui Khankari’s interest in applying AI to healthcare doesn’t come as a huge surprise since her parents are doctors who have been treating COVID-19 patients. Currently, the teenager is developing AI to detect strokes and the bifurcation of the major blood-supplying artery to the brain, making it possible to detect neurodegenerative diseases early on.
Khankari, who hopes to attend Stanford, said her biggest goal is to create or work at an existing health care-related startup to create a product that can best service underserved people.