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As a teen, she loved video games. Now she’s using AI to try to quash malaria – Times of India

When she was in her early teens, Rokhaya Diagne would retreat to her brother’s room, where she played online computer games for hours, day after day, until her mother finally got fed up. “My mom said, ‘This is an addiction,'” Diagne said. “She said if I didn’t stop, she would send me to the hospital to see a psychiatrist.”
Her mother’s interventions worked.While Diagne’s passion for computers has, if anything, intensified, she has redirected her energies to higher pursuits than leveling up at Call of Duty. Now her goals include usingartificial intelligence to help the world eradicate malaria by 2030, a project she is focused on at her health startup. Video games “taught me a lot of things,” said Diagne, 25, a Senegalese computer science major who lives in Dakar, the capital. “They gave me problem-solving skills. “I don’t regret playing those things,” she added.
A fast talker in bluejeans and hijab, Diagne is part of a subset of Africa’s enormous youth population whose lives have been shaped by screens and the internet – and who are connected to the world to a degree that no generation before them could have imagined.
For young Africans interested in technology-related careers, the internet has offered a powerful addition to an education system that some experts worry is hobbling Africa’s ability to take advantage of its young people.
The wealth of free online coding boot camps, robotics lessons and lectures from the likes of Stanford, Oxford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are having a big impact across Africa, inspiring careers in engineering and seeding ideas for startups.
While some of her cohorts are most passionate about sensor fusion or robotics, Diagne is into AI and machine deep-learning. She helped create an award-winning networking app to meet others with similar interests – like Tinder but for tech nerds. And she founded a startup called Afyasense (she borrowed “afya,” or health, from Swahili, an East African language) for her disease-detection projects using AI.
Like many other young people in Africa’s tech boom, Diagne is at the center of overlapping phenomena on the continent – a growing, educated middle class raising even more educated children who, with each tap on a keyboard, have adopted a sense that the continent’s biggest problems can be solved. Diagne wants to use AI to improve health outcomes in the region, a choice she made after a range of childhood illnesses landed her in Dakar hospitals, which struggled to provide consistent, quality care.
Diagne’s drive has earned her recognition. Her malaria project recently won an award at an AI conference in Ghana and a national award in Senegal for social entrepreneurship, as well as $8,000 in funding. As a child, she has had a huge appetite for research, fed by her father, a retired literature professor and writer.
She enrolled at the Ecole Superieure Polytechnique de Dakar as a biology major and scored an internship at the Principal Hospital of Dakar. But days of reviewing lab samples helped her realize that kind of work wasn’t for her.
“I wanted way more challenges than fearing the bacteria in my body,” she said. “What I wanted was innovation and being able to create and use my brain for something instead of predictive results that I just followed.”
Dejected that she had made the wrong choice, Diagne dropped out of school and spent a year plotting her next steps. She recalled something her brother used to tell her: Do things that are harder because there’s less competition.

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Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama, a lifelong enthusiast of Artificial Intelligence, has been exploring technology and the digital realm since childhood. Known for his creative thinking, he's dedicated to improving AI experiences for all, making him a respected figure in the field. His passion, curiosity, and creativity drive advancements in the AI world.


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