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“Anyone, at Any Age, Can Make a Difference” and Other Lessons From a 14-year-old Solver

Emma Yang, Founder of Timeless, is a member of our Brain Health Solver class. At only 13 years old, she became our youngest Solver yet. Now a wise freshman in high school, Yang reflects on building Timeless, social entrepreneurship, and her plans for the future.

What’s your background story? How did you come up with the idea for Timeless?

Timeless was inspired by personal experiences with my Grandma, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Growing up, I saw first-hand how the illness affects not only the patient, but also family, friends, and caregivers. I noticed my Grandma’s ability to recognize loved ones was greatly impacted by the disease.

I also became interested in the role of technology in social impact and how it can help people with their daily lives, especially in medical fields. When I was unable to find any apps that could help my grandmother live a better daily life, I decided to develop my own app that could help my Grandmother stay connected with our family.

What does the app do?

Timeless is a mobile app that empowers Alzheimer’s patients to live a better daily life. The app is powered by artificial intelligence (AI)-based facial recognition technology that helps  Alzheimer’s patients remember events, stay connected and engaged with friends and family, easily contact loved ones, and recognize people by name and their relationship to the patient.

The key features of Timeless are Updates, Today, Photos, Contacts, and Identify.

“Updates” enables patients to stay engaged and connected with loved ones. It also stimulates their memory, reminding them of what family and friends look like using artificial intelligence-based facial recognition technology.

“Today” helps the patient stay informed of the date and time, weather conditions, and important events and appointments for the day.

“Photos" jogs the patient’s memory by showing them pictures of their loved ones, which are grouped by who’s in the photo, so the patient can recognize their family and friends.

“Contacts” allows the patient to call or text a loved one with the tap of a button, without having to remember any phone numbers. It also reminds the patient of repetitive calling.

“Identify” helps patients recognize the people around them by having the patient simply take a picture of the person’s face. The app uses facial recognition to detect and recognize the face and displays the person’s name and relationship to the patient.

What’s next on your journey with the app?

The next phase of the app is to include music, gamification, and multilingual capabilities. According to Alzheimer's specialists, playing music that patients are fond of can help jog their memory. Gamification is another way to help patients remember recurring events. I also want to make Timeless available to non-English speaking users and plan to develop Spanish and Chinese versions of the app.

What lessons have you learned from building Timeless?

The key lessons I’ve learned so far are how age influences perceptions and the importance of being persistent. When I first started the project, I reached out to the investment community, doctors, and technology companies that I hoped would help me, but many of them didn’t respond.

It took a long time to meet people who would take me seriously and believe in my project. I persisted with the project and eventually met many people who have supported me on the medical, design, and technology fronts.

Complete the sentence ‘for me entrepreneurship means…’

For me, entrepreneurship means observing a problem in your community and coming up with a solution to solve it.

Any advice for other young entrepreneurs who want to make a difference?

My advice to younger entrepreneurs is that anyone, at any age, can make a difference when you’re driven by purpose. Don’t let others tell you what you can’t do. Believe in yourself, be persistent, and have an open mind. If you’re determined to solve a problem for your community, your mission and purpose will drive groundbreaking ideas.

Which entrepreneurs do you admire in the world and why?

It might sound a bit cliché, but Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk are the entrepreneurs that I most admire. The common theme behind their success stories is that they firmly believed their mission, no matter how ridiculous other people thought it was. But with persistence, belief in themselves, and hard work, they turned their dreams into a reality.

What’s been the most important factor in bringing your idea to reality?

The most important factor is the unconditional support from my parents and the tremendous help and advice from my mentors and supporters. Timeless could not have been what it is today without it. There are a lot of challenges ahead, but with their support, I am confident that I can realize my vision of creating a mobile app that empowers Alzheimer's patients to live a better daily life.

What would you like to work on/do next?

Timeless will be my primary focus for the foreseeable future as there are many features we could add that would increase the app’s benefit for patients, families, and caregivers.

I am also interested in t machine learning and am currently working on a project to detect lung cancer early in CT scans.

For the longer term, I would like to study biotechnology, computer science, and AI. I am especially interested in the intersection between healthcare, biology, and computer science. I’d like to pursue a career in biotechnology where I can apply my interest in computer science to solve real-world problems.

Want to become a Solver like Yang? Apply to Solve’s Global Challenges: (1) Work of the Future, (2) Frontlines of Health, (3) Coastal Communities, and (4) Teachers & Educators. The deadline to apply is July 1.


Emma Yang answer questions from the judges and the audience about Timeless at the Solve Challenge Finals for the Brain Health Challenge, September 17, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Stuart / MIT Solve)

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