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By Holly Stemm 24 April 2023 4 min read

Samson is bright, articulate and acutely aware of the value young people can bring to the table. It's something he hopes the titans of the artificial intelligence (AI) industry will not overlook.

“Young people are extremely optimistic. They're passionate, they're moving fast and jumping onto AI at every chance. I think it’s a great opportunity for leaders in the AI industry to use this to their advantage and get more support behind AI when it's ready,” Samson said.

It’s an incredibly mature perspective that belies his age. But then again, this is the student that, at 16, started developing his own AI-based robot to sort electronic waste.

The robot arm that sorts e-waste (and opens doors)

Samson credits his upbringing near Queensland’s idyllic Whitsunday Islands as his inspiration to use AI and create a robot to make a positive impact for the environment.

“My passion for electronics was so damaging to my other passion for the environment,” he said. “The recycling rate for electronics is a staggering 12 per cent compared to other recycling rates. I knew someone needed to do something. And if not me, then who?”

His invention uses AI to identify electronics among mixed waste on conveyor lines. It then uses a robotic arm to pull them out.

“This solution ended up being over 1500 times cheaper than the current method of having people pick phones out of mixed-waste lines, which is horribly inefficient and also wildly dangerous,” Samson said.

He entered his innovation in the regional Queensland Science Contest. From there, he caught a big break and the eye of the BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards, a program run by our Education and Outreach team. Through this program, he attended events, got his foot in the door with experts, and scored valuable advice.

“I found it to be an excellent way to get my idea in front of people and get a bit of validity for it. The judges gave me a lot of helpful, constructive feedback on how I could build that project up. From there, I ditched my first prototype and rebuilt the whole thing because I knew I needed to put my best foot forward for ISEF.”

The BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Awards acted as a feeder program for ISEF (the International Science and Engineering Fair). Over 1800 students from around the world showcase their research at ISEF in the US. Samson was selected for the six-strong Australian team. He was all ready to head stateside and then… COVID.

Lockdowns thwarted his ability to attend in person, but he took out second place for the Environmental Engineering category, as well as third place for a special award category from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) nonetheless.

In demand on the conference circuit

Samson’s American dream was not over. On the back of his awards, AAAI asked him to speak at their annual conference in Washington D.C. in person.

“They invited me to present my research alongside all of these extremely successful PhDs and professors and industry leaders. So that was a really exciting experience and I got to go to America!”

Sam had barely touched down on home soil when he got the next call up. This time, to join leaders from around the country to help drive responsible AI uptake at the National Artificial Intelligence Centre’s (NAIC) AI Leadership Summit last month.

It’s also where the Minister for Science and Industry, Ed Husic, launched the Responsible Artificial Intelligence Network (RAIN). It’s a world-first cross-ecosystem program to support Australian companies to use and create AI responsibly.

“I was asked to present what young people were looking for with AI and what future we wanted to construct. Coming from a rural high school, I had a lot of different views and a different type of exposure to what people think of AI,” Samson said.

The power of STEM together

Like Samson, we know that bringing different views to the table is crucial for tackling big challenges.

Our education and outreach programs focus on opening up opportunities for a wider range of students to engage with (and bring their viewpoints to) science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Our new STEM Together program prioritises opportunities for Year 5-10 students who identify as either Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, female, or from low opportunity areas. Or, like in Samson’s case, from a regional school.

It facilitates group experiences for students and upskills teachers to feel more confident in teaching STEM subjects. It also has a unique recognition program, STEM Together Future Shapers.

As part of this program, students or their supporters can design their own prize relating to their STEM interest. This could be a trip to see their area of interest in action, connecting with like-minded people at events, taking home equipment, or being mentored by a STEM expert.

It’s great for students like Samson that are passionate about STEM. But it’s also for those who don’t see science and maths as their favourite subjects (yet!). It’s all about helping curious students strengthen their confidence, capability and connection with STEM.

With his first-hand experience of the opportunities our programs can offer, Samson thinks there’s a very simple reason to apply.

“You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain. It’s a great way for young people to find that interest and build it into something more. Something they can wake up to everyday and be excited to work on,” he said.

Nominations for STEM Together Future Shapers close on Tuesday 2 May 2023.

STEM Together is powered by CSIRO and BHP Foundation. 

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