US high school students devise app that detects scam calls


Students from Midland High School came in second in the yearly A.H. Nickless competition with their proposal for a product that could identify pesky scam calls. — Image by freepik

Midland High School students pitched a product that could detect pesky scam calls, placing them in second at the annual A.H. Nickless competition.

The team of students, called CyberAI, showcased “CallGuard”. It would use artificial intelligence to analyse calls when activated. The app would determine whether the person on the other line was likely a scam caller, and leave options for the user to either continue the call or take action.

Developed by seniors Jacob Rudisel, Grace Riddle, Rori McCubbin-Green, and Isla McCubbin-Green, the concept was hammered out over the course of the school year. For placing second, they each received US$2,500 (RM11,716) in scholarship money. The school received US$10,000 (RM46,865).

The idea stemmed from Rudisel watching an online creator trying to waste the time of scam callers.

"What if there was a product that could do something about this and prevent people from getting scammed?" Rudisel asked at the time. "I brought the idea to our teacher, Mr (Bob) Fox, and he said it sounds like a good idea."

CyberAI had to develop a two-page abstract before moving on to phase II, Rori McCubbin-Green said. In phase II, the team received US$2,000 (RM11,716) to develop its idea further.

That involved not only creating an example of how the app would function, but also talking to privacy lawyers about the idea's legal viability.

"We don't necessarily have the whole business experience, so we're having to figure out what actually do we put in a business plan, how do we make this feasible," Rori said.

Three of the students are heading into a STEM field after college. Riddle said she learned a lot about the business side of her future profession.

Isla McCubbin-Green added that understanding the business side of a development cycle was crucial.

"Technology in general is really popular right now, but this really showed me that we can make most of these apps and technology," Isla said. "But business, and a business plan, is what really make this idea feasible."

The whole process is very student-driven from idea to execution, said Bob Fox, the coach and computer science teacher at Midland High. It was his 10th year coaching the team.

To develop an idea, he asks students to reach into themselves and find their passion.

"This group was really interested in misinformation and scams and the idea that bad actors would use technology to take advantage of people, and they also had a passion for AI." he said. "This idea really came from those two things coming together."

Scores had not yet been released at the time when Fox talked with the Daily News. He wasn't sure how close CyberAI was to the first-place winner, but he said judging on past years, it's usually pretty tight.

No matter the ranking, the competition allows students to adhere to a long-term commitment and grow in their leadership skills, he said.

"There's so many aspects to it, and you really see students grow in terms of their leadership," he said. "I've had students come back and tell me that when they're in college and interviewing for internships, that the recruiters are pointing to this project on their resume and wanting them to talk about that.

"Coming into college with that experience, I think it's huge for them," Fox added. – Midland Daily News/Tribune News Service

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