With a €50,000 grant, one woman aims to create her own AI JARVIS

12 Jul 2019

Joanne O’Riordan speaking on stage at Inspirefest 2019. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Inspired by the fictional AI assistant JARVIS, Joanne O’Riordan has been granted €50,000 to possibly make her dream a reality.

There was an unexpected, but welcome surprise for Inspirefest 2019 speaker Joanne O’Riordan. After an impressive and well received talk, she found out that she had just received a very generous donation.

Immediately after her appearance, Kirk Donohoe, CEO and co-founder of the design agency Solvers, took to the stage to announce that – as part of a new initiative called Solvers.org – O’Riordan would be the first grant recipient to the tune of €50,000.

Solvers.org aims to unite creatives, technologists and academics to work on some profound solutions to important societal challenges. Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Donohoe admitted that the decision wasn’t planned prior to the talk but was taken after being captivated by what O’Riordan said on stage.

“Given our expertise and knowledge in the internet of things and as an experienced design firm, Joanne’s problem felt like a perfect application,” he said.

“It’s easy enough to validate a concept or idea, but the hardest part is thinking about that first step forward and what you want to build and that’s where we’ll support her.”

‘Life is about living’

During her keynote, O’Riordan spoke of her busy and fruitful life living with a condition called tetra-amelia syndrome. She was born without arms or legs and there are only seven others like her known in the world right now.

While a successful sports journalist, podcaster and activist – and one of the few people to earn a standing ovation while addressing the UN in New York – she said that her condition still prevents her from doing some things many of us take for granted. This includes just flicking on a light switch or accepting a package from her regular delivery driver, Terry.

Technology, however, is helping her to plug the gaps in her life where she needs that extra assistance and now she wants to take things a step further.

She spoke of how on her second birthday she received her first ‘car’ to move around in, something she said was “the key that would unlock my true independence” as “life is about living, and we all want a quality of life that is acceptable to all of us”.

More recently, O’Riordan said she is again looking for technologies to make her more independent after coming across a smart bulb while browsing Amazon. While seemingly innocuous, she said to her father at the time that it would be “the most life-changing thing he’d ever see” as it would let her control the light through her phone.

Bringing JARVIS to life

O’Riordan’s passion for life-changing smart home tech only increased after watching the superhero film Iron Man, featuring the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant JARVIS (or, ‘Just A Rather Very Intelligent System’). JARVIS’s fictional developer Tony Stark could get the AI to control everything in his home.

“JARVIS has been around since 1964 in the comics,” O’Riordan said, “but it’s only now that I intend to ensure JARVIS becomes an accessible reality for all those living with a disability and those who believe technology is the way forward.”

She is attempting to find ways to combine voice recognition, facial recognition and a smartphone app to create her very own JARVIS. One that could recognise when to open a door when a delivery driver arrives with a package or that could turn off lights with a simple voice command.

Speaking of what the grant means for her, O’Riordan said: “I was over the moon and absolutely delighted that Solvers put the money in and believed in the project more so than anything else.

“For me and the project as well, we’ve only started it. There’s plenty more to go.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2020 are available now.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic