Meet Nigeria’s youngest Artificial Intelligence expert, at 13 teaches Harvard, IMT students

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By Chika Otuchikere

Gerald Maduabuchi Ogbonnaya is Nigeria’s youngest Information Technology (IT) whizkid and a computer prodigy by every standard. His knowledge of the computer and the internet absolutely dwarfs his age, stature and academic attainment so far. A close contact and interaction with this Senior Secondary School One (SSS1) student of the Community Secondary School Asokoro, a school managed by Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Service (DSS) will not only leave a person perplexed but flabbergasted. His grasp of the computer and its terminologies is, perhaps, way beyond the grasp of many supposed experts, including lecturers in the computer engineering discipline.

Soft-spoken Gerald, an indigene of Amuvi village in Arochukwu Local Government Area in Abia State, is unassuming in his looks and personality and so, could pass for just any average student at first contact. But immediately he begins to talk about the computer and the internet, he metamorphoses into a new personality: a master of the IT field, and the listener is completely enmeshed in the wonder of the quantum of knowledge the young lad possesses in the IT field. Even he has severally wondered how he became so much endowed with such depth of knowledge of the computer and always ascribes it to a special gift from the almighty God meant to bless his motherland, Nigeria and the world at large.

For starters, Gerald reveals that as early as age four, he developed a penetrating interest for the computer and how it works. From such tender age, he began to relate with the system and resolved that he was going to find out how the computer functions. At age five he was already coding and engaging more experienced IT persons in the subject. He is quick to point out that he was first introduced to the computer at age three during his nursery school days at Treasure House Montessori School, Asokoro.

Gerald spoke to EducationTell about how he had his first personal contact with the computer at age four and ever since, his life has never remained the same. He practically, breathes, sleeps, wakes and lives the computer life. For him, he has become an apostle of Artificial Intelligence which he said has the potential to revolutionise the present world.

“I encountered the computer first at four years old, but I wasn’t able to come in contact with it fully because my relatives believed I was too young to come in contact with the computer. So, when I was five years old, I stumbled upon a computer again, and after seeing the display and how a computer functions and how everyone’s eyes was always on the computer and how they want to use it and its functionality, I wanted to learn how a computer really functions, that’s how I came in contact with it

“When I met the computer, I decided that I was going to discover how the computer actually works. After my uncles have used their internet, I’ll go to the internet and researched how a computer really functions and I got the result on hardware and software, but I wasn’t interested in the hardware. I was interested in the software. At that point, I was five years old and I was able to understand how the computer operates. I was not confused because at that time they had taught us in school about hardware and software. Software is what you can see but you cannot touch but the hardware was what you can see and you can touch.

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“When I searched how a computer functions, I opened up software. By opening up software on the internet, I discovered three things; I discovered Application Software and Operating Systems. Application software is what I began with. Example of application software was Encarta kids. I started to use the Encarta kids to build up my intelligence and my skills in computer science. Then I moved up to the operating systems. Then I discovered the Operating System. I wanted to find out how operating systems functions.  So, on opening it to see its functions, I discovered what they call programming languages. So, I searched programming language like simple programming and video result tube came out. It was just programming on Q-basic and C. But then in the computer, Q-basic and C were already pre-installed. So, I simply opened my command prompt then, opened my Q-basic. And then I looked at the structure on the internet and how it looks like and now I began to test my luck out.

“I was able to carry out mathematical calculations. For example, I stopped using calculator for a while in my house because I was interested.  So instead of me to do, like 2+2, I could just add sum 2 sum 2 and print. So, instead I was doing a programming language and I found that programming language actually performs arithmetic operations. I now decided to build a calculator on Q-basic. I built a simple calculator that is able to do plus or minus then with inspiration from a computer scientist, I read about, I devised a calculator that could be able to do plus or minus using Q-basic. It was really like a calculator but at least it could carry out the basic functions.

“I discovered that C-basic was used to build operating systems. So I started using C gradually. From age six I was still learning C. At that age too, I built a game just a simple game, not a complex game. I called it Astro-Orbit with inspiration from what I saw on TV. It was like a spaceship flying in the air and you have to avoid meteors. You have a high score when you hit particular meteor, it gets you a high score. I just gave the game to my friends in primary school to play with. I introduced it to them and anyone that visited me or my uncles, I just showed it to them but they weren’t too interested. Then I built another one too.

“Then my Dad bought me a computer. Our school, Treasure House Montessori told parents that they should try and get us a computer. My parents bought me just a small computer that was running an operating system called Linux. On getting the Linux Computer, I was about to dump C-basic because C was becoming difficult, because C was a very huge programme so, I was about to dump C, when I discovered that C-basic was the operating system running on that computer so I was now forced to learn C again. And I now customized the operating system to my own use. I now built another game called Catch Fish. I was now seven years old. Because Linus mouse is like a penguin”.

That was how Gerald got himself deeper into the world of computers and the internet. He said he was also giving himself tutorials from book he found on the internet thereby expanding his scope of the computer as he grew older. At age eight he has started building applications, although simple applications. He has been involved with creating software, algorithms and neural networks. Before he turned 14, he already had 14 WhatsApp groups and four Telegram channels. He revealed that even at eleven years he started a group called let’s code where he began to teach coding and computations to people from around the globe. One of such group he said, had 154 participants “that was made up of Nigerians, Indians, Americans, etc. It had professionals, gurus, and people who had been coding for years.

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He said, “When I send tutorials especially videos, on computation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and neural networks, it was a shock to all, seeing a preteen wearing glasses teaching advanced concepts that many of them struggled with. It seemed absurd. At twelve, I renamed it GeraldCodes, I sent broadcasts, which people forwarded the group link and joined. Soon it was full. I created the second, third, to the eleventh which is halfway full. I created KidzCode, iGirlz code, Boyscode call, for children and teenagers. I started a telegram channel that had 7,789 subscribers, GeraldCodes, where I posted videos, tips, and tutorials on computer science. Participants would sometimes plead for help or advice, or contact him privately. Some of this participants are students in schools like Harvard, IMT, and such schools. Some were even Ph.D. and they used to think I was a grown up and well experienced expert in the industry and so, you’ll find them referring to me as sir, most time, I had to tell them that I’m not sir. But they didn’t believe because of the depth of knowledge I was giving out to them.

Gerald expressed the view that there are a lot of thing Nigeria as a developing country stands to benefit from investing in technology and computer science. According to him, most of the problems faced by the country can be addressed by technology. The country’s problem of electricity, the agriculture sector, the medical sector as well as education, he noted could be put on the right track if the country’s leaders decide to look in the direction of technology. Most importantly, he insists that Nigeria must invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) if it wants to make any progress and join the developed world in advancement, stressing that AI is the direction the world is heading and Nigeria has to make effort to join in that movement.

“I want to teach over 1 Million Nigerians coding, for free! I will and can, it’s a vow, as long as I get support!” he said emphatically.

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