Karishma Muthukumar’s “Promoting Empathy-Based AI” project has been chosen as one of 33 finalists in the National Science Foundation’s 2026 Idea Machine competition. The entry from the cognitive sciences major, who just completed her freshman year, was one of 800 nationwide. If selected as one of the four winners, her “big idea” will help guide U.S. scientific research objectives for the next decade. Muthukumar wants to study ways that empathy-based AI systems can bridge the human-technology gap. Her goal is to develop applications with a human element to help drive innovations in cognitive sciences, mental health and medicine that will lessen anxiety and reduce loneliness, leading to a healthier and happier population.