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Meet the women making waves in AI ethics, research, and entrepreneurship

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Women in the AI field are making research breakthroughs, launching exciting companies, spearheading vital ethical discussions, and inspiring the next generation of AI professionals. And that’s why we created the VentureBeat Women in AI Awards — to emphasize the importance of their voices, work, and experiences, and to shine a light on some of these leaders.

We first announced the six winners at Transform 2021 in July, and ever since, we’ve been catching up with each of them for deeper discussions around their work and emerging challenges in the field. Our conversations have touched on everything from regulation and dealing with messy real world data to how to approach AI more responsibly. The winners — who span the globe — also talked us through successful efforts and initiatives they’ve launched, from groups focused on increasing diversity in the field to a machine learning bootcamp upskilling workers.

Now, we’re bringing all these discussions to one place. Enjoy the summaries below, and click through to read the full conversations.

Think of an AI technology, and Dr. Nuria Oliver was likely working on it decades ago when it still felt like science fiction.

Her research and inventions have ignited advancements across the industry and now drive many of the products and services we use every day. But while Oliver, the winner of our AI Research Award, has published more than 150 scientific papers and earned 41 patents, she doesn’t believe in technological advancement for the sake of it. Above all, she is today focused on responsible AI and “developing technology that’s on our side, that really has our interests and our well-being as the main objective function.”

Read the full interview with Oliver, a true AI research pioneer, where she details her impact on the technologies we use today, the need for responsible AI, and how she thinks we should redefine “progress.”

Briana Brownell didn’t enter this field to earn accolades. She set out to create an AI that would do her job for her — or at least that’s the joke she likes to tell.

Really, Brownell, winner of VentureBeat’s Women in AI entrepreneur award, set out to build a company that would combine her data analytics background with AI. In 2015, she launched Pure Strategy, which uses an Automated Neural Intelligence Engine (ANIE) to help companies understand unstructured data. She and her team invented algorithms from scratch to make it happen, and the system has been used by doctors to communicate with patients and with each other across cultural knowledge, for example. She also moonlights as a science communicator, inspiring not just young children — especially girls — but everyone around her.

Read the full interview with Brownell, where we discuss how to work with messy real-world data, the importance of science communication, and how AI research and entrepreneurship can best come together.

DataRobot says it builds 2.5 million AI models a day, and Haniyeh Mahmoudian is personally invested in making sure they’re all as ethically and responsibly built as possible.

Mahmoudian, a winner of VentureBeat’s Women in AI responsibility and ethics award, literally wrote the code for it. An astrophysicist turned data science researcher turned DataRobot’s first “global AI ethicist,” she has raised awareness about the need for responsible AI in the broader community. In this past year of crisis, Mahmoudian’s work found an even more relevant avenue. The U.S. government tapped her research into risk level modeling to improve its COVID-19 forecasting, and Moderna used it for vaccine trials. Eric Hargan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ deputy secretary at the time, said, “Dr. Mahmoudian’s work was instrumental in assuring that the simulation was unbiased and fair in its predictions.” He added that the impact statement her team created for the simulation “broke new ground in AI public policy” and is being considered as a model for legislation.

Read the full interview with Mahmoudian, where we dive into her impact, as well as AI regulation, “ethics” as a buzzword, and her advice for deploying responsible AI.

When you hear about AI ethics, it’s mostly about bias. But Noelle Silver has dedicated herself to an often overlooked part of the responsible AI equation: AI literacy.

After presenting to one too many boardrooms that could only see the good in AI, Silver, also a winner of VentureBeat’s Women in AI responsibility and ethics award, started to see this lack of knowledge and ability to ask the important questions as a danger. Now, she’s a consistent champion for public understanding of AI, and spends her days educating everyone from C-suites to teenagers about how to approach AI more thoughtfully. She’s also established several initiatives supporting women and underrepresented communities.

Read the full interview with Silver, where we chat about the inspiration for her work, the misconceptions about responsible AI, and how enterprises can make sure AI ethics is more than a box to check.

Arezou Soltani Panah has made significant strides using machine learning to tackle complex social problems, clearing up any ideas that AI is only about tech.

From loneliness to family violence and social stigma, Soltani Panah, winner of VentureBeat’s Women in AI rising star award, is showing that the marriage between AI and social science has already been established and is evolving. She’s even created novel machine learning techniques for this work specifically. An immigrant to Australia from Iran, Soltani Panah’s work focuses on social inequality and disempowerment. And it’s cross-discipline in every way, often requiring collaboration with government policy advisors and subject matter experts like social scientists.

Read the full interview with Soltani Panah, where we discuss how social science and AI come together, her favorite projects, and future hope for the field of AI.

No one got more nominations for a VentureBeat AI award this year than Katia Walsh, a reflection of her career-long effort to mentor women in AI and data science across the globe.

For example, Inna Saboshchuk, a current colleague of Walsh’s at Levi Strauss & Co, said, “A single conversation with her will show you how much she cares for the people around her, especially young professionals within AI.” In particular, these nominators highlighted the efforts of Walsh, winner of VentureBeat’s AI mentorship award, to upskill team members. Most recently, she launched a machine learning bootcamp that allowed people with no prior experience to not only learn the skills, but apply them every day in their current roles.

Read the full interview with Walsh here, where she talks about the early success of her latest bootcamp, the power of everyday mentorship, and the role it can play in humanizing AI.

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