Lisa Thee: “Many people who claim to be experts in the field have never deployed a solution in the wild”

Many people who claim to be experts in the field have never deployed a solution in the wild. AI is a rapidly evolving field that many pretend to understand much more than they do. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back from asking questions, being curious, and testing the market to see if your vision has […]

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Many people who claim to be experts in the field have never deployed a solution in the wild. AI is a rapidly evolving field that many pretend to understand much more than they do. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back from asking questions, being curious, and testing the market to see if your vision has pull from customers. You never know till you try, and you don’t have to quit your day job to experiment.


As part of our series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Thee.

Lisa Thee is a consultant to some of the world’s most innovative healthcare, and global technology companies, helping them to improve digital safety, and apply AI for innovation. She was the CEO and Co-Founder of Minor Guard, and Artificial Intelligence software company focused on making children safer online and in real life., and She is a keynote speaker inlcluding her TEDx Ttalk “Bringing Light To Dark Places Online: Disrupting Human Trafficking Using AI,” and hosts the Navigating Forward podcast. Lisa also currently serves as an advisory board member for Engineered Medical Solutions, Humaxa, Spectrum Labs and Marketplace Risk. She is also a Board of Director’s member for 3 Strands Global Foundation, a human trafficking prevention and reintegration focused organization. She Lisa has been named to the 2021 Top Health and Safety, Privacy;, and AI Thought Leaders and Influencers; and Women in Business Yyou Sshould Ffollow lists by Thinkers 360.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path in AI?

If you asked me five years ago, I did not even know how to spell AI, which is pretty sad since it is only 2 letters long. I got interested in it when I realized it is a tool, and not a solution. There were some specific problems I was interested in solving that required oceans of data to unlock pearls of wisdom. AI was the right tool for that kind of job.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

You don’t have to be data scientist to understand or benefit from AI. It is an effective tool when you use machines to do what they are uniquely good at (math, pattern recognition, and repetitive tasks) — in partnership with people who can focus on what they are uniquely good at (investigation, innovation, intuition). It is an amazing time as a business leader: we can to unlock the answer to problems that we once unsolvable, to stay competitive leveraging digital transformation.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

The project I enjoy the most is working with a leading research hospital to help them incubate and spin out an AI company focused on accelerating the process for validation and training of models for use in clinical settings. I know that work we are doing today will lead to someone I care about being alive 10 years from now, by providing better information to a medical team during a crisis situation. There is no more rewarding work than being able to apply AI for good.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am deeply grateful to the data scientist that took my vision forto applying AI to improve outcomes for marginalized women and children globally and made it a reality. He helped me and groundedhone it to down to a solution that recovered 130 child human trafficking victims in the first month the tool was live. When ever funding dried up, executive sponsorship waned, or imposter syndrome set in for me as a leader, he is always has been there to send me a note about the cool work he is doing to continue our joint mission. I am deeply grateful for your partnership, Edward Dixon. Thanks for always being a port in the storm and reminding me that what we do in our career matters.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. I am excited about the innovations happening in Natural Language Pprocessing (NLP) and specifically how text and audio can be applied to improve digital safety at scale in real time. The opportunity to identify grooming, harassment, and sextortion on platforms that convene communities — and to disrupt the terms of service behavior violations before things go from an affordable mistake to a life- altering one — is a dream come true. Itrue no longer want to be in the trauma clean up business;, I am excited to partner with Spectrum Labs to focus on trauma prevention. Their AI platform identifies 40+ toxic behaviors across all languages in text and audio helping Trust & Safety teams to increase detection by 10X and reduce content moderation efforts by 50%.
  2. I also am excited to focus on Keynotes for 2022 to “Demystifying AI for the Enterprise” and help executives drive more innovation to stay competitive in a quickly evolving landscape.
  3. I see more women and diverse people in A,I which will bring a more balanced picture perspective to how product development to ensure that AI ethics issues are thought through before production. Fellow AI startup CEO Emily Kennedy and I have partnered with Women in Data to provide Entrepreneurship training to business leaders at https://spark-passion.teachable.com/p/spark-passion
  4. Accelerating FDA approvals for clinical use of AI models in healthcare will accelerate innovation to save lives and improve outcomes for patients. I am excited to partner with Beekeeper AI as they bring a platform as a service model to the marketplace in Microsoft Azure in 2022.
  5. I truly enjoy advising Startup CEO’s on scaling up AI startups from Seed through Exit. Being able to support them with Sales and Technical guidance to monetize their solutions across the HR, Supply Chain, Trust and Safety, and Risk Marketplace industries gives me a broad prospective on industry trends. It is truly mutually beneficial and lifts my energy.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Unintended consequences: AI has the ability to help target audiences quickly at scale. If we are not creating guard rails for society about the acceptable use of this ability many people can be lead astray for business or political interest without ever being aware of it
  2. Lack of trust in platforms and the elimination of a shared truth. Gone are the days when we are all singing from the same song book on reality. It is hard to align and on where to focus to build a future for the betterment of society when reality is an individualized answer in a personalized feed curated by AI
  3. AI Ethics being relegated to company and industry think tanks and not being brought into core product groups in large data companies. We need a broader perspective at the table for Safety by Design to be effective. It cannot continue to be an afterthought., Tthat is the reason I support Tech 2025.
  4. AI deep fakes are so good they are virtually indistinguishable from reality. The barrier to entry for criminals to access these capabilities has become very low and is available as an outsources service. It concerns me deeply that AI can be used for cybersecurity attacks, online abuse of children, human trafficking, and other activity which has physical controls in the real world to protect society against
  5. We don’t know what we don’t know yet. I am much less worried about Skynet or many of the other depictions of AI taking over the world that are represented in Hollywood. I am deeply concerned about much more mundane outcomes of using patterns for recommendation engines to perpetuateing inequity in society for hiring, access to capital, and surveillance.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

It is all how we choose to apply it. The tool is neither good nor bad, but is powerful. It is important we bring along regulators and act responsibly in the development of products to manage negative impacts to marginalized groups. I contributed a chapter on Corporate Social Responsibility in “Demystifying Artificial Intelligence” which will be available for purchase in December 2021. Oasis Consortium has done a great job of helping leadership to understand how “Trust and Safety is a Whole Company Opportunity” in this whitepaper.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

I enjoy contributing to the All Tech is Human community for their Responsible Tech Guide ,which a well thought out point of view on the challenges ahead from over 100 of the top thought leaders in academia and industry. As consumers, it is import we support companies using AI ethically and stop supporting companies that don’t align with our values. Given the lack of regulation in the technology landscape for ethics, it is most important that we vote with our dollars to ensure that business hear the message. I have started a petition to strengthen Child Online Safety regulation and would appreciate your support to show our representatives that the abuse of children at scale is not an acceptable side effect of platforms.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

  1. Build Community: I love participating in Women in Data to feel less alone and to get and give support.
  2. You don’t have to be able to code in Python to be a leader in AI. Many of the skills required to be successful in this space are tied to understand how to define a problem and create a journey map for solving it. When you have a clear vision of the legacy you want to leave, the experts will follow. The universe rises to the occasion.
  3. Many people who claim to be experts in the field have never deployed a solution in the wild. AI is a rapidly evolving field that many pretend to understand much more than they do. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back from asking questions, being curious, and testing the market to see if your vision has pull from customers. You never know till you try, and you don’t have to quit your day job to experiment.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Access to opportunity in colleges, companies, and entrepreneurship. In each sector, the barriers look a little different, but the theme remains the same. No one can prove they are ready for an opportunity without being given a chance to try. Weather it is capital, role models, or sponsors, there are many ways that leaders can create an opportunity for driven, gritty, people to create their space in this field.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“Luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparedness.” — Oprah Winfrey. It is important to focus on what you can control (your preparedness;, I am a big fan of self learning via podcasts, reading, and online courses) and socializing your vision until someone wants to create an opportunity. I spoke to over 100 leaders at Intel about using AI to disrupt Human Trafficking before an executive sponsor said they wanted to help. It took a full calendar year for us to build the consensus and funding to make the vision a reality. The lesson?, Ddon’t give up when people tell you no. It is a necessary part of the process.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In June 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice, along with teachers, parents, and tech industry experts, reviewed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and found that reforms to address Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) and human trafficking were greatly needed.

As we continue to grow technologically as a society, our children are increasingly more vulnerable by the day.

Do your part today and sign the petition to let Congress know this legislation NEEDS to be reformed.

Sign the Petition

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am most active on Linked In at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisathee/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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