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Women Leading The AI Industry: “Don’t let precedent (or lack of precedent) stop you from pursuing the career that brings you fulfillment” With Anuja Ketan and Tyler Gallagher

AI is a subdivision of mathematics, engineering and computer science. The first step to getting more women into the AI industry is encouraging women to study in these disciplines. I believe that more women are already entering engineering, and as cultural views on gendered roles evolve more and more women will study engineering and computer science. […]


AI is a subdivision of mathematics, engineering and computer science. The first step to getting more women into the AI industry is encouraging women to study in these disciplines. I believe that more women are already entering engineering, and as cultural views on gendered roles evolve more and more women will study engineering and computer science.


As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anuja Ketan, CTO and Co-Founder of NewtonX, an AI-powered expert discovery platform. Prior to founding NewtonX, Ketan was the CTO at Zillion, one of the largest healthcare marketplaces in the world, where she won a Woman of Innovation award and was a contributing author for Fortune. Ketan has worked with some of the biggest companies in the world including eBay, Google, and Northrop Grumman.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory’ of how you decided to pursue this career path?

I have been fascinated by technology since a very young age. This interest only grew throughout school, and I began pursuing a career as an engineer when I was a teenager living in India. At the time, pursuing an engineering career as a woman was considered very bold and unusual. However, my family was supportive and I ended up graduating from Mumbai University with a Masters in Engineering and Computer Science. Upon graduating, I began my career as the lead architect for a financial services company. Since then, I’ve had more than 20 years of experience in large-scale enterprise architecture engineering, strategy, and development.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Don’t let precedent (or lack of precedent) stop you from pursuing the career that brings you fulfillment.

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

I’m very excited about a few projects that I’m working on for NewtonX right now. One, is our soon-to-be-released client facing site, which gives clients access to a lot of the underlying technology that powers my team’s day-to-day. Our AI-powered expert discovery engine is one of our core value propositions, and soon clients will have access to it directly.

Another project that I’m working on is our automated scheduled jobs system that I’m building for internal use. This capability will automate roughly one hour of work per ops person per day. One of my favorite things about NewtonX is that culturally, we are always looking for ways to leverage our technological capabilities to save time and improve efficiency. We’ve built internal systems for every single team, from Sales and Marketing to Finance. I think that this helps integrate the tech team into the entire company, and builds company-wide advocacy for our client-facing product.

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’ve always been highly autonomous and self-driven. However, I’ve also had some formative mentors throughout my career. My brother Apurva and sister Priya are both extremely accomplished scientists, and have been an inspiration to me throughout my life.

Unfortunately, it is very tough to find female mentors in technology, since the representation is so low to begin with. As such, my professional growth was strongly influenced by Mr. Joe Wall (CTO of Pitney Bowes) and Mr. Bill Van Wyck (CEO of Zillion.com), both of whom are highly intelligent and accomplished people.

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

1. The potential for AI in medicine.

I’m really excited about the recent partnership between the VA and DeepMind. AI has incredible potential for screening and preventative care.

2. Predictive analytics in SaaS

AI has already had a huge impact on business intelligence, marketing/sales tools, and logistics/ inventory management. I believe that this will continue to be a major area for the successful application of AI.

3. Smart traffic monitoring

Congestion is a huge problem both in the US and in India. AI has the potential to decrease congestion through smart traffic monitoring, which I believe should be a primary focus for major cities.

4. Efficiency optimization

Most of the AI applications featured in the media are flashy. But the applications that I find most compelling are the ones that maximize efficiency through intelligent optimization. This is the type of AI that I’ve devoted myself to.

5. Evolving regulation

AI regulation is extremely interesting to me, but it is also a major cause for concern (as you’ll see below). I am excited to see the extent to which lawmakers and policy ethicists limit AI development in order to protect consumer privacy.

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

1. Deep Fakes (GANs)

Generative adversarial networks (GANs) are an amazing branch of AI for research — they can create new data sets and outputs based on existing data sets. However, as we’ve recently seen, they can also be an insidious tool for fake news. As GANs advance, it will become more and more difficult to identify generative content vs. actual content.

2. Regulation

As I mentioned above, regulation is both an exciting and a problematic aspect of AI. Lawmakers tend not to fully understand the underlying technology or its implications, which makes it hard for them to draft legislature that effectively protects against the potential dangers of AI.

3. Policing/sentencing (bias in algorithms)

AI in law enforcement has recently come under scrutiny because of its potential for bias (as my co-founder explains here). Because of this, I believe that having a diverse set of people in AI development will be incredibly important.

4. Data privacy

Training data is essential for AI development. Because of this, there has to be a delicate balance between data protection/privacy and data access. The partnership between DeepMind and the VA that I mentioned above is an example of companies trying to strike this balance.

5. Hype

Hype around AI has sparked fear and paranoia in people who don’t understand the full implications of the technology. There needs to be more transparency as to what AI actually is, and how it can be used for good or bad in different contexts. For instance, most people don’t know that their weather app uses AI, and think of the technology as solely in use for self-driving cars and the Facebook algorithm.

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?

As with most debates around AI, both sides have good points. AI doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and cannot be classified as either “good” or “bad”. Like almost all technology, it has the potential for harm and for good. I think the conversation should be less about sticking to a dichotomy, and more about how to maximize AI’s positive potential while also establishing regulations and guidelines to mitigate its negative impacts.

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?

Regulation will be key, and lawmakers will need to connect with technologists in order to effectively draft laws that address the actual technology at hand. Currently, politicians and lawmakers are woefully out of touch with the realities of AI — as the recent Facebook congressional hearings demonstrated, many politicians don’t even fully understand social media, much less AI and machine learning.

I would never suggest that we should assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about. There is actually quite a bit to be concerned about, and I believe we should educate the public about how and in what contexts AI can be a technology that improves our quality of life, and how and in what contexts it can be detrimental to our lives.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I have been a strong advocate for hiring women, and particularly women of color, for leadership roles in every company I’ve worked with. I am a firm believer in the idea that if you don’t create a diverse and inclusive culture from the outset of your company, it will come back and bite you down the line. At NewtonX we use our own technology for recruiting, and make an effort to target extremely talented candidates who also happen to be minorities in the tech sector.

I’ve also written on this subject for Fortune and TNW, and spoken out about it in interviews. I hope that my voice can inspire other female technologists.

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. Don’t let the lack of female leaders in AI stop you from pursuing leadership roles — we can be our own role models.

2. Pursue leadership roles, don’t just wait for them to be handed to you based on merit.

3. Take advantage of any learning opportunity you can — be it through a mentor, a program, or a networking event.

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

AI is a subdivision of mathematics, engineering and computer science. The first step to getting more women into the AI industry is encouraging women to study in these disciplines. I believe that more women are already entering engineering, and as cultural views on gendered roles evolve more and more women will study engineering and computer science.

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

I’m not a big fan of quotes — they’re often taken out of context and tend to consist of platitudes. However, I have received amazing advice on perseverance, resilience, and tolerance throughout my life, and I believe that these three qualities are what drive me as a founder.

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. 🙂

I am very concerned about our consumption of natural resources. I would love to see both the U.S. and India embrace sustainability on a large scale. There are also smaller initiatives that I hope to see very soon, such as the plastic bag ban in New York City. These measures help shift public awareness around recycling and sustainability.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most active on LinkedIn and through my company’s Twitter. You can find updates on my AI journey and the company’s growth there.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/anujaketan

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

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