Women Leading The AI Industry: “Encouraging basic technical skill building within education is undoubtedly one of the keys” with Abby Hunter-Syed and Tyler Gallagher

I think the problem is two-fold: how do we put more girls on the track to participate in the AI industry and how do we help women be successful in the AI industry. Encouraging basic technical skill building within education is undoubtedly one of the keys to part one, and the answer to part two, […]

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I think the problem is two-fold: how do we put more girls on the track to participate in the AI industry and how do we help women be successful in the AI industry. Encouraging basic technical skill building within education is undoubtedly one of the keys to part one, and the answer to part two, in my opinion, has more to do with changing the culture within institutions.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby Hunter-Syed, the VP of Operations at LDV Capital, investing in deep technical teams building visual technologies businesses. Visual technologies leverage computer vision, machine learning and AI to analyze visual data. She joined LDV after a decade working in management consulting and financial services companies like the Boston Consulting Group and Morgan Stanley.

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 began my career working with startups then spent nearly a decade after grad school learning business best practices at large institutions as a management consultant. After a stint in asset management, I was ready to get back to helping startups succeed with all of my lessons learned from top tier institutions. Everything that I had been working on was pointing to the central role that AI and computer vision are poised to play in the future of business and society so I chose to join LDV Capital where I could help startups leveraging computer vision, machine learning and AI to solve critical problems and improve the world we live in.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

There are many different roles that you can play to support the evolution of AI and disruption of legacy industries. You don’t have to have a PhD in machine learning to be a proponent of AI and play a role in how it impacts our future.

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

Currently we are working to organize our sixth annual LDV Vision Summit on May 22–23 in NYC where we bring together entrepreneurs, top technologists, and investors to showcase the cutting edge in visual technologies that leverage AI. I am really excited about the meeting of great minds in computer vision and AI that the Summit always is. We have 60+ speakers who are leaders of companies that are revolutionizing industries like healthcare, logistics, retail, self-driving and so much more.

We are also about to engage in our 2019 Insights project where we will deep dive into a legacy industry that is ripe for disruption by visual tech. Can’t give anything away but it’s an industry that is close to my heart where AI has so much potential.

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?

There are so many people whose mentorship and insights have led me to where I am today. My current boss, Evan Nisselson, the founder of LDV Capital and a real visionary when it comes to visual tech, constantly pushes me to be strategic in my communication style. A few months back, he called me out on phrasing my suggestions as questions. Early in my career I realized, as many women do, that most people responded better to my ideas if I expressed them as questions versus statements. Fast forward a decade and I was still using that approach, even as a leader on my team. Evan saw through it and encourages me daily to be direct and succinct with my thoughts and suggestions. It’s really empowering.

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

1. How it will improve our health and wellness. From diagnosing diseases to precision drug development or just making a visit to the doctor more manageable, AI and computer vision in medicine is incredibly exciting.

2. Autonomous vehicles for passengers. I’m certain that my toddler daughter will be driven home from soccer practice one day by our car and it will be safer for her than if I was behind the wheel. It will also help keep my mom out and about and active one day when she no longer feels comfortable driving.

3. Giving agriculture the ability to sustain the planet. Applying computer vision and AI to precision ag will help increase yields, decrease waste and pollutants, and improve the quality of food on our tables while feeding the nearly 10 billion people projected to live off the planet by 2050.

4. Smarter, more efficient manufacturing. Today there are millions of people slaving away to produce nearly everything that we consume. Assisted by robots, AR, and smart cameras we will transform how we produce everything from the shirt on your back through to airplanes. It will make workers on the assembly line safer and our products better.

5. Intelligent marketing and shopping. I live for the day that I don’t have to wait in line to checkout at Trader Joe’s because AI and computer vision are powering my shopping experience.

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

1. That the structural biases of our current system get ingrained into the AI that will power the systems of tomorrow. Programmers today are literally writing the algorithms that will define the future, we have an opportunity to break down the racial and gender bias that plague society today. If it’s written wrong, it can further structural inequalities, but thankfully, this is being highlighted and rectified by leading technologists like Timnit Gebru and Joy Buolamwini, gives me hope.

2. Big tech giants will try to take it all. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla, Alibaba, etc. are recruiting many of the top researchers, have the most data, and the best access to compute power. Having the majority of mainstream AI built and controlled by powerful private companies would be troublesome.

3. Privacy and the right to be forgotten. In the near future all of our data that is collected and stored will be analyzed by AI. Imagine if you had to share all your Apple Watch health data with your insurance company in order to get coverage. We need to have the ability to keep our data private, without any negative consequence.

4. We will be digitally divided. Like Facebook filling our feeds with curated (aka AI filtered) content, I worry that we will all get digitally sorted into boxes of like-mindedness so that when something an election happens, we are blindsided by results because we are always “talking to the choir.”

5. That money will drive AI solutions. There are many problems out there that AI can help us solve but sometimes the most important problems don’t carry the greatest financial incentives. With the vast majority of influence in the direction of AI coming from private sectors, some of greatest problems the globe faces may not be examined until the most lucrative problems are solved.

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?

Honestly, I’m still on the fence. I think that most things have an up side and a down side — everything has an element of risk and danger to it and AI is no different.

One apprehension I hear more often than the Terminator discussion is that AI will automate us out of our jobs. I think a better way to think of it is that people will have to work a lot less. Back in the 1800s, people (men, women and children) would work 12 hours a day 6–7 days a week in order to survive. Then in the early 1900s Henry Ford instituted the 40-hour, 5 day work week and doubled pay at Ford Motors. What did Ford see? More sales of Model-Ts, purchased by the workers with their increased wages to drive around on their weekends.

In a world where work hours have consistently grown since the 1990s and burnout is a major issue, automating monotonous aspects of our jobs and giving us more leisure time with family and friends, might be the best thing we could do for society.

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?

In my opinion, transparency and governance is key to AI being realized in the best way. There are various initiatives out there to help bring fairness and openness to AI that will be key.

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

Every company that we invest in at LDV, we invest in because we believe in their drive and ability to make a positive impact on the world by improving people’s lives with their visual technology. It is our hope that our portfolio companies will help society while building extremely valuable business that brings financial success to their team, employees, us and our investors.

A company we recently invested in, for instance, is developing bionics for people living with physical disabilities. They are developing wearable solutions that will provide comprehensive analysis and precise augmentation to enhance human performance, restore physical function, and increase independence. In other words, they are developing smart clothing to help disabled people walk.

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?

AI has an intimidating reputation. Don’t be afraid of it, put your hand up to take on new projects and increase your knowledge and skills in computer vision, machine learning and AI. You likely have a lot of the building blocks already in your skillset, now is the time to build upon them. Make the time at the beginning of every project to dive deep into the problem at hand and develop your approach and rationale for solving it. Then at the end of each project, make time to look back at what you’ve accomplished and determine what were the successes and what you could do better.

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

I think the problem is two-fold: how do we put more girls on the track to participate in the AI industry and how do we help women be successful in the AI industry. Encouraging basic technical skill building within education is undoubtedly one of the keys to part one, and the answer to part two, in my opinion, has more to do with changing the culture within institutions.

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

“The hard work puts you where the good luck can find you.”

Looking for a job in AI can be quite hard if you don’t have a PhD in machine learning, etc. When I was looking to break into the industry and find a company in the space I really believed in, it took months of going to networking events, reading blogs and reaching out to people, doing online courses at night, applying to jobs, and going through lengthy interview processes. But all my hard work eventually put me in contact with LDV where I was lucky enough to find a perfect fit for my skills and ambitions.

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. 🙂

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on our globe and some of the most vulnerable people and animals. It will literally impact every single living and non-living thing that exists on the planet in the next 5 years. If I could start a movement to really inspire people to fight climate change through their daily activities, that would be my number one.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can subscribe to our LDV Capital newsletter that I write and follow me on Twitter at @hunter_abigail

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

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