Women Leading The AI Industry: “Even if you are not an engineer there is always some way you can contribute” with Vicki Kolovou and Tyler Gallagher

Look around for companies that are working in the AI domain. Even if you are not an engineer there is always some way you can contribute and you could be useful. We, for example, have a linguist, several annotators, and two psychologists, on our team, working on the same technology as the engineers. I had […]

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Look around for companies that are working in the AI domain. Even if you are not an engineer there is always some way you can contribute and you could be useful. We, for example, have a linguist, several annotators, and two psychologists, on our team, working on the same technology as the engineers.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Vicki Kolovou, a connector and firm believer in serendipity. She works with companies on their brand identity, marketing strategy, social media presence, communication, while her latest projects involve product development. She’s worked with companies in technology, AI, deep learning, eHealth, fashion, wood industry, and with many technology startups. Vicki currently serves as Marketing Lead at Behavioral Signals, an LA-based startup that develops technology to analyze human behavior from voice-data. Vicki is Co-Founder & Producer at Tech Talks Central, a web radio platform that interviews technologists, scientists, and researchers, broadcasting live from within tech events. She has been active with startups, some of which she founded herself — like Ermoumag — a fashion magazine, — street guide, — a mobile retail platform, Taggzy and iHeartShops, marketing IT tools for retail, and is a strong supporter of the startup ecosystem in Greece. Vicki grew up in Australia and is 1st generation Greek-Australian. She holds degrees in Food Technology, Graphics, and IT & Computing.

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?

Thank you for the interview and the opportunity 🙂

Although I’ve worked in media and promotion almost all my life, I have always had an intense interest in technology innovation and its stakeholders… Since my very first computer, an Amstrad 6128. So while working in print media I studied and obtained my Bachelor’s degree in IT and Computing, in addition to simultaneously learning to code my first HTML websites for clients (or let’s just call them early adopters) right about the same time when the WWW was picking up steam. From that point on in history, I had enough clients to leave my job and start my own freelance job working as a front-end developer. That led me to technology startups, some of which I founded, and some of which I worked for combining frontend skills with marketing and graphics. The latest startups I worked for involved AI (artificial intelligence) so from then on it became easier to stay focused. The more I learn the more I become proficient in the field of promoting and marketing AI solutions.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

My initial studies were in a completely irrelevant field, food chemistry, but I could never find work in my hometown. So I had to adapt, keep on learning until I found a field that I loved and could make it my full-time profession. You need to be ready for change and growth. We can’t keep doing things the same way as we did yesterday. Change is good in the long run.

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

Working with Behavioral Signals and its Emotion Recognition in Voice technology has given me the opportunity to work in an AI field that is completely new and innovative. Being able to detect and measure emotions like joy, anger, frustration, engagement, and many more, or even predict, just from how something is said, what the intention of the speaker is… is mind-boggling. So the challenge for me and my team is to look into cases that can totally disrupt how we do things. Voice has been underutilized, until now, as a command tool. Voice can be used to give commands to an inanimate object, like a speaker, but it could also be used to help connect better with a virtual assistant. If I have a virtual assistant tracking my mother’s medication intake, I really would like the VA to understand what she is feeling and to track that too. Stepping further into the future… how about if it could be able to empathize with her when she refuses to take her pills because she is feeling depressed? These are the kind of projects we’re working on now and have me staying awake at night thinking about ideas.

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?

Obviously, in life, you get to meet a lot of people. Some will stick around, some will move on and forget you, and a few will prove to be these rare gems that somehow affected your life in a big way. I have many stories about several people in my life that crossed my road and changed my path. One of them is a colleague at Behavioral Signals, our VP of Engineering, who actually introduced me to the team. We had worked again in the past, in one of those “Saving the World” startups and I was smitten by his infectious enthusiasm for whatever he was working on. He has this capacity to see the good in every single person and totally believes that, with some encouragement, everyone is capable of excelling. I like his optimistic worldview, despite often making fun of his endless elation. So when he asked me if I would like to apply for the marketing lead job in the company I jumped at the opportunity. Turned out I am lucky enough to be working with an amazing group of engineers and business people.

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

  1. AI has endless possibilities to change human lives for the better, whether it involves medicine, new drugs, social robots, safer driving and literally hundreds of other applications.
  2. Every single industry, starting from robots to finance and fashion is looking into AI and how it can help their business.
  3. AI and all its derivatives aka Retail AI, Voice AI, Conversational AI have become buzzwords on Twitter and posts.
  4. AI, as a term, is not really accurate when describing the field and I get to explain the role of ML, Neural Networks, data, and more.
  5. Countries like the UAE have a ministry named Minister of Artificial Intelligent Strategy, while other governments are now understanding its vast potentials.

And a sixth! There are articles out there that simply state, without any real proof or substantial argument, that AI will one day control humans if we don’t do something about it.

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

  1. AI applications are very difficult to showcase, for example in an expo. The most amazing part of it happens behind the scenes. Finding that killer application, that will dazzle the masses and convince them of its disruptive impact on our lives, is something that concerns me every day;
  2. People are not willing to really educate themselves on what is meant by AI. I’d suggest everyone spend 10 minutes of their life to read the relevant entry on Wikipedia;
  3. It’s in fashion now to say your business is utilizing AI while it’s not really the case and you know it;
  4. The sector doesn’t have enough diversity whether that means not enough women, because they don’t understand it or think it’s too hard to learn, or people from under-developed countries, because they don’t have the opportunity for studies or the resources to build projects;
  5. Everyone has to be part of the AI equation because it will impact everyone’s life.
  6. The above-mentioned articles may have a point and AI may actually control us one day. Although I doubt it.

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?

I do read about their concerns, but to be honest, usually, the marketer comes out of me and understands these kinds of opinions are super great PR bylines.

Will AI kill us? I don’t know. Maybe, as do guns but that didn’t stop people from inventing them.

Is it going to happen any time soon? Definitely not. AI still has a very very long way to go.

Will humans understand AI before it becomes dangerous for them? IMO yes, and regulators will catch up and people will know when to step on the brakes.

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?

Knowledge. Educate thyself. Read more and never believe until you’ve researched it a lot. And of course, be part of the conversation. Don’t expect others to care about your privacy or safety before you do. Trust, but verify as a former US President used to say after every speech.

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

Not sure I’ve done something with such a significant impact but maybe small things count. Like in the previous startup, I worked for, we were creating an application for beekeepers that could also help put a dent in the global bee-decline problem. Currently, at Behavioral Signals, we are working with a mental health startup that wants to help psychologists catch serious issues before they even appear.

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?

Not sure if this question is for women who want to get into this space or are already there. I will go with the first.

Look around for companies that are working in the AI domain. Even if you are not an engineer there is always some way you can contribute and you could be useful. We, for example, have a linguist, several annotators, and two psychologists, on our team, working on the same technology as the engineers.

Read about AI, learn the jargon, understand the technical terms, understand developers and seek out a job in marketing if that is your inclination.

Any woman, never mind her educational background, can start up something in AI. There are many problems out there, in many different areas, that need AI contribution in their solution. Maybe it’s a problem that you understand very well and this technology can help resolve. It’s not the technology that will make the solution successful, it’s the people or in this case the women, behind the development of the solution that will make it successful.

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

In Europe, it’s quite common for people to learn multiple languages. Schools teach a second and often a third language, while parents hire tutors to educate their offspring to become citizens of the world. Let’s think of coding as an extra language and replace one of the previous languages with coding. For me, that is a relevantly cheap and fertile way to get the ball rolling. Once people understand what they can actually achieve, with a few lines of code, they will definitely want to move into more powerful things like AI.

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

Believe in serendipity. Not really a quote more of a belief that I’ve followed for many years. Since you don’t know where you will come across something remarkable you need to have your eyes and ears open and… above all your mind.

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. 🙂

Great question! In a world where spreading unproven theories on YouTube or half-naked pics on Instagram, makes you an influencer, not sure how much of an influencer I am. But if I was to create a movement it would be an AI hackathon for Happiness: how can we use the tons of data we have accumulated to improve everyone’s life in a cost-effective way. How can we make small changes but with a big impact?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Look me up on Twitter (@netwire) and do not be mean. I love reading other people’s opinions.

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

Thank you and always keep up the great work you’re doing!

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