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Women Leading The AI Industry: “It’d be great to see more women Hackathon events, boot camps or even separate girl-only scholarships.” with Ksenia Shirokova and Tyler Gallagher

I think that girls and science have been kept apart for far too long. Unfortunately, for a long time, there was this preconception that women and science are not something that goes together. In reality, we get on like a house on fire. Thankfully, nowadays this has been challenged and we see a surge in […]


I think that girls and science have been kept apart for far too long. Unfortunately, for a long time, there was this preconception that women and science are not something that goes together. In reality, we get on like a house on fire. Thankfully, nowadays this has been challenged and we see a surge in female participation in science. Nevertheless, I still believe more needs to be done. It’d be great to see more women Hackathon events, boot camps or even separate girl-only scholarships.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ksenia Shirokova, COO of Sarafan Technology, a company devoted to developing Artificial Intelligence for New Media. Ksenia has 14 years of experience in fashion marketing and held senior roles at the likes of Next, Stockman and Dermosil Oy.


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?

As a child, I was a passionate horse riding. I’d practice every day and attend every competition. I was absolutely besotted with horses and was certain I wanted to do it professionally. That wasn’t until I turned 14, and like every girl back then, got developed an interest in fashion. Suddenly I was reading fashion journals and waited impatiently until the next time my mom would take me shopping with her, which always felt like a real treat. I remember asking myself around that time how come we wear what we wear and how does the system work.

After finishing school, I enrolled at the marketing faculty and somewhere around my second year, I started part-time work in retail fashion stores. I started at the very beginning as a shopping assistant, then got promoted to administrator and thereafter, before joining Sarafan, I was a regional manager for a Finnish cosmetics brand called Dermosil.

Once at Dermosil I didn’t really expect my life could change in the way it did. My friend once told me about this vacancy for a senior role in a fashion-tech-startup and apparently some magic technology that the guys over there had invented. Quite quickly, a new world opened in front of me; a world of big data, neural networks and artificial intelligence. I immediately got intrigued and without really thinking twice I dived right into it and found my place in the world.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

I think that intrinsically, as people, we’re always looking for our own path. We value stability and predictability, plan in advance, set targets and strive towards them. We get comfortable and any real change is met with an overwhelming degree of scepticism, you know, why push your luck if things are going relatively well? My story serves as an example that sometimes you have to take a risk, change direction and give destiny a chance. Changing direction, like in my case, can lead to fantastic things.

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

A start-up is just one big, ongoing project. When I joined Sarafan the technology itself was already there but there was no one to sell it. It was imperative we came up with an expansion strategy to new markets. I built my team from scratch and our main target was to expand simultaneously in Russia and the US. In 2018, when I officially joined, we worked with eleven small Russian platforms. A year later, as a team, we’re in a completely different place. We’ve launched the product in Germany and managed to bring on over 100 new partners. Nevertheless, I think the most interesting part of my job is bridging the connection between developers and media marketers. It’s like working for two different camps at once. Along with our media partners we think of new solutions for their readers. Then it’s my job to go to the developers and convince them it’s worth their while to take my advice and inspiration. They, on the other hand, bring my creative ideas down to earth and give me a reality check. Both groups are working in the same team, but their personalities are different and it’s fascinating to be between one and the other.

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 think the person I’m most grateful to is my husband. He supports me in everything I embark on and always had this faith in me that I don’t think others initially had. He was the one to encourage me to join Sarafan and boosted my confidence before starting. My work/life balance is imbalanced with me working most weekends and often on business trips. Inevitably, this takes a toll on me and my source of comfort is always going to be my family- my husband, son and daughter. They bring so much joy and light into my life and their support is invaluable.

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

1. I think first and foremost its time. Artificial Intelligence helps us with everyday routine tasks and allows us to make time for creating newer and better solutions.

2. Artificial Intelligence is fluid. It changes and adapts easily and can connect entire communities. It often feels like we’re improving the biblical Tower of Babel which we’re fixing.

3. I’m really excited about the influence that artificial intelligence has on medicine. The technology can tangibly save lives, for example, it determines the presence of tumours and reveals the development of cancers can predict the risk of stroke. “Smart” systems in hospitals can simultaneously monitor the condition of many patients and warn doctors which patient is most at risk, without the doctor having to check each patient.

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

1. Obviously, one thing that really concerns me is how some misuse the power of AI. The technology is a bit like a child who remembers everything you say, regardless of what you’re saying is right or wrong.

2. AI is always data dependent. One of the shortcomings of the system is that if the data set is incomplete or of low quality the results, you’ll get will be inaccurate or bias. There have been cases before where the AI would be very selective when it came to gender or race. I think that as developers, we have a duty to grow our systems in an ethical, non-discriminatory way.

3. Another important issue is governmental regulation and its effects. Especially in Europe, there’s a strong movement to ensure that people have a choice when it comes to sharing their own data and as of today, and we still don’t see a full-fledged governmental project which uses AI. With that said, it’s sure that sooner rather than later ideas will emerge and coming up with ways of protecting people’s data is the next big thing.

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 personally don’t see AI as a threat in itself. Regardless of how developed it is, it will always remain a tool which we control. What’s dangerous about AI is how people could use it as a weapon against each other, but then I feel that’s a completely different conversation about human kind in general. My point being, AI is not a Frankenstein monster which suddenly goes out of control, but a tool which people choose to understand their surrounding world. Making sure they do so ethically is an entirely different subject.

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 order to avoid such situations from happening, it’s important that governments and entrepreneurs work together on policy. It’s also equally essential to make sure that AI developments are not only the subject of tech conferences but that they become known in the mainstream media. There’s a lot of misinformation about the effects that AI has on various industries and disproving myths should be our top priority.

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

At Sarafan, we recently opened up a paid internship programme for students who don’t have expertise in Artificial Intelligence and would want to develop in that direction but don’t know where to start. The internship lasts three months and we teach them everything there is about the system and its advantages. As we are a start-up, there are obviously limits when it comes to the programme intake, but it’s a fantastic feeling to see a young person develop an interest in something you love so much.

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. Be courageous and don’t be afraid to try new things. Everything is going to be just fine.

2. Don’t follow stereotypes and question your preconceived notions. We’ve all got our own qualities and we’re often our own biggest competition.

3. Business and family- you can connect the two, as both reinforce one another.

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

I think that girls and science have been kept apart for far too long. Unfortunately, for a long time, there was this preconception that women and science are not something that goes together. In reality, we get on like a house on fire. Thankfully, nowadays this has been challenged and we see a surge in female participation in science. Nevertheless, I still believe more needs to be done. It’d be great to see more women Hackathon events, boot camps or even separate girl-only scholarships.

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

““The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work”. I think especially in our line of business where much of our success depends on how we sell our idea to other people it’s absolutely crucial we have great networks to help out. I can’t even count the times I’ve been massively helped out by a friend or a person within my circle with anything Sarafan-related.

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 think I’d dive into an environmental cause like overconsumption of natural resources. We’re seriously stretching the budget that mother earth has for us and we often forget that other than this planet, there’s nowhere else to go. So, anything from reducing CO2 emissions to coming up with ways to save water will always have my approval.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kshirokova/

You can also follow me on FB: https://www.facebook.com/ksenia.shirokova.3

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


About the Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member.

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