AI Talk: Innovations and innovators

June 26, 2020 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

Two articles caught my attention this week – one AI in Healthcare article on a list of Technology Pioneers curated by World Economic Forum and the other from MIT Technology Review focusing on young innovators. Looking through these you can certainly conclude the state of innovation is strong!

World Economic Forum – Technology Pioneers of 2020

This initiative to find technology pioneers was launched twenty years ago! Of this year’s selection of 100 companies, one fourth are run by women, and 40 percent of those are based in the U.S. All continents are represented except Australia (beats me why). It’s an interesting cohort of companies. The selection criteria was probably weighted towards companies impacting their country/community in a positive fashion. Here, I am highlighting a few health care related companies.

  • A Finnish company, Oura Ring, has an app that customizes wellness guidance based on the person’s use of their sleep and fitness tracking device.
  • CureApp from Japan is focused on app-based digital therapeutics.
  • Sherlock Biosciences, taking its name from the world-famous fictional sleuth, is a U.S. based firm that has innovative diagnostic capability using genetic markers.
  • Ada Health from Germany is another AI-based app that helps you manage your symptoms and health.

The companies listed are from every corner of the globe and target all kinds of problems, including climate change, improving supply chain systems, building smart cities, powering smart cars and even helping match employers with job seekers.

Young Innovators

MIT Technology Review, also strangely enough, has been curating a list of 35 young innovators under 35 for the past 20 years! Their list highlights thirty-five dreamers and inventors who show incredible promise. Use of AI is a recurring theme in their research. Here are a few of the female inventors that made the list:

  • CEO of ReviveMed, Iranian Leila Phiraji, is bringing her research results on detecting tiny molecules called metabolites with AI and machine learning to the market. This research has significant diagnostic implications.
  • Rose Faghih developed a smart watch technology that monitors skin conductance changes due to sweat. Using AI algorithms, she maps these changes to people’s brain states. This “Mindwatch” can potentially help with detecting various moods allowing one to take corrective action – calming an agitated driver, detecting when one is low on blood sugar and activate insulin delivery, etc.
  • German entrepreneur Katharina Volz, started a company, Occamzrazor, focused on finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease after a loved one developed the condition. Her company (with funding from Google, Michael J. Fox foundation and others) put together a team well versed in AI, computational biology, drug development and neuroscience. By combing through literature, a knowledge map of the disease has been developed – dubbed “Parkinsome” which can be used to search for candidate drugs that can treat the condition.
  • Bo Li, a Chinese researcher, is focused on fooling AI algorithms. She put up some black and white stickers on a stop sign, which didn’t fool humans, but AI algorithms read it as posting for a speed limit of 45 mph. The idea is to try and fool such systems so one can better understand the failure modes and correct erroneous behavior. Better systems are the end result.
  • Atma Lui, a U.S.-born African American businesswoman, decided to take on the cosmetics industry and their bias towards products that only work with fairer skin tones. She developed a product called “Nudemeter” that through photos and user questions determines the correct tone of makeup that works for that user.
  • At the young age of 24, Inioluwa Deborah Raji, originally from Nigeria, has had an outsized impact on eliminating racial bias from AI image recognition algorithms. She sounded the alarm on face recognition software, working with Joy Buolamwini of MIT (mentioned in last week’s blog) on how skin color impacts recognition accuracy of AI algorithms—primarily because of the lack of diversity in the training data. In her young career she has already done stints at MIT, Google and is now working at AI Now Institute promoting removal of bias in AI algorithms and setting up external audit controls to put a company’s solution to the test. More power to her.

The above set of companies and innovators are simply a sample from the extensive lists published. One thing is clear: It makes us more hopeful for the future in these trying times.

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.