30 Influential Women Advancing AI in Canada

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Next week the RE•WORK team are heading to Toronto to host the Deep Learning Summit and AI For Government Summit. As a strong advocate for supporting female entrepreneurs and women working towards advancing technology and science, we are also holding a Women in AI Dinner to champion progressions in AI, with a focus on leading women in the field. The dinner is open to both genders and will provide the opportunity for AI experts from all industries to network and learn from each other. In advance of these events, we’ve spoken to many of the most influential women working in AI in Canada, and we'd like to take this chance to highlight their work.

Firstly, our top 3:

Joelle Pineau

Director, Facebook AI Research (FAIR) & McGill

As co-director of McGill’s Reasoning and Learning Lab, Joelle Pineau focuses on developing new models and algorithms designed to shape the behaviour of robots and machines to better respond to human needs. For example, she was actively involved in the Nursebot project, which developed a nursing-assistant robot prototype that provided help and companionship to elderly individuals, and SmartWheeler, a robotic wheelchair that can be operated by people with severe mobility impairments. Joelle joined RE•WORK at the Deep Learning Summit in Montreal last year, where she moderated the panel of pioneers with Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio.

Sanja Fidler

Assistant Professor & Director of AI, University of Toronto & NVIDIA

Sanja, who has joined RE•WORK at several events to present her work on perceptual machines, is Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto. Previously she was a Research Assistant Professor at TTI-Chicago, a philanthropically endowed academic institute located in the campus of the University of Chicago. She completed her PhD in computer science at the University of Ljubljana in 2010, and was a postdoctoral fellow at University of Toronto during 2011-2012. Sanja has recently been appointed as Director of AI at the new NVIDIA lab in Toronto. 

Doina Precup

Research Team Lead, Associate Professor, DeepMind & McGill University

Doina Precup holds a Canada Research Chair, Tier I in Machine Learning at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and she currently co-directs the Reasoning and Learning Lab in the School of Computer Science. Prof. Precup also serves as Associate Dean, Research, for the Faculty of Science and Associate Scientific Director of the Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives CFREF-funded research program at McGill. Prof. Precup’s research interests are in the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning, with an emphasis on reinforcement learning, deep learning, time series analysis, and various applications of these methods. She is a Senior Member of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. Doina also joined us on the RE•WORK Women in AI Podcast last year at the summit in Montreal. 


Continue reading for our full list below:

Raquel Urtasun

Head of Uber ATG

‘Self-driving technology has the potential to fundamentally change the way we live in a very positive way. I find this truly inspiring.’ As well as heading up Uber ATG, Raquel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, a Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning and Computer Vision and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI. Raquel’s research interests include machine learning, computer vision, robotics and remote sensing. Having a woman at the helm of making Uber’s self-driving cars smarter is a great representation of strong female role models for aspiring AI professionals to look up to.

Sandy Penn Whitehouse

Co-Founder and CEO, Tricket Health

Sandy believes that technology needs to work for the people, not the other way round. Her work centers around improving healthcare and giving people a voice to talk about what they’re feeling without there being a stigma around it. As a strong advocate for young people she is using technology as a tool to make these changes happen, in 2012 she Co-Founded Tickit Health, with the goal to end medical miscommunication and build a healthcare system that listens.

Saadia Muzaffar

Founder, Tech Girls Canada

Saadia has done a vast amount of work towards creating an environment in the AI industry that includes diversity. She is part of Canada Beyond 150: Policy for a diverse and inclusive future‘s Feminist Government initiative, and an advisor to Government of Canada’s Economic Strategy tables for the Access to Skilled Talent working group. Her work is focused on maximising the ‘public good’ and she has built up the hub for Canadian women in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Natalie Cartwright

Co-Founder & COO, Finn.ai

Finn.ai is a white-labelled virtual banking assistant, powered by artificial intelligence. Natalie and the team put a personal banker in every customer's pocket, helping them to manage their money wherever they are, whatever they need via a simple, natural conversation. Our secure, easy to integrate platform is used by leading financial institutions and banks to delight their digital savvy customers, improve loyalty and reduce call centre and IVR volume and cost. Before co-founding Finn.ai, Natalie studied at IE Business School in Madrid.

Maithili Mavinkurve

Founder & COO, Sightline Innovation

At Sightline Innovation, Maithili's goal is to make this technology accessible to industry and immediately applicable without the need for data scientists or Phds. Sightline Innovation has designed a machine learning as a service platform designed to address problems facing industry today. As Founder and COO at Sightline Innovation, Maithili is in charge of ensuring smooth delivery of their solutions into a customer’s organization. Maithili is a long time entrepreneur and leverages decades of engineering management experience to ensure customers can harness the power of deep learning and achieve immediate gains. Maithili appeared on the Women in AI podcast last year, and will be joining us again to record another episode at the summit in Toronto next week. 

Jennifer Gibbs

VP Head of the Office of the Chief Data Officer, TD Bank

Jennifer Gibbs is the Vice President, Head of the Office of the Chief Data Officer, Enterprise Data & Analytics, TD Bank Group. Her mandate includes developing and implementing strategies, programs, and policies to improve and sustain the governance, management, protection, and value of TD's data assets. Jennifer provides guidance and oversight across TD's lines of business to support strategic data initiatives and regulatory and compliance expectations related to data.

Inmar Givoni

Autonomy Engineering Manager, Uber ATG

“I am a senior engineering manager at Uber ATG Toronto. We’re building self-driving vehicles using cutting-edge deep-learning models. In addition, I fairly regularly give presentations about machine learning, algorithms, big data, and their applications to high-school kids, university students, researchers, and non-technical audiences.  I also participate in various career panels and career mentoring events. You are welcome to contact me if you are interested in something like that.

As a technical woman, I’m particularly interested in outreach activities for young women, encouraging them to choose technical career paths. For my volunteering and mentoring work I received the University of Toronto’s 2017 Arbor Award, and was recognized as one of the 2018 inaugural cohort of 50 inspiring Canadian women in STEM.

I like helping build communities, especially in Toronto. I am a co-organizer of the ML Ensemble and Canadian Tech @ Scale conferences.

Foteini Agrafioti

Chief Science Officer, Royal Bank of Canada; Borealis AI

“I wasn’t really into engineering at first. I thought it was a male-dominated field and my perception at that time was that engineers just operated machinery and heavy equipment all day. However, I listened to my parents, pursued my degree in electrical engineering, and ended up loving it. Engineering is a platform for so many things and it lives at the intersection of many disciplines. I’ve done projects in healthcare, fashion, arts, education and even psychology. The possibilities are endless.” (Source: Canada Learning Code, STEM Profile Series, June 2015)

Megan Anderson

Development Director, Intergrate.ai

“I would love for more women to make the leap into careers in tech, even if they don’t have STEM backgrounds,” she says. My background is in management consulting, but I am an analytical person with intense curiosity so I took the leap into tech.”

Jeanette Stock

New Venture Associate, Highline BETA

Jeanette is the Co-Founder of Venture Out, a company that focuses on LGBTQA+ professionals in tech and aiding them towards careers, opportunities and also connecting the company members together to form a community. Her hope is to create a stronger community to progress the technology industry and growth of the future technology leaders in Canada.

Adriana Romero Soriano

Research Scientist, Facebook AI Research (FAIR)

As well as being research scientist at FAIR, Adriana is an adjunct professor at McGill University. Previously, she was a post-doctoral researcher at Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, advised by Prof. Yoshua Bengio.She received her Ph.D. from University of Barcelona in 2015 with a thesis on assisting the training of deep neural networks with applications to computer vision, advised by Dr. Carlo Gatta. My Ph.D. included contributions in the fields of representation learning and model compression, with applications to image classification, image segmentation and remote sensing.

Dr. Helia Mohammadi

Chief Data Scientist, Microsoft Canada

Dr. Helia Mohammadi is the National Healthcare Chief Data Scientist for Microsoft Canada. With over 10 years of experience in research and applied machine learning, she leverages and extends machine learning techniques that help process data into new tools and technologies, and aid with digital transformation in the healthcare domain.

Valérie Bécaert

Director/Research Group, Element AI

Valélrie defines herself as a ‘tech-eco-geek’ and ‘looks to the future with optimism and wonder’. Her career started as a researcher in the field of life cycle analysis looking into the effect that human activities are having on our environment, she then moved on to become the Director of CIRAIG and CIRODD. Her work revolves around actioning work that can be done to solve environmental problems and Valélrie fully believes that we have the capability to change the world through generating, analysing and enhancing our data.

Valerie Pisano

President and CEO, MILA

Valerie’s dedicated to ensuring that there is diversity and equality in the workplace. In 2014 she founded Mobius Bias Project with the intent to spark discussion around leadership from women within business. Holding a Masters Degree in Applied Economics, working at Cirque du Soleil and McKinsey & Company she has experience in strategy, leadership, talent management and corporate culture which have all contributed to her passion, fulfilling human potential to make the world a better place. This has all lead her to where she is now, working on the ‘strategy of ensuring the sustainability of the academic research powerhouse and the development of Quebec's artificial intelligence ecosystem.’

Myriam Côté

Director AI for Humanity, MILA

Myriam has worked at MILA since 2009 and was recently promoted to Director of AI for Humanity. With a PHD in Artificial Intelligence she has over 15 years of experience in this field and her goal is to collaborate with both MILA’s partners of the local ecosystem and international allies, by promoting an ethical and socially responsible usage of AI.

Marise Bonenfant

Co-Founder, Myelin

"My personal interest is in how information plays an essential role in everyone's decision-making process." Marise is the Co-Founder of Myelinana online platform that provides information about Autism. Having waited 2 years to have a diagnosis for her chronic illness she wanted to create a space where there’s easy access to scientific information; she wants users to be able to ask a simple question and receive an answer through an algorithm made with AI. The aim is to eventually have the entire psychosocial domain to be referenced: ADHD, anxiety, depression, homelessness, school dropout, etc.

Caroline Pernelle

Director of Partnerships, IVADO

Caroline defines herself as a data-techno-geek. She holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering with a specialisation in aeronautics from Polytechnique Montréal and a journalism certificate from the Université de Montréal. Having worked in a variety of industries and amongst different people Caroline believes that the key to making companies become more efficient and spark innovation is through the use of data and picking out the important information to prepare us for ‘the world of tomorrow’ which is what she’s currently working towards.

Angelica Lim

Robotics Software Development Manager, Softbank Robotics

During her masters and PhD at Kyoto University, Lim combined computer science with neuroscience and cultural development psychology to build a robot that “feels”. As a pioneer in “developmental robotics”, which models human-style learning in machines, Lim explains that toddlers link names of emotions to specific sets of physiological and psychological states as well as physical expressions. Learning for both humans and robots is heavily influenced by caregivers and culture. Lim is currently a Robotics Software Development Manager in R&D at Softbank Robotics, creators of the humanoid robot Pepper. She’s given a number of TED talks on designing and co-existing with emotional and empathetic robots.

Kathryn Hume

VP Product & Strategy, integrate.ai 

Kathryn is vice president of product and strategy for integrate.ai, a SaaS startup applying AI to drive growth and customer satisfaction for large enterprises, and a venture partner at ffVC, a seed- and early-stage technology venture capital firm, where she advises early-stage artificial intelligence companies and sources deal flow. Previously, Kathryn was the director of sales and marketing at Fast Forward Labs (Cloudera), where she helped Fortune 500 companies accelerate their machine learning and data science capabilities, and a principal consultant in Intapp’s Risk practice focused on data privacy, security, and compliance. A widely respected speaker and writer on AI, Kathryn excels at communicating how AI and machine learning technologies work in plain language. She has given lectures and taught courses on the intersections of technology, ethics, law, and society at Harvard Business School, Stanford, the MIT Media Lab, and the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. She speaks seven languages and holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University and a BA in mathematics from the University of Chicago.

Afsaneh Fazly

Director of Research, Samsung Research America

Afsaneh has extensive experience in both academia and the industry, publishing award-winning papers, and building strong teams solving real-world problems. Afsaneh's research draws on many subfields of AI, including Computational Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Computational Vision, and Machine Learning. Afsaneh strongly believes that solving many of today's real-world problems requires an interdisciplinary approach that can bridge the gap between machine intelligence and human cognition.

Jodie Wallis

Managing Director, Accenture

‘During her 24 years at Accenture, Jodie has developed deep expertise in management consulting and technology consulting. She has served clients in several industries including, most recently, personal and commercial banking as well as life and health insurance.

She actively volunteers in the Toronto community, serving on the organizing committee of the Covenant House Guts + Glory Corporate Challenge, which raises funds for Canada’s largest agency serving at-risk, homeless and trafficked youth.

Leila Boujnane

CEO, Tineye

Originally from France, Leila moved to Canada where she started working for a software company and discovered her passion for it, using technology to solve complex problems. From this she built her own company Tineye which is an image recognition app. Once you submit an image into the tool it will tell you where that image has been published on the Web, even if the image has been altered - a great tool for photographer to see if their photos have been used/where. Having worked in Canada for a considerable amount of time Leila has been able to see the impact women have had in the industry and she is now setting her sights on mentoring and helping women in developing countries where girls don't have easy access to education.

Neda Ghazi

Co-Founder & CEO, Comfable

"Neda is the Co‐founder and CEO of Comfable, a tech startup that uses innovative solutions to empower people to live healthier in a greener environment. She is using her experience and extensive knowledge in sustainable design to grow the business and create smart, healthy and resource-efficient products.

She has extensive experience as a research scientist at the Technical University of Berlin and as a project manager at Comfable and Manzar. She involved in design and construction of award-winning projects in Iran and Canada."

Sarah Villeneuve

Policy Analyst, AI + Society, Brookfield Institute

Sarah is particularly interested in emerging technology’s impact on public policy, human well-being, and the economy. Motivated by both the potential benefits technology offers to governments and civil society, and concerns of fairness, accountability and inclusivity, she seeks to contribute to critical conversations surrounding the development and adoption of technology in public life.  She has previously conducted research on algorithmic discrimination, smart-city marginalization, and predictive analytics for governance. On top of this Sarah is a contributor to the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems, as well as the IEEE Standards Association Working Group on Wellbeing Metrics for Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.

Negar Ghourchian

Director of AI, Aerial Technologies

Whilst studying for her PhD in Machine Learning and Activity Recognition, Negar joined the Tandem Launch’s offices as part of their portfolio company Aerial Technologies. She has since gone on to become the Senior Research Scientist and continues to use artificial intelligence to make smart and safe homes, focusing particularly on the elder who live alone. Following from this Negar was listed in Mitacs’ Next 150! The list presents the 150 innovators in Canada whose work will have a positive impact on Canada for the next 150 years.

Jekaterina Novikova

Director of Machine Learning, WinterLight Labs

Winterlight Labs is a Toronto-based Canadian company that is developing a novel AI-based diagnostic platform that can objectively assess and monitor cognitive health. Jekaterina's work explores artificial intelligence in the context of language understanding, characterising speaker's cognitive, acoustic and linguistic state, as well as in the context of human-machine interaction. Jekaterina received a PhD in Computer Science in 2015 from the University of Bath, UK.

Layla El Asri

Research Manager, Microsoft, Maluuba

Layla El Asri is a Research Manager at Maluuba, a Canadian AI company that’s teaching machines to think, reason and communicate with humans (acquired by Microsoft in January 2017). Based in the AI epicenter of Montréal, Maluuba applies deep learning techniques to solve complex problems in language understanding. Layla’s work explores artificial intelligence in the context of language understanding, dialogue and human-machine interaction. Layla leads a team seeking to build artificial intelligence systems that are knowledgeable and can exchange information with users to help users accomplish tasks or gain knowledge. Layla completed her PhD at Université de Lorraine in France.

You can hear from some of these influential women that we’ve listed above by joining us at our Toronto summits next week where you can learn about their latest work, industry developments and what the future of AI looks like. If you’re interested in attending our Deep Learning Summit or AI For Government Summit or Women in AI Dinner you can find more information here

On top of RE•WORK’s Women in AI Dinner we also have a biweekly podcast series to further support diversity with in the industry. We speak to the leading female minds in AI including CEOs, CTOs, Data Scientists and Industry Professionals from Facebook, McGill University, LinkedIn and many more. If you want to hear from influential women who are helping with the progression of  AI and discuss an array of topics then listen here.

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