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Announcing the winners of the Women in AI Awards at Transform 2021

All the sessions from Transform 2021 are available on-demand now. Watch now.


One of the goals of Transform 2021 is to bring a broad variety of expertise, views, and experiences to the stage — virtual this year — to illustrate all the different ways AI is changing the world. As part of VentureBeat’s commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion in AI, that also means being mindful of who is being represented on the panels and talks.

The Women in AI Awards ends a week that kicked off with the Women in AI Breakfast, with several number of talks on inclusion and bias in between. Margaret Mitchell, a leading AI researcher on responsible AI, spoke, as well as executives from Pinterest, Redfin, Intel, and Salesforce.

Selecting the winners

VentureBeat leadership made the final selections out of the over 100 women who were nominated during the open nomination period. Selecting the winners was difficult because it was clear that each of these nominees are trailblazers who made outstanding contributions in the AI field.

AI Entrepreneur Award

This award honors women who have started companies showing great promise in AI and considers factors such as business traction, the technology solution offered by the company, and impact in the AI space.

Briana Brownell, founder and CEO of Pure Strategy was the winner of the AI Entrepreneur Award for 2021. Brownell and her team at Pure Strategy designed “Annie” (ANIE), an Automated Neural Intelligence Engine to help humans understand unstructured data. Annie has been used by doctors, specialists and physicians assistants to communicate with patients and with each other across cultural knowledge and overcoming biases, phobias and anxieties.

AI Research Award

This award honors those who have made a significant impact in an area of research in AI, helping accelerate progress either within their organization, as part of academic research, or impacting AI approaches in technology in general.

Dr. Nuria Oliver, chief scientific advisor of Vodafone Institute, received the AI Research Award for 2021. Oliver is the named inventor of 40 filed patents, including a computational modeling of human behavior via machine learning techniques and on the development of intelligent interactive systems. She’s been named an ACM Distinguished Scientist and Fellow, as well as a Fellow of the IEEE and of Euroway. She also pioneered the not-for-profit business and academic research to use anonymized mobile data to track and prevent the spread of Ebola and Malaria in Africa, which has since been deployed across Africa and Europe in a matter of days in 2020 to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. What’s more, she has proposed that all of the data scientists involved in her humanitarian efforts work on those projects pro-bono.

Responsibility & Ethics in AI Award

This award honors those who demonstrate exemplary leadership and progress in the growing topic of responsible AI. This year, there was a tie.

Haniyeh Mahmoudian, the global AI ethicist at DataRobot and Noelle Silver, founder of the AI Leadership Institute, both received the Responsibility & Ethics Award for 2021.

Mahmoudian was an early adopter of bringing statistical bias measures into developmental processes. She wrote Statistical Parity along with natural language explanations for users, a feat that has resulted in a priceless improvement in model bias that scales exponentially, as the platform is used across hundreds of companies and v verticals such as banking, insurance, tech, CPG and manufacturing. A contributing member of the Trusted AI team’s culture of inclusiveness, Mahmoudian operates under the core belief that diversity of thought will result in thoughtful and improved outcomes. Mahmoudian’s research in the risk level for COVID contagion outside of racial bias was used at the Federal level to inform resource allocation and also by Moderna during vaccine trials.

A consistent champion for public understanding of AI and tech fluency, Silver has launched and established several initiatives supporting women and underrepresented communities within AI including the AI Leadership Institute, WomenIn.AI. and more. She’s a Red Hat Managed OpenShift Specialist in AI/ML, a WAC Global Digital Ambassador, a Microsoft MVP in Artificla Intelligence and numerous other awards as well as a 2019 winner of the VentureBeat Women in AI mentorship award

AI Mentorship Award

This award honors leaders who helped mentor other women in the field of AI, provided guidance and support, and encouraged more women to enter the field of AI.

Katia Walsh, Levi Strauss’ chief strategy and AI officer, was the recipient of the AI Mentorship Award for 2021. Walsh has been an early influencer for women in AI since her work at Vodafone, actively searching for female candidates on the team and mentoring younger female colleagues, and serving as strategy advisor to Fellowship.AI, a free data science training program. At Levi Strauss, Walsh created a digital upskilling program that is the first of its kind in the industry, with two thirds of its bootcamp participants are women.

Rising Star Award

This award honors those in the beginning stages of their AI career who have demonstrated exemplary leadership traits.

The Rising Star Award for 2021 was awarded to Arezou Soltani Panah, a research fellow at Deakin University in Australia.

Panah’s work at Swinburne Social Innovation Research Institute focuses on solving complex social problems such as loneliness, family violence and social stigma. While her work demands substantial cross-disciplinary research and collaborating with subject matter experts like social scientists and governmental policy advisors, she has created a range of novel structured machine learning solutions that span across those disciplines to create responsible AI research. Panah’s focus on social inequality and disempowerment has used the power of natural language processing to measure language and algorithmic bias. One such project quantified the extent of gender bias in featuring female athletes in the Victoria, Australian news and how women’s achievements are attributed to their non-individual efforts such as their team, coach or partner compared to their male counterparts. Another project looked at gender biases in reporting news on obesity and the consequences to weight stigmatization in public health policies.

Inspiring leaders, meaningful work

One thing was very clear from reading over the nominations that came in: There are many leaders doing meaning work in AI. It was very inspiring to see the caliber of executives and scientists leading the way in AI and making a difference in our world. The list of nominations are full of leaders who will continue to make their mark over the next few years and there will be more opportunities to hear about their work.

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