10 women advancing AI in Canada

With files from Buckley Smith

According to the 2019 AI Global Talent Report, just 14 per cent of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers in Canada are women, highlighting a significant gender imbalance in the field of machine learning. Additionally, the three leading academic conferences in AI that were surveyed in 2018 as part of the research, it was found that just 12 per cent of the authors were women.

As International Women’s Day fast approaches, we have rounded up a list of 10 women advancing AI in Canada to celebrate their strides and accomplishments. 

Raquel Urtasun – head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group Toronto and associate professor of computer science at University of Toronto

Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s (ATG) chief scientist, head of Uber ATG Toronto, and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI, Raquel Urtasun is a leading expert in AI for self-driving cars. Urtasun is also a Canada Research Chairholder in machine learning and computer vision.

Her research interests include AI, computer vision, remote sensing, machine learning, and robotics. She is a recipient of several awards including an NSERC EWR Steacie Award, an NVIDIA pioneers of AI award, two NVIDIA pioneer research awards, three Google faculty research awards, an Amazon Faculty Research award, a ministry of education and innovation early Researcher award, and a Connaught New Researcher Award.

Jodie Wallis – managing director of artificial intelligence (Canada) for Accenture

The head of Accenture’s AI and applied science practice in Canada, Jodie Wallis works with academics, government, and businesses to grow Accenture’s investment in AI. Wallis is responsible for expanding Accenture’s footprint in the AI ecosystem, bringing global AI expertise and innovation to various Canadian clients, and attracting top talent. During her 24 years at Accenture, she has gained extensive knowledge and skills in technology and management consulting. 

A co-host of the award-winning podcast series, The AI Effect, Wallis is a frequent speaker on the topic of AI and its impact on the future of work.

Sanja Fidler – assistant professor at University of Toronto and director of AI at Nvidia

Fidler is a leading computer scientist with a focus on deep learning and computer vision with connections to natural language processing. Her main research interests are (3D) scene understanding, object segmentation and image labelling, and 2D and 3D object detection, mainly scalable multi-class detection. In December 2018, Fidler was awarded Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) AI chair. 

An assistant professor at the department of computer science at the University of Toronto and a director of AI at NVIDIA – leading a research lab in Toronto – Sanja Fidler’s work has been in the area of computer vision. Her paper on semi-automatic object instance annotation earned an honourable mention for best paper at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR) 2017.

Joelle Pineau – director of Facebook AI Research and associate professor at McGill University

Joelle Pineau is a faculty member at Mila and an Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar at the School of Computer Science at McGill University, where she co-directs the reasoning and learning lab. Pineau also works with Facebook as a co-managing director of Facebook AI Research and the director of its lab in Montreal, Canada.

Her research fields include developing new algorithms and models for planning and learning in complex partially-observable domains. Pineau also works on applying these algorithms to complex problems in health care, robotics, conversational agents and games. 

In addition, she is the president of the International Machine Learning Society, and currently also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Machine Learning Research and Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research.

Doina Precup – research team lead at DeepMind and associate professor at McGill University

Doina Precup is a Canada Research Chairholder and Tier I in machine learning at McGill University; where she teaches while carrying out fundamental research on reinforcement learning and working on AI applications in areas that have a social impact, such as health care. She currently co-directs the reasoning and learning lab in the School of Computer Science.

She also heads the Montreal office of DeepMind. Precup’s interest lies in machine decision-making in situations of high uncertainty. Her research interests include artificial intelligence, reinforcement learning, machine learning, time series analysis, deep learning, reasoning and planning under uncertainty, and applications. 

Precup is also a senior member of the American Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and a senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

Sandy Penn Whitehouse – co-founder and CEO of Tickit Health

A co-founder and CEO of Tickit Health, Sandy Penn Whitehouse aims at making healthcare accessible to youth around the world through her company. Whitehouse trained as a pediatrician and is a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia and a clinician-scientist with the Child and Family Research Institute. 

Capitalizing on her education in communications and extensive experience in leadership positions at BC Children’s Hospital (division head for adolescent medicine and medical director of pediatric emergency), Whitehouse developed innovative digital health assessments to screen for mental health and social determinants of health in youth. Tickit’s assessments and analytics are proven to decrease the risk of missing critical medical information by 300 per cent by increasing data collection by 400 per cent. 

In 2018, Whitehouse was one of the 50 women recipients of Inspiring 50: Canada 2018 Award which celebrates inspirational female role models in tech and innovation.

Jennifer Gibbs – vice president and head of the office of the chief data officer for TD Bank

Jennifer Gibbs’ is a seasoned data, analytics and technology executive. 

Gibbs currently serves as the founder and executive lead for the Women in Data & Analytics community at TD. She provides guidance across TD’s lines of business to support strategic data initiatives and regulatory and compliance expectations related to data.

Gibbs has led and participated in panel discussions, speaking engagements and many women in technology initiatives. She has been recognized in Corinium’s Top 50 Data & Analytics Professionals – USA & Canada, and Re-Work’s 30 Influential Women Advancing AI in Canada.

Foteini Agrafioti – chief science officer at Royal Bank of Canada and head of Borealis AI

As the chief science officer at RBC and head of Borealis AI, Foteini Agrafioti is deeply passionate about smart technology. Agrafioti is responsible for RBC’s intellectual property portfolio in the fields of AI and machine learning. She also serves as co-chair of the advisory council on artificial intelligence, advising the federal government on how to build on Canada’s strengths and global leadership in AI.

Prior to joining Borealis AI, she founded and served as chief technology officer at Nymi, a biometrics security company and maker of the Nymi wristband. Agrafioti is the inventor of HeartID, the first biometric technology to authenticate users based on their unique cardiac rhythms. 

In addition, she serves on the editorial review boards of several scientific journals and is also a TED speaker. Agrafioti was named one of Canada’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ for 2017 and was named ‘Inventor of the Year’ in 2012 at the University of Toronto where she received a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering.

Natalie Cartwright – co-founder and COO of Finn AI

Understanding the need for a simpler, more convenient way to track financial decisions, Natalie Cartwright created a solution, Finn AI, which is dedicated to helping people better manage their money by making use of AI. 

Finn AI builds virtual financial assistance solutions for banks that interact directly with customers, providing them with immediate answers to their most pressing questions around spending and saving. Finn AI’s customers include banks in North and South America, Europe and Africa, such as BMO Financial Group and South Africa’s TymeBank.

Natalie is a vocal proponent in examining the ethical implications of new emerging technology. She’s an advocate for how human-technology interactions can positively impact society and socially-conscious innovations. Prior to founding Finn AI, she worked at the Global Fund in Geneva, managing a CA$335 million health investment portfolio. 

Saadia Muzafarr – founder of Tech Girls Canada

With her work focused on maximizing the public good and having built up Tech Girls Canada – the hub for Canadian women in STEM – Saadia Muzaffar is renowned for the vast amount of work that she’s poured towards creating an environment in the AI industry that includes diversity.

 Tech Girls Canada, a Canadian non-profit, is dedicated to conducting research and co-designing solutions that address barriers for diversity and equity in science and technology sectors by championing LGBTTQ+, women of colour, women of all abilities, refugee, immigrant, and indigenous women.

Muzaffar is a leading force in the tech scene of Canada, author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in STEM. She is an advisor to the Government of Canada’s Economic Strategy tables for the Access to Skilled Talent working group, and part of Canada Beyond 150: policy for a diverse and inclusive future’s Feminist Government initiative.

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Pragya Sehgal
Pragya Sehgal
Her characters are bold and smart, but in real life, Pragya is afraid of going upstairs when it is dark behind her. Born and raised in the capital city of India - Delhi - bounded by the Yamuna River on the west, Pragya has climbed the Himalayas, and survived medical professional stream in high school without becoming a patient or a doctor. Pragya now makes her home in Canada with her husband - a digital/online marketing professional who also prepares beautiful, healthy and delicious meals for her. When she isn’t working or writing around tech, she’s probably watching art films on Netflix, or wondering whether she should cut her hair short or not.

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