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SHEROES
18 Nov 2016 . 7 min read

Vidya Puts Technology To Use For Resolving Global Problems


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Artificial Intelligence is an effective tool for bringing significant changes in our lives. Vidya Spandana, the co-founder of NewKnowledge.io is enabling the use of machine intelligence to augment the human capacity for solving complex global challenges like saving lives, curbing crime basically making our world a safer place to live.

Vidya, a software engineer talks about her vision, NEW KNOWLEDGE and also about her struggles, her strategies to overcome them and her future goals for actualising her ambitions.

How is NewKnowledge.io putting Artificial Intelligence (AI) into use for helping people in their day-to-day lives?

We provide machine intelligence technologies that automatically make predictions to help:
  • Identify, monitor, and predict the behavior of bad actors -- terrorist, extremist, and criminal threats on the public and the hidden web.
     

  • Improve patient safety at hospitals, predicting the risk of preventable mistakes and accidents.
     

  • Measure and monitor the impact of messaging campaigns on people's ideologies


What are the core issues you're addressing with the use of AI?

We've worked with the UN to understand the needs of millions of people in poverty; we are brokering partnerships with law enforcement agents and the federal government to analyze language from social media, web and dark web, in order to hunt down terrorists.

Dark web exists on overlay networks and uses the public Internet but requires specific software, configurations or authorization to access. The dark web cannot be indexed by search engines. New Knowledge uses artificial intelligence to uncover and visualize insights from massive sets of data that a human could never extrapolate on their own.


What inspires you to work toward your dream project?

Technology can be wielded to fight the bad guys, to find the needle in the haystack, and to make the unknown big scary world a little bit more known and predictable. The potential impact that our tools can have on people’s lives is massive. And, that is inspiring and humbling.

How did you overcome the prejudice, which considers technology as a man’s forte?

I have an absolutely wonderful set of parents, who were completely supportive and encouraging. I did face hurdles from the wider Indian community telling me that it was too risky for a woman to start a business. I remember being told often that it “wasn't right”  that I was taking on a man's role. It caused many years of insecurity, frustration, and self-doubt that I am proud to have overcome today.

Tell us about your struggles and your approach to counter them?

I was involved in my first real company while I was still in college and that was very uncommon. I had both the ambition and a naiveté that made me boldly approach problems that I saw around me - this was also uncommon in my mostly male professional peer group in the world of computer science. Not only was I a woman, I was trying things and that made me a target -- definitely a disadvantage. However I never thought/think of myself as a woman. I forget my gender when I work, I am just a human trying to solve a difficult problem -- that approach was my advantage.
 

My Tedx talk tells the story of my biggest challenges in all its glory ; )

What according to you is pulling back women in their professional space? Also, how do you see professional women’s rise?

The most amazing and exciting thing I see is that MORE women are actually deciding to start companies! This is very new and very unusual to experience, I have always been the only female Indian entrepreneur in the room for most of my life and in the past few years, that has changed. However, the sexism in the workplace (and in the society at large) in India is still a grim reality.

I moved out of India 6 years ago only because I didn't want to fight the volume of sexism and disadvantages I'd face as an entrepreneur. One way to change this is to change the ratio. More women entrepreneurs will definitely help battle the sexism.


As an entrepreneur, what set of advices would you like to give other budding women venturers?

My top five tips for women considering entrepreneurship are:-

1. Your network and your mentors are the most important assets you have. Not money, not education. So cultivate, curate, nurture your network well. Also, mentor other women, help them with their networks.

2. To start a company, find a problem you are obsessed with solving and have a unique advantage in solving it.

3. Do not sell yourself short. Invest in your self-confidence, inner strength, and own it.

4. Develop a system to help you get up when you are down for the count. The more times you get up, dust yourself off, and get back into it, it’s more likely you will win.

5. Know why you are obsessed about your solution. Make it simple. Tell as many people as you can. Get them as obsessed as you.

 
What do you do when you’re not saving the world with the help of technology?

I love cooking extravagant feasts for my friends and family, my husband and I love art and music, so we go to a lot of live music shows and art shows. We also host artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, inventors, thinkers at our little cabin in the forest.

When did the idea of becoming an entrepreneur struck you?

I wanted to be a cardiologist. I did everything I could do - from reading as many books as I could find, to taking special classes...until I realized that I could start to solve meaningful problems much more quickly as an entrepreneur than as a doctor. My real life as an entrepreneur began when I was 7 years old. I devised an underground market for trading unwanted toys with other kids in my apartment building in Hyderabad. I even made real money from it -  about 70 Rupees! It was then I realized how much I can do with a little hustle, even as a 7 yr old little girl.

Software and technology combined with the entrepreneurial hustle could change the world.
 

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SHEROES
SHEROES - lives and stories of women we are and we want to be. Connecting the dots. Moving the needle. Also world's largest community of women, based out of India. Meet us at www.sheroes.in @SHEROESIndia facebook.com/SHEROESIndia

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