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Silicon Valley Amazon Kiwi manager speaking at AI-Day

Silicon Valley Amazon Kiwi manager speaking at AI-Day

February 27, 2018

A New Zealander who is leading one of the world’s most exciting artificial intelligent (AI) teams at Amazon in Silicon Valley is working on cutting-edge social impact projects such as catching game poachers and child sex traffickers.

Kiwi Alanya Van Dervort, team manager for social good at Amazon, works with global organisations on the front lines of AI and machine learning projects in education, environmental advocacy, accessibility, healthcare, wildlife protection, child sex trafficking and global crises.

Van Dervort will be one of the key speakers at the AI-Day event in Auckland on March 28. AI-DAY is New Zealand's most significant AI conference in partnership between AI Forum and AI New Zealand.

She says one of the highlights of working with social good has been working with We are Thorn, a not for profit, dedicated to stopping child sex trafficking.

“With our service they can now take a photograph that was formerly only held as evidence, and turn the human face into a traceable algorithm and search for that algorithm across nations,” Van Dervort says.

“Thorn has four times higher success rate of finding both children lost to sex trafficking as well as convicting those perpetrating the offence. We also track poachers in Africa, offer STEM programmes to underprivileged schools and support the opening of independent machine learning and AI schools, hold a Data for Good open Marketplace and many other projects.

“I love my job. Five days a week I sit in a building of a thousand Albert Einsteins. I watch as they humbly unwrap yet another innovation award and place it in the clump of previously received awards on their desktops. Within five seconds they have totally forgotten about the award and are deeply focused on building their newest invention.

“My Job is to learn about their innovations and find ways that it can help make a positive impact in the world. Cool does not begin to describe it.

“Many jobs will be lost all around the world due to machine integrations, but this would be a very one-sided way of looking at it. Even the most powerful AI systems are still based on algorithms designed by humans, software written by humans and datasets curated and customized by humans.

“These are hundreds of thousands of new jobs created every year, our Education platform needs to be reformed to support new industry as well as focus on what make us human; the Soft Skills such as art and independent thinking.

“We are going to see some major changes in the way New Zealanders go about their lives in the coming few years. Some are obvious: how we shop, drive, and use smart communications, these all are becoming incredibly intuitive.

“We will see precision surgeries being performed by robots through doctors living as far away as London. New Zealand, like all countries will need strong leaders who are focused on AI for good. It is a new but vastly growing field.”

Meanwhile, AI Forum executive director Ben Reid says soon after the AI-Day conference the AI Forum will be releasing an AI research report which identifies the opportunities and challenges of AI for New Zealand.

“New Zealand has a thriving AI industry. Ahead of the launch of the AI Forum NZ’s research report, the forum has produced an ecosystem map outlining which Kiwi companies and organisations are investing in, working with and considering AI in New Zealand.”


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