“The first step is to accept that AI is the future” with Dr. Halleli Sharir and Tyler Gallagher

The first step is to accept that AI is the future. Women should always aim to be upfront in progress, stepping into and not behind the latest innovations. This allows us to be not only be at the forefront of the changes in our world but it empowers and encourages other women to join in. I believe that being a woman is an advantage and we belong on this journey. At times, women may forget this and are preventing themselves from thriving in the areas of STEM.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Halleli Sharir. Dr. Sharir received her PhD degree in Cell Biology from Ben Gurion University of the Negev in 2008. She was one of the first to test the assignment of GPR55 as a third cannabinoid receptor, during her post-doctoral studies. Since May of 2018, she is acting as a Principal Scientist at Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc., implementing AI and drug screening tools to create cannabinoid-based therapies for cancer.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

My education and the different roles I have held throughout my scientific career, have led me to my current position. It perfectly combines the skills I have acquired in both drug discovery and cannabinoid research. I consider the implementation of AI in my research as another feature of scientific growth, which is a MUST due to the continued advancement of technology.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Each role I have held in my past has contributed to my current position. My advice for fellow scientists is to be persistent. Know what your heart desires and keep going till you get there.

Thinking outside the box is another important element. You must always realize that in order to succeed, you have to be open and engage in technology advancements. You have to be open to learning collaborating and developing. And perhaps, most important, you can’t look at obstacles as failures, but rather as opportunities.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

We have established a state-of-the-art screening facility, in Rehovot, Israel. The regulation in Israel allows research and development using cannabis and I feel very honored to be a part of this exploration. Our research is devoted to the discovery of cannabinoid compounds targeted to specific cancers. Meaning — we look to see how cannabis affects cancer and then how we can tailor the treatment option for each type of cancer and patient.

AI comes into play through our specialized cannabinoid library. While we assess the impact of different cannabinoids on different cancers, we utilize AI to develop predictive tools that will determine the impact of cannabinoids on cancer, on a personalized basis — ultimately positioning cannabis as the future of cancer therapy.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I can name more than one person who helped me to get where I am. I think of the high school teacher who pushed me and helped me reveal my analytical skills. My PhD advisor, Dr. Michal Hershfinkel, who made me the thorough and persistent scientist I am and Dr. Mary Abood, who was my post-doctoral advisor and who introduced me to cannabinoid research. It was also through a collaboration with Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute that I was able to pave the way to better understand drug discovery and High Throughput Screening (HTS), a platform that allows us to test many compounds on cancerous cell lines and tissues and measure the therapeutics effects of these compounds. Looking back at journey, I was lucky to be surrounded with amazing colleagues who inspired and mentored me.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

1. AI is a reflection of technology advancement

2. The ability to process HUGE amount of data

3. The integration of AI in life sciences and biotech industry is a new era, which opens up endless opportunities

4. Bringing AI into the cannabis space — I’m excited to be one of the pioneers here

5. The reality that it can truly change the way we treat cancer, along with other chronic and terminal illnesses

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

1. Computer algorithms are prone to mistakes. Human are still smarter than machines.

2. AI can be disruptive. It changes our perception in regard to the job market, and could result in job loss, under certain circumstances.

3. Can we completely rely on machines? What does it mean in terms of the human responsibility?

4. The computational power that we need to fully use AI might not be there, and it is also extremely expensive.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

People often fear the implementation of new technologies. It takes time to process and integrate them into our lives. While there are clearly ethical and behavioral concerns, I think that the benefit is bigger than the risk.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

There’s a lot of chatter around two concerns, the first being privacy and the second regarding the potential for a monopoly in the space. However, proper regulation and supervision should be able to address both of these potential concerns. Guidelines put in place can create barriers for an open market, as well as the protection of privacy.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

There is a worldwide trend toward using natural compounds, and I am honored to be part of the pioneers marrying them with the use of AI to create potential life-saving and life-changing solutions.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

The first step is to accept that AI is the future. Women should always aim to be upfront in progress, stepping into and not behind the latest innovations. This allows us to be not only be at the forefront of the changes in our world but empowers and encourages other women to join in. I believe that being a woman is an advantage and we belong on this journey. At times, women may forget this and are preventing themselves from thriving in the areas of STEM.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

The first thing we need to do is put an end to the classification of “women tasks” and “men’s tasks.” This starts as early as kindergarten class! I’d like to see a harder push of preferences towards women in the field of AI. All the way from grade school to Ivy League universities.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I am never afraid of pursuing my dreams. I know my worth. I’m not afraid to face challenges and I am never concerned about the outcome. I dare.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

In our everyday routines it is easy to be extremely consumed with our own agenda and our immediate environments. What if once a month we could offer an act of kindness to someone we do not necessarily know? Once a month each one of us should ask ourselves if we did something that made an impact on another person or our community. It’s good to be good.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/haleli-sharir-phd/edit/topcard/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!