Wisdom From the Women Leading The Artificial Intelligence Industry, With Dr. Naomi Keren of Kemtai

Tyler Gallagher
Jul 31, 2020 · 9 min read

If you choose something you love, money may follow too. Whenever I went for just the salary, I ended up unhappy. When I chose a fun job with great people, neglecting the financial considerations, I not only enjoyed myself, I also ended up financially satisfied.

part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Naomi Keren.

Dr. Naomi Keren is the co-founder and chief product officer of Kemtai, the virtual personal trainer company. Prior to establishing Kemtai, she was Vice President of R&D at Imagu Vision Technologies. She also served as the CEO of iCarbonX (Israel) and headed the product development at Yowza. Naomi began her career as a programmer at Amdocs and later joined Compugen where she was a team leader and programmer. She holds a PhD in computational neuroscience from the Bar-Ilan University in Israel and is well regarded as an expert in computer vision as well as healthcare, biotechnology and software development.

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?

parents, who I love dearly, were born and raised in Iraq and believed in traditional values, education and hard work. They encouraged my brothers to become engineers because, for them, that was considered the top of the hierarchy.

As for me, the expectations were not as ambitious, perhaps to some extent because I was their youngest girl. The lack of expectation became a major motivation for me, and I wanted to prove to them, AND to my brothers, that I was just as smart as anybody else, male or female.

In high school, I excelled at math, the sciences and sports. After graduation, I served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces as an officer and finished my service with honors.

In university, I majored in computer sciences and physics, thinking that I’d have a better chance of employment following graduation. During my freshman year, I supported myself by working backstage in production for Israel’s TV 1.

In addition to science, I have also always loved sports. I was a competitive gymnast and a dancer and during university I swam.

My software career began at Amdocs, during my sophomore year at university, where I quickly learned that big companies were not for me. So, after graduation in 2000, I started working as a software engineer at Compugen, a computational biology and genome sequencing drug discovery startup. This was where I fine-tuned my craft.

In parallel, while at Compugen, destiny also led me down a fitness path. My direct manager at Compugen was only 30 years old and already suffering from back pain. Coincidentally, I was hooked on Pilates at the time and had just finished my Pilates instructor course. To help her and others at Compugen, I volunteered to offer Pilates sessions for my colleagues at work 2–3 times a week. Surprisingly enough, Compugen’s CEO loved the idea, literally broke a few walls in the office to create a studio (a VERY big deal at the time) and I quickly had dozens of participants in my bi-weekly, 7am classes, including the CEO.

That CEO was Mor Amitai, who later became my business partner in several startups.

During my time at Compugen I finished my second degree, an MSc in Computational Neuroscience. After my first daughter was born I left Compugen and began my PHD studies in Computational Neurophysiology. During maternity leave, Mor told me he was founding a new company that would link human vision and computer vision. He invited me to join his company — Imagu. I accepted as the job enabled me to combine my interest in understanding the human body and brain with my expertise in software development and computational sciences. It also required some serious juggling between my PhD, young motherhood and a full-time job with a start-up. I LOVED it!

Imagu was later acquired by a Chinese company. I worked there for several years. Let’s fast forward now to September 2019. This is when I co-founded my first start-up called Kemtai, with my mentor Mor and my very good friend Mike Telem, also a high tech veteran. We were talking one day and realized that with all of the online exercise options, none of them provided precise, real-time feedback. So we decided to create a series of workouts that were fun, effective and that leveraged our expertise in computer vision to enable analyzing a person’s workout to provide real-time training feedback and scoring.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

First and foremost, you may be able to do even the crazy things you set your mind to. No matter the obstacles, be persistent and believe in yourself and in others — you will be disappointed by people in some cases, but in others cases, believing in them will make your dreams come true. I also believe that we should all try very hard to work in something that we enjoy and that challenges us.

If you choose something you love, money may follow too. Whenever I went for just the salary, I ended up unhappy. When I chose a fun job with great people, neglecting the financial considerations, I not only enjoyed myself, I also ended up financially satisfied.

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

Yes, the most intriguing project I’m working on right now is called trainer cloning, where we try to mimic the way a specific trainer trains in order to enable thousands of people to enjoy that trainer’s style and methodology via software and computer vision. The product is called Kemtai and it’s already available online.

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?

That’s easy. That would be Mor Amitai, my CEO at Compugen, one of my two co-founders at Kemtai and my life mentor. He taught me how to think big, think out of the box and most importantly — believe in myself. I think the fact that he believed in me so much convinced me that I just might be ‘that’ good. This support unleashed what I felt inside, and continues to inspire me to make a difference and have the courage to try to change at least part of the world we live in.

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

These are the five things that excite me about the AI industry. In no particular order:

  1. Neural networks excite me. Why? Because they make so many things that were difficult to the level of impossible, now feasible. For example: neural networks make online face recognition and automated language translations possible.
  2. The AI industry has made solutions and capabilities available to the masses. For example: think Siri voice recognition and autonomous cars.
  3. The ability to bridge inefficiencies by connecting data and resources in a way that makes the world more efficient. For example: AI has greatly improved our daily lives in terms of parking, real estate and insurance.
  4. AI is also exciting because of the insights it may provide regarding how the human brain possibly operates.
  5. Finally, I am inspired by how AI provides the answers to questions that you wouldn’t necessarily think to ask.

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

In the big picture, there are several ethical issues to consider regarding the AI industry:

  1. The speed of progress may be faster than our ability to understand the negative potential implication of this progress.
  2. Advanced capabilities are useful and productive in the right hands. However, in the wrong hands, there could be danger.
  3. AI has no moral compass. It just processes data and can reach correct outcomes that are unethical.
  4. In many cases, it’s impossible to explain how the AI arrived at its recommendation and it could have discriminating factors that would be very difficult for even the smartest scientists to discern and understand.
  5. Human nature has a tendency to accept computer-based or AI assessments as the gospel and not question them the same way we would do with human assessments. This can be dangerous. The movie the Minority Report is a great example of this.

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?

I think AI does more good than bad. We just need to be aware of the risks and do our best to keep our focus on the good it can produce in terms of improving our daily lives and making life that much easier. I’d even argue that almost every technological advancement along the years has posed a potential risk — from fire, to electricity to nuclear power. AI is no different.

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?

I think the potential risks can be eliminated, or at the very least ‘managed’, via regulation and legislation, just as many other technological advancements are being regulated.

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

I was lucky to be able to pick and choose my projects. I have the luxury of now being able to pursue my goals of helping people to stay fit, healthy and happy with my new project Kemtai.

A fun story: one of the fun aspects of Kemtai is when you first sign on, the system scans your body and you almost feel yourself being connected to the workout program. It’s a real WOW moment. We came up with this idea while my partners and I were watching a sci-fi movie and saw how computers were interacting with people for medical purposes. We thought it would be cool to incorporate this function into our workout programs, so that you would really feel like your trainer can see you and is watching what you are doing. This is part of the feel good experience that comes with building a healthy mind and body.

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?

  1. Remember and believe that women have the talent and can succeed in anything that interests them, be it AI or anything else.
  2. Understand that math and computer sciences are natural and viable fields of study for women.
  3. Believe in yourself and your ability and go for it. Crash through that glass ceiling with full force and confidence.

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

The main thing is to encourage young women to experiment and not to be afraid of technical subjects. I don’t think that AI is necessarily different in this aspect as women typically shy away from what’s considered to be technical. The sooner young women, or even young girls interact with science, mathematics and other subjects, the better.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is: “Keep your eyes on the ball!”

During my time at Imagu and then also at the company that bought it out, I kept working with the connection of computer vision and fitness. For various reasons, the first initiatives didn’t work out and there were other projects that drew my attention. But something inside told me that my computer vision/fitness mission was my true path. So, I kept my eye on the ball and eventually was able to create a start-up devoted just to this.

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. :-)

I would love to impact the state of education. I think many schools make kids hate learning and I dream on doing something about this by trying to offer an alternative.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


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

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