Women Leading The AI Industry: “How we can use AI to prevent drowning” With Dr. Tamar Avraham & Tyler Gallagher
As long as a woman does not have kids, I do not see anything stopping a woman from becoming successful and influencing as any man. However, since most women prefer to be more balanced between family and career than most men, it is natural that statistically men are more “successful” career-wise. I generally think women should find a way to do something that they are interested in, and not give up a career entirely. It is also healthier for the children. It makes them more independent and provides a good role model, especially for girls. Yet, I can understand and appreciate stay-at-home moms, semi-career women like I see myself, as well as those that see career achievements as their main goal and succeed in getting to the highest levels. It is a matter of personal preference, and each woman should do what she feels good with.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tamar Avraham. Dr. Avraham is the co-founder and CTO of Coral Detection Systems, a startup company which lately released CORAL MANTA, a revolutionary AI based drowning prevention system for private pools (coraldrowningdetection.com). Previously, Tamar was a researcher at the Technion, which is considered “the MIT of Israel”. Dr. Avraham has more than 20 years of experience, both academic and industrial, developing machine learning and computer vision algorithms and software, leading teams, and advising graduate students.
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?
As a woman, my career path was very much influenced by my personal life development. After graduating my BSc degree in computer science (summa-cum-laude), I worked for 4 years in a Medical Imaging start-up. I started as a software developer, and after a short while was promoted to project management, team lead, and then product management. After my first son was born, I returned to the academia as a graduate student under a scholarship. The reason for that decision was both professional and personal. It combined more easily with child raising. My PhD thesis focused on visual attention. It combined a cognitive psychology study with a computer science study, trying to understand characteristics in the human visual systems and adapting them to computer vision systems. After completing my PhD, I took a researcher position at the TRDF, the Technion Research & Development Foundation. I stayed in this position for about 10 years, during which I published papers in the leading journals and conferences in my field, served as a reviewer for them (twice rewarded outstanding reviewer prizes), advised graduate students (rewarded a best teaching prize, and a best project advisor prize), and enjoyed being able to be very involved in my 3 kids’ lives.
All along, I loved my job, and the research I was conducting. I enjoyed the freedom to pursue research based on my own interests, along with being involved in several very interesting research projects funded by major HLS, Semi-conductors and Lifestyle companies. Nevertheless, I always had the urge to develop useful products, as I did in my early career days. I generally find it much more satisfying than publishing a research paper. The timing for that was just right when Eyal Golan, Coral’s CEO, suggested we develop a lifesaving product that is based on the AI technology I focused on all those years.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
When I started my graduate studies 17 years ago, computer vision and AI was mainly academic.
I did not plan or chose my major thinking that this will be the hottest technology a decade or two later.
So, I do not know if there is a lesson there…maybe, “do your best to combine family, career, and other hobbies, as you only live once…”
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Over the last 4 years I have been working on a lifesaving product which was recently released to the market.
CORAL MANTA is a computer-vision/deep-learning based drowning detection system for private pools and small commercial pools. It constantly monitors the pool with its built-in underwater camera, and analyzes the real time video. Whenever it identifies a near drowning event it generates an alarm. It also sends notifications to the households’ smartphone and to a home unit, drawing attention to events like pool entry and water visibility issues. Underwater pictures are pushed to the phone app on events or can be retrieved at user’s request. Unlike other pool safety means that aim to prevent access to the pool, CORAL MANTA is active also during times people are in the pool and acts as a supplement to adult supervision.
None of us can 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?
There are a few people that influenced me in different ways that I can mention. I will not mention names.
First, of course, is my husband, who I share my life with, and who is supportive and is part of each decision I take. Second, is my first boss, from whom I learned the correct way to manage people and get the most from them. Third, is the CTO of one of the companies I worked for, which was a model for “what I want to do when I grow up”. Forth, is my Ph.D. advisor, and then my boss/research collaborator for many years, from whom I learned what thorough research should be like, and with whom it was just great working together.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
What excites me is developing products that really make a difference, that can improve or save lives.
I am excited about the new abilities of AI that allow the development of a wide range of products that can make life easier, safer, longer, and healthier.
I am concerned, of course, about the fact that AI can be used for the wrong things.
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 the debate is not different from previous issues which humanity has faced, such as nuclear technology getting to the wrong hands, or gene editing and its negative possibilities.
I am concerned about and against developing super-intelligence. I, of course, think we must use AI only for helping human-kind and the earth, or for amusement and fun. But unfortunately, no regulation or debates will be able to stop humanity’s natural strive to invent new things, even if they can become harmful.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
As mentioned above, the goal of the latest product my colleagues and I have developed is to save lives. Drowning is the 2nd cause of injury death in children. 700 people die from drowning only in the U.S. every year. We aim to change these statistics.
There is almost no parent that has not experienced a near drowning event, when they were not paying attention for only a few seconds. I personally experienced such an event with my youngest daughter when she was about 3 years old. Unfortunately, there are parents who their story does not have a happy end. Our biggest hope is to prevent such tragedies.
CORAL MANTA is designed to be a supplementary layer of protection for these rare moments of parents’ distraction. It is not a replacement for parents’ supervision.
As CORAL MANTA was just lately released, it did not save a child’s life yet. But, although mainly designed to save people from drowning, we already experienced a saving of a dog in one of our beta sites. The dog fell into the pool and its leg was tangled with the cable of the cleaning robot. The system’s alert caused the residents to run outside and rescue the dog before it was too late.
Here you can see this event as caught from the home surveillance camera, as well as from the CORAL MANTA’s underwater camera.
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?
As long as a woman does not have kids, I do not see anything stopping a woman from becoming successful and influencing as any man. However, since most women prefer to be more balanced between family and career than most men, it is natural that statistically men are more “successful” career-wise.
I generally think women should find a way to do something that they are interested in, and not give up a career entirely. It is also healthier for the children. It makes them more independent and provides a good role model, especially for girls. Yet, I can understand and appreciate stay-at-home moms, semi-career women like I see myself, as well as those that see career achievements as their main goal and succeed in getting to the highest levels. It is a matter of personal preference, and each woman should do what she feels good with.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
I guess this question is more general: how to engage more women in studying engineering rather than humanities.
Today, as I see it, it is still hard for a woman to feel comfortable going home early in most Hi-Tech companies, causing women to often struggle with the dual guilt of both not being the best mother and not being dedicated enough to their career. In Israel there are special programs to introduce and encourage highschool girls to engage in science and engineering. I hope that as women become more dominant in these fields, a more natural balance will be achieved.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My personal linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamar-avraham-1959911a/
Coral’s site: https://coraldrowningdetection.com/
Coral’s facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CoralDrowningDetection/
Coral’s youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-T7MUoPZ7T4zIf42xpxdzA
Coral’s instagram : coralmanta