If ever there was a question as to whether New York City is the capital of fintech or blockchain, it was answered this week. Through a series of events from May 11 – 17, “Blockchain Week New York City,” surprised everyone in attendance with diverse panels. Conference organizers were particularly careful to put women on panels and get female attendance up.  “Satoshi is female” they declared and wore T-shirts to match, referring to the still unknown identity of Satoshi Nakamoto who is credited with founding crypto and blockchain. “We think cryptocurrencies should be built with  different values than Silicon Valley,” said Nyla Rodgers, the creator of the Satoshi is Female group.

The headliner and most talked about event of Blockchain Week is the 4th annual and 3 days long Consensus however, I found the most inspiring talks at the Women on the Block Diversity event on Mother’s Day. Their concept of having all women speakers was designed to highlight and recognize the contributions and innovations of woman across the blockchain industry globally. The event had over 400 registrants from all over the world, including 50 speakers from US, Canada, Japan, China, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey, Australia, Lithuania, South Korea, Norway and the Cayman Islands.

The day of learning and thought leadership at Women on the Block had a goal to educate and empower women to become involved in the emerging and disruptive industry.  Topics included smart contracts, raising capital, creating startups, legal and regulatory issues and use cases and the room was a sea of diversity.

The event’s sponsor Microsoft gave out a series of awards, one woman particularly deserving is Amber Baldet, Clovyr Co-Founder and CEO, the recipient of the Corporate Innovation award.  Her company brings the flexibility and ease of use of modern application development to the blockchain domain. With Clovyr, people and businesses can experiment and even implement blockchain-based applications. Clovyr could also in the future easily enable merchants to accept cryptocurrencies as a form of payment as seamlessly as they accept a credit card. It’s these types of developments that will cement cryptocurrencies place in the larger scheme of the consumer based economy. Previously, Amber led the team at J.P. Morgan Chase that developed the blockchain project, Quorum.

Another woman highlighted was Ashwini Anburajan, Founding Partner of the 22X Fund. 22X is one of the firms which represent the future of the cryptocurrency market, tokenizing real world assets to spread investor returns and give entrepreneurs greater access to capital. With her fund, Ashwini is democratizing access to capital by allowing investors to buy tokens representing equity across a diverse portfolio of startups. She’s bridging the gap between ICO and venture capital and revolutionizing the way start-ups look to raise capital. Investors into the 22x Fund are offered the opportunity to support the growth of 30 participating early-stage ventures, all of which have already raised capital from VCs or other traditional modes. Ashwini’s innovative take on funding is just one of the reasons she was awarded the Innovation in Venture Fundraising award from Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Entrepreneur In Residence, Tereza Nemessanyi, was the award grantor who said “People often tell me they don’t know any women in Blockchain, which is surprising because I know so many and more getting involved every day.  This week was pivotal in cementing key communities of diverse movers and shakers. It is still early enough in Blockchain to enter and shape what it will be.”

Blockchain Week was a far cry from the origin of the creation of crypto now known as the Silk Road and the Red Pill, a blockchain based crypto kicked off social media for extreme misogynistic views. What I did see were the merging of industries and the heralding of what could be the end of the era of the “blockchain bro”.  The origins of blockchain and cryptocurrency are part of the reason why the industry lacks diversity. The early days of blockchain and crypto consisted mainly of hacktivists and cypherpunks. Fast forward 10 or so years, and look at the contemporary origins of blockchain and cryptocurrency: tech and finance—areas which are still struggling to become more representative of the population as a whole.

The industry of blockchain is still relatively new so we have the chance to make this segment of the tech industry better than the rest for women and people of color. With blockchain we’re building an ‘automated trust society.’ Automated trust means equality and fairness, blockchain really should be the perfect space for inclusiveness and diversity to thrive. The underlying spirit of the technology lies in opposition to rigid or standard systems put in place by conventional finance companies or the internet’s data monopolies by requiring people of any kind to collaboratively use a shared ledger. To me, what blockchain week could represent is the redemptive moment for tech and diversity outlined at the end of Emily Chang’s book Breaking Up Brotopia.


First published in Forbes, May 20, 2018



“I’m close to artificial intelligence (AI) and it scares the hell out of me,” said Elon Musk during HBO’s Westworld panel at South by Southwest this year. “It’s capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the improvement is exponential.” Musk cited the example of AlphaGo, Google DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence program best known as the first computer program to defeat a professional human player at the boardgame Go. The AI had been trained to tackle the Chinese game “Go,” which is a 2,000-plus year old abstract war simulation.  In 2016, Google announced that its program had defeated every other Go-playing software — and a formidable human opponent, Fan Hui, a European champion. Then, it bested the world champion, Lee Sedol, four games out of five, in a competition that was live-streamed on YouTube.

The threat of machines getting smarter than their creators is so real, in fact, that Musk calls for public oversight to ensure the technology is developed safely. “The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads — by a lot,” Musk said. “Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.”

We do not want to be paralyzed by fear.  At the annual Milken conference this week, there was a much more optimistic tone as AI was brought up in many of the sessions.  The conference highlighted some of the positive real world work being done by women in AI and how AI’s applications are being brought into the present. Women are proving that AI is not limited to the scary future of man vs. machine, they’re running companies currently utilizing AI in healthcare, fashion and retail; real world applications of AI that other women can appreciate and sink their teeth into.

In a Milken session about AI and medicine, Dr. Iya Khalil spoke about AI and healthcare.  She is the female co-founder of GNS Healthcare, a healthcare analytics company using the latest innovations in machine learning to turn data into solutions that slow disease progression, reduce adverse events and and optimize therapeutic effectiveness. Khalil is a tech entrepreneur, physicist and inventor that is leading the charge in harnessing data to transform our health.

At Milken, Khalil spoke about how AI and machine learning can reduce drug discovery times and enable precision medicine with the goal of improving outcomes and reducing the costs of R&D.  Her goal is to leverage these capabilities to transform medicine from an expert-driven field – with poor predictive power and large gaps in its fundamental understanding of human biology – and transform it into a data-driven predictive science – with a more complete understanding of the mechanisms of disease and response to interventions.

Another area of optimism in AI is in fashion and retail.  Women, like Anastasia Sartan and Marianna Milkis-Edwards, the co-founders of  Epytom, and what they call “the first AI personal stylist,” are developing real world applications that can be used now.  The company is building a no-waste, made to order, customer-centric supply chain based on AI and machine learning. This is an area that is catching the eye of many larger players, as both Walmart and Amazon have invested heavily in this space. Epytom’s brainchild is their Facebook Messenger fashion assistant, Epytom Stylist. If you’re like me, every morning you open your closet, ponder your outfit choices and ultimately declare, “I have nothing to wear.” Epytom is like having your own personal stylist at your beck and call. It analyzes your existing wardrobe and suggests outfits via chat based on your daily agenda, personality and even weather in your location. Epytom also figures out what other clothing items will maximize your wardrobe’s potential and then designs and produces them just for you.

A seasoned fashion-tech entrepreneur, Sartan founded Trends Brands, a Russian online store, which in 2011 won Best New Shop by TimeOut Moscow. She was a finalist for Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015.  Milkis-Edwards as the fashion editor of InStyle Magazine was tired of the fashion industry’s push to keep buying. They joined forces to create an alternative to the current broken fashion supply chain and customer experience.

“We learned how to digitize our users’ fashion taste,” says Epytom Founder and CEO Anastasia Sartan. “Most people can’t explain why they like or hate a certain look. We replace ‘why’ with ‘how.’ Instead of trying to get into a user’s head, we employ neural networks to reverse-engineer their style profile through signals they send on a whim: ‘I’d totally wear this outfit!’ or ‘I’d never buy a skirt like this!’ Neural networks unlock what neither we, nor the user, can put into words.”

Epytom aims to eliminate mass production that leaves stores with dead stock and shoppers with an overwhelming choice of subpar apparel. They also save time, eliminating the need to pile through racks of clothes attempting to find just the right item to buy or outfit for the day. Also, Epytom saves their customers money by teaching their old and new personalized clothes “new tricks.” It is the company’s mantra that you can have perfect style with as few as 40 pieces.

The uses of AI are far reaching and it’s important to have women take the lead in machine-learning initiatives that are geared towards their end user, women. The real-world applications of AI that women are creating are far away from the futuristic gloom and doom stories you may hear at SXSW about robot takeovers and are bound to improve millions of lives. In the near future we’ll have even more women to thank for advances in AI due to programs like AI4ALL, a nonprofit with summer programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley. They give AI training to diverse groups of high school students, focusing on teaching female, minority, and low-income students. AI4ALL received funding from Melinda Gates in 2017 and is adding four more universities in 2018.

I am encouraged by the advancements in AI and the part women have played in healthcare and in industries like fashion that are so far-reaching. For now, instead of being scared about the takeover of humanity, I’m happy to focus on using AI for good, right now. I’ll leave the fear-mongering to Elon Musk.


Published in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nisaamoils/2018/05/07/the-women-making-ai-less-scary-and-more-accessible/2/#1858c2fc4b76

Image: NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 12: Model, philanthropist, and investor Natalia Vodianova, Epytom founder and CEO Anastasia Sartan, and MSNBC ‘Your Business’ host JJ Ramberg speak onstage during Vanity Fair’s Founders Fair at Spring Studios on April 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)