Suzanne Gildert

Forty Under 40 winner, 2017: Founder and chief science officer, Kindred AI, age 35

Robots, artificial intelligence, quantum computers – what sounds like science fiction to most people is just part of a normal workday for Suzanne Gildert, founder and chief science officer of Kindred AI.

“We’re trying to build AI [artificial intelligence] that works in the same way the human brain does,” the British expat says of the Vancouver-based technology firm. “I’m interested in robots that actually have more of a mind of their own.”

The company has a broad research agenda to apply AI to any robot doing any task. But the overarching goal, according to Gildert, is to develop robots that can engage fluently in conversations with humans that can be applied in situations that require companionship, such as psychiatry or eldercare.

To get there, Kindred AI is focused on commercializing its research by developing robots that can work in e--commerce fulfilment centres, sorting items into individual orders for customers.

“[This is] the easiest hard problem inside an industry to tackle,” Gildert said. “But really the reason that we chose to commercialize is that we want to generate revenue to feed back into the mission of the company.”

The company has raised US$17 million in venture capital since its founding in 2014, and Gildert embraces the suggestion her efforts sound like the beginnings of a sci-fi novel.

“The cool thing about sci-fi is that the authors are very good about going into a great amount of detail about the universe,” said Gildert, whose passion for the genre pushed her to publish her own art book featuring imagery with a dark gothic flair.

“When you’re writing sci-fi you actually have to think about not just what the technology is but how it impacts the characters and how it impacts society.”

At Kindred, she uses a process she calls “science fictioning” whereby employees are encouraged to pen sci-fi stories explaining what the world would look like if their research ideas came to pass.

“It really makes you think through not just the challenges you might face technologically but from a society point of view, a regulation point of view or a security point of view.”

Birthplace: Bolton, Lancashire, U.K.

Where you live now: Vancouver

Highest level of education: PhD in physics. The title of my thesis was: Macroscopic Quantum Tunnelling Effects in Josephson Junctions. The work was exploring quantum effects in superconducting devices that could be used as new kinds of transistors in quantum computers

Currently reading: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Currently listening to: Amnesty by Crystal Castles

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: I always wanted to do something where I could combine science and art, as those were my two main passions. I hoped I’d get to work for a company that was doing cool research in computers and science

Profession you would most like to try: Working in the field of brain-computer interface research (applied neuroscience)

Toughest business or professional decision: Leaving an established company and starting a new thing that no one has ever heard of

Advice you would give the younger you: Don’t listen to the critics, just do what you believe in. When you think something is too early it is probably the right time. To make money you have to spend money. Work smart not hard, and stop trying to do everything by yourself

What’s left to do: I’d like to solve the artificial general intelligence problem within the next decade and see human-like robots living amongst us in society

Join us to celebrate the 2017 Forty under 40 Awards on January 23, 2018, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For tickets and event info visit http://www.biv.com/events/40under40 
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