One Woman’s Quest to Improve Our Lives Through AI

By Sydney Radclyffe for Box News

Milena Marinova has always had a love for math. She spent her childhood competing in math events at a high level, so it makes sense that she has been drawn to the world of data, machine learning and AI. As well as being Senior VP of AI Products & Solutions at Pearson, she is a Mentor at Unreasonable Futurea group focused on job creation and social equity in the changing economyVenture Partner at Atlantic Bridge Capital, and a Board Member at Box Media. Diverse fields of experience have given her a multi-layered understanding of complex ideas which others are often intimidated by, or else see as marginal and self-contained. She shared a glimpse of her world in conversations with Box Media. 

Milena’s expertise centres around AI technology, not only in terms of its current and future applications, but in a holistic sense which considers the solutions and problems which AI could address, or indeed create, for humanity. At the heart of this outlook is a people-based approach striving for collaboration between AI and humans, rather than one working for the other; where many today are overwhelmed by the technology and its powers, Milena brings an ethical, pragmatic, forward-thinking perspective to her work by identifying links between concepts to see the bigger picture.

This pursuit of a greater good, as opposed to placing business concerns and profit above all else, stems from her personal vision of success and the way she sees perceptions of this value shifting in the near future; before we know it, she explains, the business labelled ‘most successful’ will be that which proves itself the ‘most ethical’, particularly when it comes to large corporations. AI and other emerging technologies aren’t self-containedthey exist within a web of interconnected technological, economic, political and social concerns, a reality reflected in Milena’s mindset.

It’s clear that Milena has more than enough on her plate, but this hasn’t stopped her from dreaming about careers she’d choose if she had the time to do it all again. This isn’t to say she regrets her chosen path, but hearing her speak, one gets the sense that she’d like to do the work of three or four lifetimes in one. It’s a testament to her drive and thirst for knowledge that, after thinking for a moment, she responds to Munn’s question about alternative careers with “brain surgeon”. Even here, she doesn’t miss the chance to connect this to AI technology, citing its possibilities for the advancement of neuroscience.  

As a woman in high-level business, Milena’s perspective is necessarily different from most who are, or have historically been, her peers. Despite the low number of women in AI, she doesn’t identify difficulties in her work based on gender and says that she “fell into it”. This may be selling herself short as, aside from the breadth of her impressive achievements, she has spent much time and energy on learning skills like programming, which she admits is something that doesn’t come naturally to her, but, at the time, she felt having a basic grasp of programming was essential to her career path.

Her advice to other women looking to build a career in the field is to nurture expertise as armour against intimidation, a common stumbling block in male-dominated fieldstaking introductory courses is a good way to gain a solid grounding in mathematics and other specific skills sets, creating a foundation of confidence. This is another example of Milena’s philosophy of continued learning at every level.  Another warning, one which she wishes she’d had, is to not think of ‘goodness’ as lesser in importance than intelligence but to value both equally, and to not waste time putting up with “brilliant a**holes”, no matter how impressive they may be.   

Milena doesn’t hide the fact that being a woman executive does come with certain trade-offs, particularly when it comes to personal life; as she puts it, “you can have it all, but not at the same time.” It’s also simply a matter of choiceMilena loves what she does and is driven to succeed, resisting the assumption that all women will, at some point, want to prioritise ‘settling down’. This drive is common in the kind of people who change the world and she feels that it’s not tied to gender, but individual personality.  

There are always going to be trade offs, and Milena once again, takes the opportunity to link these to AI and its potential to ease struggles we all face on a daily basis; having our menial and repetitive tasks taken over by intelligent machines would relieve our mental load, leaving us more time to focus on what matters. This wouldn’t, of course, affect only one gender, age, or social group, but for women under pressure to succeed professionally, want to raise families and still somehow make time for themselves, growing technology like AI assistants could be a lifesaver. This drive is at the core of Milena’s work, from innovating to mentoring and everything in between: thoughtful and responsible AI development will give us all more room to simply ‘be human’.