כ״ה באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ד (February 25, 2014)
By Ariel Blum
Kira Radinsky has been having a good year. Last March (2013), she received her doctorate in computer science from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. At the same time, she started her own company, SalesPredict, to commercialize her academic research. In August, she raised $1 million in seed funding for the new venture.
She also made the MIT Technology Review Magazine annual “35 Under 35” list, joining such past tech superstars as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jonny Ive, head designer at Apple, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google.
Oh, and she has a black belt in karate, an art she’s been practicing since age five.
Radinsky, 27, grabbed headlines earlier in 2013 by co-developing, with Microsoft Research head Eric Horvitz, a sophisticated software tool that can predict disasters of many types, including disease outbreaks, violence and natural catastrophes. The software works by culling through digitized newspaper clippings and other online sources looking for correlations.
In a particularly dramatic example, when fed historical data from 2006, the software correctly predicted a cholera outbreak in Angola. The software understood that outbreaks of cholera tend to be preceded by reports of drought in the news.
Radinsky and Horvitz did it again in relation to a similar epidemic in Cuba in 2012. That attracted the interest of Johns Hopkins University, which is now looking into deploying the software to forecast where scarce medications will be most in demand in the developing world.
For their work, Radinsky and Horvitz developed algorithms that can be fed by virtually any data source. They started with 22 years’ worth of The New York Times. In their analysis of Cuba, Radinsky used crowd-sourced data from Wikipedia. The software “looked for countries with similar statistics and GDPs, then searched for drought, storm and cholera,” Radinsky explains.
Radinsky has also looked at the connection between earthquakes and tsunamis, and hurricanes and gas prices. The software delivers results within a few seconds and assigns a number from zero to 100 indicating the probability of an event happeningtomorrow. The results have an accuracy rate of 70-90 percent.
Impacting the direction of human affairs
Radinsky is now taking the same predictive approach and applying it to the world of business. Using different algorithms (the Technion owns the intellectual property on her work with Microsoft), her new startup, SalesPredict, is able to accurately forecast which leads are most likely to result in a sale, helping salespeople decide how best to prioritize their time.
The company has released an app that integrates with Salesforce, the world leader in the CRM and sales applications space, and claims to increase conversions by 25% while filtering out 50% of bad leads. SalesPredict’s funding was led by the Israeli Pitango venture capital firm, along with AfterDox and RSL Venture Partners.
Still, it’s the placement on the MIT “35 Under 35” list that’s attracted the most media attention. Commenting on her selection, Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review, said, “Over the years we have chronicled success in the selection of women and men whose inventions and the companies they established have made a deep impact on the direction of human affairs. We are proud to add Kira to this distinguished list.”
Radinsky’s supervisor at the Technion, Prof. Shaul Markovitch, wasn’t surprised. “Kira is a brilliant researcher, gifted with unique skills. In her doctoral study, she tackled a problem that seemed to be unsolvable with the tools currently available. Her boldness for taking on such a problem and the scientific competence that demonstrated her successful solution is what brought her to be included on this list.”
Ever humble (having a black belt in karate can help one feel more secure), Radinsky frames the accomplishment in terms of her impact on the next generation of Israeli scientists. “It is a great honor for me to be nominated to the list. I hope that this will encourage more Israeli researchers and scholars to study this field, to facilitate the building of an empirical superpower in Israel.”
If Radinsky has anything to do with it, that may very well be a prediction that comes true.
(via Israel MFA newsletter)
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