Halifax’s Jennifer LaPlante, Executive Director of the oceantech artificial intelligence organization DeepSense, has been named in the DataIQ 100, a list of the world’s most influential data and analytics practitioners.
London-based DataIQ, a British organization that supports data analytics around the world, unveiled the list this week, and LaPlante, who has headed DeepSense since 2019, was included under the “Influencers” category.
Headquartered at Dalhousie University, the DeepSense innovation environment helps ocean-related companies to connect with data and ocean scientists. Its goal is to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning in developing commercially useful predictive models, analytical prototypes, and applications for use in the ocean economy.
“Being named in the DataIQ 100 is a great honour for me and the DeepSense team,” said LaPlante in a statement. “We have been working hard to increase comprehension of AI's potential in growing our ocean economy in Canada.”
In an interview, she said DeepSense was the brainchild of Jim Hanlon, the former CEO of the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth, and Andrew Rau-Chaplin, the Dean of Computer Science at Dal. They perceived the need for an organization that could work with ocean-related companies and teach them how to use AI and computer learning to improve their operations.
DeepSense, which is a program at Dal, began in 2018 and LaPlante, who previously helped establish the Atlantic Lottery Corp.’s Innovation Outpost at Volta, joined as Executive Director a year later.
The organization has relationships with more than 100 companies in the ocean sector, said LaPlante, and probably has a dozen projects on the go at any one time. These range from working with Stanfield International Airport to help use data to make the shipment of lobster more efficient, to using satellite data on the movement of whales to help determine shipping routes that pose the least risk to the huge creatures.
Many of the companies DeepSense works with don’t realize at the outset what sort of data they need in order to develop AI algorithms. So part of the DeepSense mission is to educate companies on the basics of AI and help them progress toward being able to use it.
As well as DeepSense, LaPlante and Sreejata Chatterjee, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Halifax-based LeadSift, have established the Halifax chapter of Women in Machine Learning and Data Science, which now has more than 230 members. They wanted an organization in which women or gender minorities could learn about AI, machine learning and data science without being overwhelmed by men already steeped in these disciplines.
LaPlante said the Women in Machine Learning group is divided evenly between: women working in the field; women who are familiar with the science but not working in it; and women who are new to it. The vast majority are new Canadians, she said, and the group aims to create a collegial environment in which everyone can learn.
In her day job at DeepSense, LaPlante and her team aim to work with students interested in advanced technology, but there are more students interested in AI than there are DeepSense projects. So the organization tries to organize hackathons and educational events so it can benefit a broad range of people.
“The most exciting thing about DeepSense is we’ve built traction and awareness, and companies can understand how we can help them,” she said. “It’s almost like consulting where you have to sit down with the clients and help people understand how they can benefit from your work. They’re starting to think about how AI can help shape their company.”