As a Digital Transformation Delivery Lead at PwC, Valeria Sadovykh’s work focuses on leveraging emerging technology, as well as strategic partnerships, to resolve organizational challenges. Valeria considers herself to be a “Pracademic,” as she is both an active practitioner and an academic within her subject area.
Valeria has always been interested in people’s behavior. “I discovered the definition of biases and human behavioral threats at an early age just at the time when the internet became accessible. Since then I have become a lurker, a person who observes online communities but never participates,” says Valeria. “This brought me to my PhD research, where I studied how online networks, communities, applications, and technologies influence and change our everyday decision making. Specifically, my thesis addressed the challenges in decision making as a result of the use of online applications. I was puzzled by the fact that people outsource their innermost decision-making processes to the wisdom of the crowd, when the crowd can get manipulated and influenced which will cause the average of the crowd answers to be wildly inaccurate.”
Currently, Valeria’s research focuses on social exclusion in AI services, specifically how AI technology can influence people's behavior, whether for good or not. She is also looking into how emotions can be introduced into AI technologies, and how it would influence personal and organizational decision-making. Valeria says that studies and efforts to build empathy into AI make her feel as though she is already living in the future.
Since Valeria was drawn to both the professional corporate world and the academic world, she decided to pursue both. Prior to working at PwC, Valeria worked as a data analyst for a national New Zealand television station, where she used Google Analytics to track the impact of advertisements for on-demand and online television. “This job has opened my eyes to how technology can be used to drive an agenda and influence an audience,” Valeria says.
At PwC, Valeria and her colleagues provide businesses with their expertise and experience across several fields of AI, including natural language processing, deep learning, automated machine learning, embodied AI and especially responsible AI. “There is a lot of demand now on defining the AI strategy for enterprises and helping them accelerate and scale AI developments,” she says. “I hope that the ethical AI concept will eventually be a part of the quality evaluation criteria of AI services and products.”
She also works with organizations to help them prepare their employees for the digital workforce. In a field that is fast-growing and constantly changing, this is not an easy task, but one that Valeria is prepared to tackle. “I think the combination of my academic and professional experience differentiates me from my peers. I tend to deeply analyze business concerns but that gives me the advantage to look at problems from different angles,” she explains.
Given Valeria’s experience, she understands the pitfalls of enterprises setting their high expectations of AI. “I am not saying we shouldn’t be expecting anything,” Valeria says. “But we should realistically look at what we can achieve and focus on business value rather than on technology.”
Although it is important to be aware of the risks with AI, Valeria knows that people have misguided fears about the technology. The general population also lacks basic AI awareness, such as “what AI is capable of, how it is built and how it should be used,” she says. “At the end of the day, technology is an extension of the human will, hence we shouldn’t be scared of technology, but we should be aware of its impact, so we can have a choice.”
Fortunately, many companies are using AI for good. Another moment when Valeria felt she was living in the future was when she learned about AI that was created to help children and elderly adjust to real-life social settings. “The paradox for me was that technology took away some of the social physical aspects of our life, so now we use technology to get back to real life,” Valeria says.
When describing her work to friends and family outside of the technology industry, she typically talks about her two passions: the corporate world and the academic sphere. When describing her role in the corporate world, she explains that she brings “efficiencies and remove[s] mundane work by implementing new technology.” In the academic sphere, she describes her work as trying to “understand how new tech can help us be more informed and enhance our decision-making.”
Building a STEM Career
Valeria has been interested in the effects of technology on people’s behaviors ever since she had her first computer. “I wasn’t interested so much in games, but more in online communication and how technology impacts my everyday life,” she says. Her interest remains strong to this day. One of the aspects Valeria enjoys most about her industry is having insight into the new developments in technology: “I love finding out about the trends that are changing humanity.”
Her passion for technology and innovation was part of what drew her to relocate to the US, which she says “continues to be on the top of the world within the area of innovation and it attracts top talent for the same reason. Every day we have thousands of startups with mind-blowing ideas being born and out of them, 1% will be successful — and that’s a lot!”
In the future of AI, Valeria looks forward to “Industry 5.0,” when AI will be able to interact with the human brain and give us a socially inclusive society. “I believe it is so close and I think there are some organizations and individuals that already entered it,” she says.
Valeria’s advice to women currently pursuing STEM careers is to avoid getting hung up on gender biases. “Just do your job well and love what you do,” she says. “Being diverse is an advantage, good leaders understand and nurture it.” When faced with difficulty or failure, “just walk past it, don’t focus on negativity.” Finally, Valeria says that women typically have more kindness, empathy and awareness of the societal aspects of their decisions, leadership approach and relationships with others: “In my opinion, these qualities should not be traded in any circumstance — even in a tough industry like STEM.”