A Year After Maria: Lessons of Survival

September 20 marks one year since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, just 14 days after the island was hit by Hurricane Irma. Maria, a category 5 hurricane, not only destroyed Puerto Rico’s energy grid and communications infrastructure, but it also upended many lives and left a permanent scar on everyone who survived it.

We are still living with its effects, from an unstable power grid that needs to be redesigned from the ground up, to a collective sense of PTSD that compels us to buy excessive amounts of water and fuel whenever a new storm forms in the Atlantic Ocean. But Maria also left us with an advanced degree in resilience. We learned how to quickly adjust to difficult situations and plow through. The most important lesson that came out of our experience: Don’t give up. Keep moving forward. It’s too easy to fall prey to inaction after a big disaster like a hurricane, but to survive we must resist that urge and act. Otherwise, things just get worse, and inaction leads to further inaction.

Here are five lessons I learned over the past year that stood out, especially in my role as an entrepreneur running a business:

1. Focus on people

First and foremost, make sure your employees and their families are safe and help them in any way you can. The day after the storm, we checked in on all of our employees to make sure that they and their families were safe. We continued to check in with them throughout the emergency and provided as much help as we could. For example, when drinking water was hard to get, we arranged for water gallons to be delivered to the office for everyone, and when cash was scarce, we distributed payroll cash advances. While it goes without saying that employees are the number one asset of any company, when a disaster strikes, the typical employer/employee relationship transforms and becomes one of humanitarian concern.

2. It’s all about communication

Make sure to communicate with your customers, partners and employees, early and often. There is a lot of misinformation, especially after a big disaster like a hurricane. It’s important that you accurately explain the situation to your customers, partners, and employees as well as the plans and courses of action you are putting in place. By letting them know what they can expect, you can help assuage any concerns they may have. Last year, it was heart-warming to see how our customers not only understood the gravity of the situation, but also opened their doors to us with office space and other offers of help.

3. Contingency plans are required

Never underestimate the need for a contingency plan and the importance of communicating it to all your stakeholders. While the contingency plan will likely evolve once a disaster strikes, much of it will still be applicable and it will help you to get things underway quickly.

4. You learn who your true partners are

In addition to communicating with customers, it’s important to share your situation with partners, yet not all of them may understand the true magnitude of your plight. We were surprised to learn that some may focus on your commitments to them and hold you accountable regardless of the circumstances, while other are completely understanding and offer help. You’ll probably spend more time managing concerns from some partners than customers who see the effort and continued commitment that you are providing them. In the end, you will quickly figure out who your true partners are.

5. Always help others, no matter what

Whenever possible, help others. After an event like a category 5 hurricane everyone is affected, and only by helping each other can everyone make it through. That includes competitors, too. When the hurricane hit, we all shared resources and the Internet with partners and competitors alike. And, no amount of help is too small — even if it seems trivial to you, it may make a big difference to whomever you help.

 

Finally, after looking back at this past year and talking to entrepreneurs who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I have concluded that the major difference between those who make it in a disaster and those who don’t is mainly based on one thing: never giving up.

Using AI to Classify and Swat at Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes on Post-Hurricane Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria caused some major damage to Puerto Rico. The lack of power, food and water, along with the damage to infrastructure, were well reported and experienced by us all. But among other lingering effects of the hurricane, was the explosion of disease-carrying mosquitoes caused by stagnant water, which is becoming much more than a pesky problem.

Because of this, the work that the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust and its Vector Control Unit (PRVCU) has been doing since 2016 is more critical than ever. It has been working to help prevent and manage diseases spread by mosquitoes, to gain an understanding of why many mosquitoes have become immune to insecticides approved by the FDA. In order to do this, researchers have spread out across the island, capturing different mosquito species in traps; monitoring and testing them for viral presence and insecticide resistance; and labeling and classifying them.

To manually capture and classify thousands of mosquitos, across different areas in Puerto Rico is extremely time and knowledge intensive, as you can imagine. So, earlier this month we announced that we’ve begun training a machine learning algorithm, which will automate the time-consuming task. Through our private crowd of data specialists, we’re identifying and labeling thousands of images of mosquitoes and data sets, confident that this AI automation will save the PRVCU months of manual work.

While we often hear about the use of AI in the business world – within insurance firms, banks, e-commerce and manufacturing, this mosquito project just goes to prove how far-reaching, innovative and endless are the possibilities of AI beyond the office walls or factory floor. Once you have the AI bug, you see the many ways it can be used for good – one algorithm at a time.

Hitting The Need for Diversity Head On in Forbes Post

In a recent Forbes blog post, I posed the question: Is there such a thing as a prejudiced AI algorithm? It’s a topic that’s been getting lots of attention by the media, as well as tech leaders lately, as complex AI solutions are taking on a life of their own and making decisions for us.

But what continues to make AI tick is the data that is fed to them, and that data is often delivered by real-life people who may have their own preconceived opinions, experiences and maybe even their own biases. As I outline in the blog post, the only way to ensure that an algorithm is trained to make fair and unbiased decisions is by making sure there is broad perspective and experiences among the people that will train it. Diversity is key to the data science team.

As I mention in the post, there are a few ways to make sure that the data science teams brings diversity to the training, including carefully reviewing candidate qualifications that go beyond the tech credentials; considering outsourcing parts of the project to get perspective beyond your company; offering internships and other programs to engage the next generation of professionals; and investing in training programs.

This Forbes post sheds light on a topic that is of great concern to us here at Wovenware and we’ll continue to explore ways to ensure any AI solution we create supports fair, unbiased and ethical decision making. The future depends on greater awareness and acceptance of diversity in the workplace and the creation of AI is no exception.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reach out to us: info@wovenware.com

Wovenware Named to Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 5000 Annual Ranking of Fastest Growing Private U.S. Companies for the Fourth Time

Wovenware, a U.S. nearshore provider of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based services and solutions, today announced that for the fourth time it has been named to the Inc. 5000, the annual list of America’s fastest-growing private companies, published by Inc. Magazine.

“We’re quite honored to once again be included among the Inc. 5000 and be recognized for our success bringing AI solutions to an ever-growing base of clients,” said Christian Gonzalez, CEO and co-founder, Wovenware. “We’re committed to continuing to build on this achievement and push the envelope in the development and delivery of innovative deep learning, machine learning, predictive analytics and chatbot applications that are improving the way people work and live.”

Receiving a ranking of 2141 among 5000 private companies, Wovenware was judged based on Inc. Magazine’s criteria for percentage revenue growth when comparing 2014 to 2017. During that timeframe, the company grew by 207 percent. Wovenware’s growth during this time period is attributed in part to the continued development and maintenance of digital transformation projects for core long-standing clients, as well as the addition of new customers in industries such as healthcare, government and financial services, leveraging Wovenware’s expertise in AI-based technologies.

“For companies on the Inc. 5000, it’s unparalleled recognition of years of hard work and sacrifice,” said Inc. editor-in-chief James Ledbetter. “The lines of business may come and go, or come and stay. What doesn’t change is the way entrepreneurs create and accelerate the forces that shape our lives.”

Wovenware has also significantly grown its business because of its nearshore delivery model. Nearshoring to Puerto Rico is attractive to U.S. businesses looking to outsource software engineering and artificial intelligence project because of its proximity, similar time zones, adherence to the same currency and regulations, and costs far below those of nearshore providers in mainland U.S. states.

How AI Will Change the Very Nature of Work

There’s no doubt that AI is having a major impact on the way we work and live. By having machines do work previously done by humans, it not only frees up people to focus on other tasks, but it also changes the very nature of the work they do. A recent blog post I wrote for Forbes.com looks at these changes, and what companies need to consider as they prepare for the new world that lies ahead.

These changes extend beyond the worker, to the company and industry as a whole. For example, as AI continues to automate the administrative and processing tasks of healthcare insurers, the focus of workers might shift to encouraging customers to improve their health.

As I point out in the article, we’re seeing similar opportunities for change in the transportation industry, where single car ownership is transitioning to shared usage, and driverless cars slowly begin to take over the highways. Autonomous cars provide the intelligence to respond to traffic situations and drive without operators, giving more incentive for cars to be shared, which will mean fewer cars on the road and fewer manufactured. This would shift the focus to a services model, which would create new and meaningful work opportunities for people.

So, what does this mean for your company? It’s not too early to imagine the future of work, and how it may impact your company and industry. Be creative as well as strategic. Think about the needs of your customers and what you might be able to do that you didn’t have time for before. The possibilities are exciting, and they might not only result in happier, more engaged workers, but also provide a whole new source of revenue.

Wovenware Partners with Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust to Build AI Solution to Identify and Classify Disease-Carrying Mosquitos

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Aug. 8, 2018 -Wovenware, a U.S. nearshore provider of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based services and solutions, today announced that it has been selected by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust to develop an AI-based machine learning solution that will automate the identification and classification of Aedes Aegyptis. The purpose is to control the spread of the vector, or mosquito, that can infect people with diseases such as Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya across Puerto Rico, and ultimately nationwide. The other purpose of this labeling is to develop safe and more effective insecticides.

The project, supported by a $50M grant from the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is currently underway by the Trust’s Puerto Rico Vector Control Unit (PRVCU). It hopes to gain an understanding of why many mosquitos have become immune to insecticides approved by the FDA. In order to do this, researchers have spread out across the island, capturing different mosquito species in traps; monitoring and testing them for viral presence and insecticide resistance; and labeling and classifying them. To manually capture and classify thousands of mosquitos, across different areas in Puerto Rico is extremely time-intensive and requires specialized human resources.

To automate this time-consuming task, Wovenware is creating an advanced deep learning solution. Through its private crowd of data specialists, the company will identify and label thousands of images of mosquitos and data sets over the next three-to-six months and will use those images and data to train an algorithm to automatically identify and classify specific species. By eliminating the manual classification process, the AI-based solution is projected to save the PRVCU months of work that can be used to more quickly analyze the findings and identify the root cause of resistance to insecticides, as well as disease spread and prevention routes.

“We support the valuable contributions of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust and its PRVCU, which is working tirelessly to address a serious mosquito problem in post-hurricane Puerto Rico. This work has serious implications for controlling the spread of mosquito-borne illness across the nation,” said Christian Gonzalez, CEO, Wovenware. “The project also underscores the impact AI-based technology can have when bright minds are augmented by smart technology to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

“The talented research team within the PRVCU is committed to shedding light on the mosquito population and the impact of insecticides in preventing the outbreak of related diseases,” said Lucy Crespo, CEO of the Trust for Science, Technology & Research of Puerto Rico. “Thanks to Wovenware’s support and deep expertise in AI technologies, we’re confident that our thorough field work and research will be bolstered by data-driven insights.”

In 2016, Puerto Rico registered 38,058 confirmed cases of Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya. Aedes Aegypti is the vector, or mosquito type, that transmits those diseases. These mosquitos need accumulated water to complete their lifecycle, so Hurricane Maria may have drastically increased their numbers. Since one of the easiest ways to reduce diseases carried by Aedes Aegypti is by reducing mosquito breeding sites, their identification and classification is critical.