Emily Kennedy was named the 2018 Toyota Mother of Invention on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Kennedy is the CEO of Marinus Analytics, a technology firm that developed a novel way of assisting law enforcement officers in finding victims of human trafficking. Inspired by having witnessed children being trafficked when she visited Europe as a 16-year-old tourist, Kennedy’s company has developed a form of artificial intelligence (AI) called TrafficJam that is proving a game changer for investigators in the U.S. and abroad.
Kennedy was honored by Mia Phillips, a national manager for Toyota, at the annual Women in the World Los Angeles Salon. Phillips presented Kennedy a pleasant surprise in the form of a $50,000 grant from Toyota to fuel her company’s next stage of growth. Kennedy was interviewed by longtime TV anchor Lisa McRee and told her remarkable story about how she developed an enterprising technology that is leveling the playing field for investigators hunting down traffickers and victims who appear in scores of ads for sex posted online.
Kennedy, who hails from Northern California, began working on the technology in 2011 at the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. The software began as a senior thesis project, but its true genesis dates back to when Kennedy was a 16-year-old tourist visiting Europe. She saw some children begging on the street and was saddened to learn that they were being trafficked by the Russian mob. The image of those children haunted her and she resolved to do something to help combat the problem. The result is a product call TrafficJam.
TrafficJam is a suite of AI tools that turn big data into actionable intelligence for sex trafficking investigations, including the first facial recognition technology designed to find human trafficking victims online. Before TrafficJam was developed, police detectives would manually hold a physical photo up to a computer screen as they combed through online images of advertisements for sex — a labor-intensive and time-consuming endeavor — looking for a match. Now an algorithm is able to do in moments what once took days or weeks.
The company has seen organic growth as word of the product has spread. In 2013, law enforcement agencies began calling her from around country, and the following year, Kennedy launched her company. It’s been growing steadily since then. Today, Marinus Analytics is analyzing data in 11 countries and expanding internationally .
Kennedy continues to be intrigued by AI solutions to social problems and routinely advises stakeholders — such as world leaders, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit victim services organizations — on micro and macro approaches to measuring and combating human trafficking across the world.
For more on Kennedy and Marinus Analytics, watch the video below.