Once Upon a Founder: Theodora
A digital tool with boundless reach enables global impact.Feb 13, 2024 · 3 Minute Read
This story was written by Mauro Berchi as part of the “Once Upon a Founder” series, where Mana Tech aims to provide a behind-the-scenes look into the unique and impressive origin stories of tech startups.
On July 6, 1981, María José Martabit Sagredo was born in Argentina, the only daughter of a Chilean couple. Her earliest memories depict her advocating for the vulnerable in class, offering support to those in need, and enduring injustices inflicted upon others. Hence, she’s never had any doubts about her vocation and profession: she always knew she would become a lawyer.
And as expected, she did.
She spent 15 years litigating in Chile’s most prominent courts, and along the way, she realized that advancing further in her legal career, such as becoming a judge, would not fulfill her ambitions. “Given the technological revolution of this century, I realized that the impact I could achieve with a digital tool transcending borders was far greater than what I would achieve by myself signing a sentence, which only changes the lives of a few people, even when it establishes jurisprudence,” she reflects from her living room in Santiago.
As the second decade of this century began, María José started to study biases and algorithms. She came to a fundamental discovery: the biased representation of stereotypes appears in the symbolic production of society, and its constructions are shared by adoption, naturalization, and reproduction – what she terms the “unconscious” process. Efforts such as courses, training sessions, and talks on this matter often fall short of being effective.
On the other hand, María José understood that working on digital interfaces of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would yield tangible changes aligned with her goals. “You have to experiment with how to avoid bias, to realize that sometimes, unintentionally, we are discriminating,” she explains.
In other words, what truly drives change in the algorithm-ruled global community is ensuring, for example, that a search engine or corporate website does not show biased results or is able to spot discriminating texts and images in real time.
That change of outlook prompted the protagonist to launch Theodora, diving into an entirely unfamiliar world. Theodora is an open platform where any user can contribute by providing examples of biases. This input continuously enriches the algorithm, which learns to identify and mitigate such expressions. As a result, corporate firms seeking to eliminate all forms of discrimination in their communications can use Theodora and engage with a collaborative AI tool that evolves alongside society.
Today, at Theodora, a team of experts works to apply responsible Artificial Intelligence parameters in different fields. Ricardo Baeza-Yates, a co-founder of the company, leads this team while conducting research on responsible AI at the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern University.
María José’s eyes light up when she thinks about her dreams. “If Theodora can contribute even a little to reducing conflicts in society, leading to fewer people feeling discriminated against, then we are on the right track,”.
Having participated in Mana Tech’s Microsoft AI Latino Immersion Program last year, María José understood the nature of the tech entrepreneurial world that knows no borders. Plus, it strengthened her team’s network in America and consolidated their position as a company with aspirations for Series A investment this year, aiming for more than $1 million.
We sometimes use grandiloquent phrases to describe tech founders. However, the dialogue with Theodora’s founder revealed a taste for the simple dreams of the heart. María José humbly admits that she will rest easy knowing that, thanks to her efforts, the world is slightly fairer.
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