Dr Mihaela Ulieru, The Impact Institute
The effect is called the "The Fourth Industrial Revolution." So my specialty is the convergence of technologies towards the fourth industrial revolution. Today's Adfaber guest is the founder of The IMPACT Institute, Which has the role of influencing political reforms in the direction of the adoption of digital technologies in all sectors of society or in all sectors of the economy. With a PhD in robotics in Germany, as a consultant for businesses and governments, as a scientist, she is the promoter of emerging technologies, which have the role of changing the way we live, work and function in today's society.
I invite you to meet Dr. Mihaela Ulieru! Hi Mihaela! Thank you for participating in the interview today. I was thinking of starting with a short presentation of yourself. For those who have not had the opportunity to know or hear about you: Who are you and what's your occupation now? Hi, Alin, and thank you so much for this invitation! I would like to say, first of all, for your audience: I apologize, because the interviews I've been giving for the last 30 years were all in English.
So if I can't find a word, I'll count on you. Who am I? That's an existential question. I think you're referring to my profession, I guess. I am a Romanian. I studied in Romania at the Faculty of Automation at the Polytechnic University, after which I did a doctorate in Germany and postdoctoral studies at Berkley which took me to North America.
Now I am a consultant in Information Technologies, after I conquered the academic ladder. I was a head teacher and had many laboratories and projects, including two research chairs. I further share my experience in IT consulting.
I know that, at one point, I heard something about fuzzy logic, the robotics side ... Yes. So, I studied robotics at the doctorate and ... Fuzzy logic is a part of artificial intelligence, which allows us more flexibility when controlling robots.
At the Polytechnic University, I studied, as I told you, at the Faculty of Automation systems control. With fuzzy logic we allow ourselves to approximate distances, to be able to humanize technology, if I may say so, because the variables are no longer 0 and 1. It can take an infinity of values. But what I'm doing now is related to the latest technology trends, and that is the convergence of technologies. So ...
Robotics now needs not only artificial intelligence, but also the internet of things, and the blockchain. And these technologies influence and magnify each other in an exponential way. The effect is called "The Fourth Industrial Revolution." So my specialty is the convergence of technologies towards the fourth industrial revolution. I was reading about you - I hope I'm not wrong, you being one of the six women, we should follow in the crypto industry. Every opinion and every top is different, of course.
I think so. It's hard for me to talk about it, that's what others are talking about. First of all, the fact that only six women were mentioned, and that is not only in the crypto industry. It's about the technology section.
So it is quite clear that there are not enough women in crypto technology, which is absolutely dominated by men. It's a pretty inaccessible subject. At least because they don't teach us in school, it's very new. But I hope it will become more accessible and more women will venture into crypto technology. Simply because this is the technology of the future.
First of all, it is the foundation of decentralization. So far, we are all slaves to centralization. Whether it's on Facebook, Google, our information is used by companies to enrich themselves. What does crypto technology do? It gives us the opportunity to have total control over our identities, and give the value of our identities and our data to companies, even the government, only when we want to. To take control of our money, our accounts, not the banks to play with them and lose them, as it happened in 2008, because that was, in fact, the main impulse for which this technology was adopted. With bitcoin, giving people the freedom to have control over their e-wallet.
This technology is ... it empowers you, makes you stronger and the owner over your property. While, without it, you are at the mercy of large, centralized companies, you are at the mercy of the government, which can do whatever it wants with you and take your rights, or give them to you. It depends on the political party that is in power. What this technology allows is also the eradication of corruption. That's probably why there is so much resistance in terms of the system that already exists. This centralized system. And it's not just about the government, banks.
As we call them, the platform cartels. All these centralized cartels, which are playing with us and manipulate us as they please. But... with blockchain you can track every transaction, how it was done, if it is correct. You can go back and watch this. You can't hand over money anymore.
It's a radical change to how things are going now, and not only ... It's a total transparency. Everywhere, yes. It's an absolutely radical change in the way things are going in the world right now.
And it also gives them opportunities, as we started the discussion, to those that are marginalised, who, until now did not even have an account. So, if you have this e-wallet, you no longer need a bank account. I can keep it and spend it as I want, but I can also receive support, help. Like help from companies, so I can start doing something from scratch. If I have credit and this economic identity, I can assert myself, and have dignity in the world, by the fact that ...
First of all, I am recognized that I exist, that my data and my information are appreciated and secondly, that I can also receive support. And those who give me donations to support me can see how was this money spent. How did I spend them? Did I buy a computer to start a business? Did we hire people to make software? And so on... So, without question, blockchain is the technology of the future.
How did it all start for you? Where did your passion for technology come from, at what point in your life? When I was little, in Romania. Maybe your audience remembers. We watched Star Trek. We were also watching Land of the Giants. Imagination. I saw the robots there and ...
They fascinated me. I wanted to learn how to build robots. That's where my passion for technology started. And I went to a high school in Bucharest, fortunately I think it still exists. Although it's been many years since then. At the High School of Informatics.
Mathematics-Physics no. 1 was the name. And at this high school I learned programming. It was something not everyone did then, but they taught us in high school, which was fascinating. They taught us programs, at that time they were Fortran, COBOL, but I had some extraordinary teachers who inspired me and gave me courage.
And that took me further to the Faculty of Automation, where I also had some extraordinary mentors. I guess, back then, there were no computers or CS labs in high school. We had a huge computer back then. The technology wasn't with laptops and so on. But I had a huge computer and consoles. And I remember, then, in high school I learned to print programs.
I was using punched cards. I remember, when I had projects, I would put all the cards in a row in a big box and once the box fell off and the whole program was destroyed. I had to print everything from scratch. They were rudimentary technologies, but ... It was great that I learned to program and print programs.
We don't use cards now. It goes directly electronically and it's much easier. But if we survived that period of obstacles, now it's really easy. I think it was a unique choice at the time, especially since you were a girl. Were there any more girls? Was there an equal number of girls and boys in computer science back then? Yes, I don't even know if it was a choice.
I had enlightened parents. My parents always guided me to what I wanted to study. Sometimes you guide girls to play with dolls and boys to play with cars. They let me play with the boys as much as I wanted and do whatever I wanted.
And when I told them I wanted to learn about robots, they looked into where I could do this and directed me to that high school, which was really unique. There was an equal number, I think, maybe even more girls in high school. No distinction was made at that time.
I studied computer science too, and when I did, we had two girls in our class. The opposite of foreign languages class, where there were one, or at most two boys. How strange! And the reality is that even today ... Yes, the number of girls choosing CS in high school and in college has increased significantly, however, there is still no equal ratio, or girls do not exceed the number of boys. And I was curious to see, because there is still a matter of discussion the gender equality in the world. How do you see it? It's very difficult for me to relate to that discussion.
Although, I realized during my career that there is indeed a discrepancy. It was not for me in Romania, but in Germany, when I studied for my doctorate, I was the first woman in the robotics group at Darmstadt College. So, until then, my professor had only had boys in the PhD programme. And that really surprised me a lot. But then I found out it was ... I don't know whether to call it a culture, or how girls are guided.
There, in Germany, they were more directed to domestic occupations. But it was not my case, when I was in Romania. I think maybe something happened in the meantime and it changed in our country too when you studied. But I agree that there is this phenomenon, this situation in the world now.
That's why we're doing more and more programs, although in Romania, I think at the moment In IT companies from what we have studied, there is gender equality. The number of girls, even if their roles are more in the area of communication, HR, team leadership, project management, there is gender equality in Romania in terms of "girls and boys in technology". We have some very beautiful programs in which we encourage girls to discover their passion for technology. Technology has clearly changed the world tremendously in recent years and many things have happened in all areas. And I wanted to go one step further and ask you: how do you see the jobs of the future? This is not an easy question, especially with the given situation, with the pandemic.
I had the opportunity to speak at the G20 summit and that was exactly the topic. "The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Work". So it was exactly about the future of jobs and ... In the context in which the world is now going through a situation in which we must be isolated and work or meet as we do now, which, in a way, is very good and that's why we studied computer science more.
So that we can have these technologies that can help us do telework, or work remotely together. What has been observed now with the pandemic is that the most successful companies are the companies in the IT field. Amazon, Google, Netflix - have grown the most. And the others have all fallen in market value. There has been observed a trend called "bear market for humans." But the idea is that in stocks you have the bull market and the bear market.
It was noticed that the need for people in jobs was minimised in favor of automation and informatics. So if you can master the technology, you will find a job. Because that's what will grow.
And, as I told you before, we cannot anticipate the exponential effects of this technology. This is exactly how the pandemic spread. At first it was only a case and we said "nothing will happen, everything will be ok". And in a week ... 100 cases, 1,000 cases, 1 million cases in three weeks, and so on.
Until it came to a situation where it could no longer be controlled. The same happened with technology, advancing very fast. And if you're not prepared, as you say, educationally, if your country is not ready to face this wave of technology, then the companies in your country will be left behind.
Although, we have extremely talented people in technology in Romania. Basically, I know they are the most appreciated. In software, yes, our programmers are the best. And we also have top companies that are really the best in the world. So I don't think it's a situation ...
At least not now, I don't see that it is a situation in which Romania is behind. At least from here, from where I am, you can't see that. You know much better, of course, because you're there.
But, because you also noticed this about the companies in Romania, I also looked at a few companies, I wouldn't want to name them, out of courtesy. Companies that, as you said, have only men. When I look here and also in Romania, me, as a consultant to these companies, when they come to me, because a lot of companies come to me to help them with one or another, when I see that they only have men, I look at their page and I see only men, men, men ...
I tell them, “No. I am sorry". Or the first piece of advice I give them is "come on, please, hire a woman, first thing". And there are so many talented women. I do not understand what's going on. Why are women left in back-office, doing support work? Of course, a leader must support, but I believe we must also give women their right to assert themselves. The word "courage" can be the middle of the word "encouragement." That's what we need. We need a change of attitude for girls. Let's encourage them.
Through initiatives in which they have opportunities to assert themselves. In a technology competition, for example. There are many such initiatives here that are sponsored by technology companies. For example, in cryptocurrency, at blockchain, we have "CryptoChicks".
There are also many initiatives in which girls are taught to code. So encouragement and support through such initiatives are essential. There are still parents in Romania who encourage their children to choose jobs and fields of study that my parents also encouraged me to choose. "Go to economics school, go to medical school, go to the army, go to the police academy." Nobody told me "go and study computer science".
Or "go and study game development, game design". And from your story results what I wanted to say: It's luck, in a way, where we end up and how, and... We cannot control how parents advise their children. We can influence parents, educate parents, if possible.
And maybe this interview will help. What is very important is the role of our professors, of the teachers, of those who guide us further. So the mentor who guides us. As a teacher, I also realized how important it is. But also on the path of my career I had mentors who guided me.
My parents guided me to computer science because they listened to me, what interested me was to learn about robots. Furthermore, the computer science teachers guided me and that's why I went to The Automation and Computing | Politehnica University So it is very important for educators to guide girls. Give them the vision of what is possible. Not only to economics or medicine, which are also extraordinary professions. But also to technology. So let's not limit ourselves.
Let's give them all the options and give them confidence, that they can succeed. Of course, as you said, it depends on the skills. But sometimes you can exceed your skills. For example, I was better known in high school for my talent in literature.
And I had poetry prizes, I was also on TV with my poems, creative camps in Izvorul Mureșului. Everyone thought I would study literature. But I was interested in robots. And in the last year of high school, our math teacher changed, and the new teacher encouraged me a lot and even gave me an example from a book by Leibniz who had a motto in which he said that one of his students gave up mathematics and became a poet. And Leibniz said that this student did not have enough imagination for mathematics. And then I said: "Well, more imagination is needed for poetry than for mathematics."
But he explained to me that math is also a creative process. And he inspired me with this creativity by which you can prove a theorem in many ways and to understand the surrounding phenomenology, to encapsulate it in a beautiful equation. To realize the beauty of this equation and then, to have that "eureka moment". There is also a lot of work needed because I remember that he prepared me for the math olympiad and I was "eating" the math exercises books. Actually, he gave me 300-400 exercises a week to solve.
Very much time was dedicated to work, so... Inspiration is good, okay, but of course you also need to sweat a little. But this was not hard when you are guided and inspired by a mentor.
Mihaela, thank you very much for being here today. I know you have another interview after this one. This week, with the March 8, yes, I have an interview every day about the encouragement of women in technology. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. We appreciate you and we follow you on all the channels you communicate on. Thank you! Thanks for the invitation, Alin! It was a great pleasure!