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The first woman leader for the national TMT practice at Deloitte tells us why HAL is in your smartphone.

By Rob Star, Big4.com content Manager

Sandra Shirai brings a wealth of experience to her new position as the leader of Deloitte’s U.S. technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) practice. Throughout her 26 year career with the firm, she has specialized in technology M&A, served as a member of the Deloitte LLP board of directors and chairman of the strategic investments committee, to name just a few of her many accomplishments. Her other capabilities including being a computer scientist makes her the logical choice for the TMT practice lead, but she sees a deeper meaning to this appointment above and beyond her own career development.

“I’m thrilled and I think this is a huge opportunity and I really and sincerely hope this will inspire women to pursue fields and careers that are largely male-dominated,” she said recently from San Francisco, adding that the need for women role models in Science, Technology , Engineering and Math (STEM) generally and computer science and engineering specifically is

Sandy Shirai

Sandy Shirai

pressing. In their constant efforts to help find the best and brightest candidates from every sector of society, she notes Deloitte hires around 24,000 people annually and 66% of that number are minorities or women.

Employment Landscape

As the employment landscape adjusts to mirror a more balanced reality, Shirai shifts gears to talk about the other driver that’s changing the way business looks for sustainable success.

“There are no shortages of emerging technologies in TMT,” she says. “ One that I think is especially cool that I love talking about is cognitive computing which is basically about getting computers to simulate how a human thinks and behaves.”

Shirai circles back around to an earlier time in her career when there was a different term and mindset around this concept.

Computer Scientist

“ I am a computer scientist from thirty years ago and, back in those days, we used to call it artificial intelligence and it was largely science fiction,” she said mentioning HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

She says that in the early years, the necessary natural language processing was considered out of reach due to the massive data requirements for learning the essential algorithms and the immense computing power needed for pattern recognition. With the advances in those areas over the last thirty years, cognitive computer power has become omnipresent. Shirai elaborates.

“Today with the huge improvement in computing power, natural language processing and cognitive computing is everywhere. It’s even in our smartphones.”

She underlines how drastically things have changed.

“It wasn’t that long ago that machine to human interaction was reserved for computer geeks like me. Now these interactions are ubiquitous and people across the planet in every geography at all ages can connect to a computer.”

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