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Fatemeh Mirzaei: Graduate Student

Fatemeh Mirzaei is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Engineering, where she is working with Professor Roberto Manduchi to develop a system that will make public transportation more accessible for people with visual impairments. She is also the co-founder of a bold new start-up, Wiseper, that aims to help people sort through the overwhelming amount of information they receive online and make more informed decisions. Their new web platform, Wiseper.com, launches this week.

How did you first get into Computer Engineering?

When I was a middle-school student, my dream was to become a computer engineer and have my own company. After I finished my bachelor degree, I worked for a company as a  software developer for three years, and then decided to continue my education in the artificial intelligence domain. I moved to Cyprus and obtained my master’s degree in computer engineering at Eastern Mediterranean University. There, I researched facial age classification algorithms and was very successful in my research. 

When I joined UCSC as a PhD student, I became very interested in human-computer interaction research. I could use my software engineering skills, AI skills, and communication skills all in one place to build a system that can interact with the people who need it the most. It is very fulfilling to use technology to help people with projects like the one we are building for people with visual impairment at the UCSC Computer Vision Lab and my new start-up, Wiseper

Tell us about your work in the Computer Vision Lab. 

The main focus of my research is to build an app to help people with visual impairments to use public transit better. As a sighted person, it might be fairly easy to navigate through transit hubs, which are locations with a lot of stops, but for people with visual impairments or blindness, it can be difficult for them to know where they are exactly, including if they are in front of the right bus. We are building a system, called RouteMe2 System and funded by NSF, that will facilitate the use of public transit for them so they can navigate through complex transit hubs using their cellphones. The main module of that is self-localization, which I am working on. We are using GPS and other sensors like low bluetooth energy beacons to estimate their location accurately. 

What is Wiseper and what inspired you to start it?

Wiseper is a civic online reasoning platform. We want to provide greater context around online content for consumers, and reduce the amount of time people have to devote to sorting through information. Every day we are getting busier and busier, and we receive a tremendous amount of information from the internet and digital media. We hardly ever have time to think through them or digest them, and that results in incomplete and sometimes false beliefs. An important part of a solution to this problem is to find more context around the content, but that is very time consuming and sometimes it's out of reach for an individual. 

My hope is that Wiseper helps in this area because if people could have more information from different perspectives on a topic, then they would act upon that information better... The information that we receive shouldn't be from one channel. It should be from different channels and from different perspectives. I sometimes have thought things like, “I wish I knew this at the time. I wish someone would have told me that angle about this topic before,” and my hope and my vision is that Wiseper will help them to find that information, because it's social. It is coming from people, and also from AI. It is a human-centric AI system. 

How does it work?

Wiseper leverages social intelligence and artificial intelligence. People collaboratively correlate the contents to one another so that they can build a context around the topic. There will also be an AI component that augments that information and provides more insight. We are still training the AI component, but the initial social platform with some AI features is available now at Wiseper.com.

An example of how you might use the platform would be to research a climate change topic. Say you're not sure if the climate change is real or not, and you want to know if the earth is becoming warmer or not. You would come to Wiseper and search for climate change and find content that talks about climate change existence. You would see immediately the resources that are reported as supporting or rejecting with respect to that content. Of course, there are a lot of perspectives to that topic, which the users could mark as having different relationships to that topic. 

What is the biggest thing you have learned from this project? 

The biggest lesson I learned was to stay strong and focused when I face big challenges. When my co-founder, Amin Almassian, proposed his idea for Wiseper to me last year, I was excited by how useful it could be for people. We founded the company and started building that out. Now, I see myself getting closer to my dream.

Have you used any university accelerators or startup services?

I met Nathan Westrup at a new tech meetup in Santa Cruz, and he introduced me to the Founder’s Forum at UCSC. I just joined the Founders group here. I hope they can help us in developing our business strategies down the road.

What do you plan to do when you graduate? 

This is a very tough decision for me, but I have decided to stay in this startup after my graduation. I really want to make this happen. I'm going to stay on this and try my best and be flexible and listen to the customers as much as I can. If that helps people, I'm going to continue doing that. If not, I will change it until I make it happen.

 

Department: 
Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Computer Science and Engineering
Place of Birth: 
Tehran, Iran
Undergraduate Institution: 
Azad University
Graduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Advisor: 
Roberto Manduchi