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BenevolentAI Makes Joanna Shields New CEO

BenevolentAI, a London medical startup using artificial intelligence to discover new drugs, has appointed Baroness Joanna Shields as its new group CEO.

Shields, a 55-year-old British-American tech veteran, will take over from BenevolentAI cofounder Ken Mulvany, who will become chairman.

Shields held a number of executive level jobs for Silicon Valley tech giants before moving into UK politics. She was a managing director at Google and Facebook and a CEO at social networking site Bebo. More recently, she served as the UK Minister for Internet Security & Safety, a Special Advisor to the UK Government on the Digital Economy, and Chair & CEO of TechCityUK. 

BenevolentAI, which is backed with $202 million in funding, said the appointment will help it to build upon its market position. 

Ken Mulvany, founder and chairman of BenevolentAI, said in a statement: “Joanna is a business builder with a strong leadership track record in growing companies with state-of-the-art, disruptive technology at their heart. Joanna’s appointment demonstrates the trajectory at which we intend to grow BenevolentAI and points to the impact that we want to make as a company in applying artificial intelligence to accelerate scientific innovation.”

Shields said in a statement that she was ready to return to “building a business” after five years in government.

“I can’t think of a more important endeavour than improving the quality of people’s lives and health through the kind of innovations we are exploring at BenevolentAI,” she said. “The company is creating technology that accelerates the discovery and development of breakthrough therapies at an unprecedented scale.  But this bold journey isn’t ours alone.  These developments will positively impact the lives of many millions of people.”

Within the BenevolentAI group, there is BenevolentBio and BenevolentTech. The former is led by Jackie Hunter and concerned with applying the company’s technology in the bioscience industries. The latter, which was led by Jerome Pesenti until he left to head up Facebook AI Research in January, is developing an AI platform that scientists can use to try and make new discoveries. 

Here is Shields’ full statement: 

Today marks my first official day as Group CEO at BenevolentAI. For me, it is the next step of a journey, one that has encompassed amazing experiences building some of the biggest technology brands on the planet. Yet none of them had the same potential to transform our lives for the better as we have here at BenevolentAI.

That is why I am so excited to get started because what we do here truly matters and as CEO, I will make it my mission to ensure that our work continues to help others in every way possible.

Certainly, I am inspired by our mission, and by the smart people I have met and will be working alongside. Already, I have found here an uncompromising determination and passion to innovate traditional scientific R&D and in entirely new ways.

BenevolentAI is a purposeful disruptive technology company with an intent to fundamentally change things for the better. It is exactly the sort of place I was hoping to find when I set out to take the next step on my personal journey.

At the heart of that 30-year journey has always been a simple belief: that technology is, and should always be, a force for good. It was the dream of ‘what could be’ that first drew me to a career in tech, and it has been witnessing our ability to renew and remake the world through technology that has kept me inspired and committed ever since.

Over the past five years, I have been working to help the Government harness the potential of technology: maximising the growth of the digital economy, building TechCityUK and serving as the UK’s first Minister for Internet Security and Safety. It’s been a remarkable honour to serve, but I must admit that I have been longing to apply myself to the challenge of building a business once again.

As a self-confessed ‘tech utopian’, I wanted to do that with the right company, and I can’t think of a more important endeavour than improving the quality of people’s lives through the kind of innovations we are exploring here.

So for me, this is the right company and the right time, because following two decades of unprecedented technological development, I believe AI in bioscience now promises a new renaissance in human health and well-being: from better monitoring, advice and diagnosis to personalized medicine and faster drug development.

We here at BenevolentAI have the opportunity to help discover and develop breakthrough therapies and to deliver these faster and at a larger scale than humans can do alone. It’s a transformational moment in technology and a transformational moment for our world.

That is what makes this such an exciting place to be. That is why I have signed up. I can’t wait to get going, to meet more of you from across the business, and to get on with delivering my mission as Benevolent’s CEO: doing everything I can to help you help others.


First published on Forbes