Natalie Raphil has worked in silence for many years yet the outcome of her work is loud and should be amplified. She is the founder of Robots Can Think, a startup focusing on the medical and healthcare sector. Forbes Africa reported that “after questioning the inclusivity of artificial intelligence for the visually and hearing impaired, she realised things needed to change”.
Natalie is also ambassador for the nonprofit Women in AI, and was runner-up of the WAI Ambassador of the Year 2022 Award out of 144 countries. The 40-year-old, who grew up in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, and obtained her doctorate at Stanford University, faced enormous challenges as a woman and inventor and innovator in the AI and technology world.
Natalie has challenged many policies and mindsets so that people from all walks of life are not left behind in this AI/tech revolution. She has taught thousands of underprivileged children in South Africa using her well-curated robotics curriculum, personalised to their needs. She was the first to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic by supplying 3D printed personal protective equipment to safeguard frontline workers during the level five lockdown. Natalie advises local and foreign governments on AI policies, laws and curriculums and develops inventions using the skill of South Africans, so that they get experience in this niche industry.
Natalie has worked with more than 22 startups, and is the chief technology officer at FCB.ai, a company started in Africa but solving developed world problems.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Spirited debate clarifies assumptions and sharpens reasoning.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
I make time for myself, to respect and be kind to myself, and for others I open all doors within my reach so that they, too, can achieve their life’s purpose. This is done by being available to teach forgotten communities — annually more than 5 300 scholars in robotics, coding, AI, tech in rural, differently abled communities — allowing the young and old to dream a dream they didn’t for a second imagine.
This includes sending children from shanties in South Africa to the United States to compete on a global stage in a robotics competition, providing a global platform for women from drug and crime-ridden Westbury to share their robotics journey with the world, advising more than 22 early stage and series A startups annually, and using AI for good by inventing things that empower people, businesses, industries and economies globally.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
Everyone is fed, educated and has a home.