SUMMARY: The implementation of AI technologies in the RegTech sector is a big chance for making law truly accessible to everyone. Both Sara Sestito and Hager Taamallah are Legal Data Analysts at Aptus.AI, an Italian start-up that created a proprietary AI technology capable of transforming regulations into a machine-readable format, thus enabling an AI-powered automated analysis that offers real-time, accurate, and digitally accessible legal information. Read about their experiences!
INTRODUCTION: Aptus.AI is a start-up that makes law accessible exploiting its AI-powered machine-readable electronic format of financial regulations. Our guests, Sara Sestito and Hager Taamallah, are Legal Data Analysts at Aptus.AI. Their work focuses on analyzing legal data, in order to make them constantly updated in real-time and understandable to everyone. Silvia Fabbi, from WAI Italy, hosted the interview and discussed topics like how these systems impact on everyone's life, about the questions they raise from a legal point of view, questioning the traditional schemes of law with Sara and Hager.
Tell us about yourself: where did you grow up, and where do you live today?
SARA: My name is Sara Sestito, I am 24 years old, I was born in Florence but grew up in Calabria, in the province of Crotone, and at 18 I moved to study at the University of Pisa, where I currently live. It is a quiet city where I have grown a lot over the years, both professionally and humanly.
HAGER: My name is Hager Taamallah, I am 23 years old, I was born in Sassuolo and raised in La Spezia. I have Arab origins - my mother is Algerian and my father is Tunisian - I really want to emphasize this because it represents a fundamental part of my identity and my social and political conscience. I graduated in Law this year at the University of Pisa. I am curious, passionate, and always active. In my free time, I volunteer in various realities in my city that deal with fighting poverty and inequalities. My curiosity and my perennial search for new challenges led me in 2016 to take care of the "Social House" project aimed at creating an entrepreneurial startup oriented to the development of the territory. In 2019, however, I tried my hand at "law in practice" by doing an internship in a law firm. Currently, I work at Aptus.AI, company that deals with making the regulations machine readable within a RegTech platform that allows you to navigate the law in an accessible and immediate way.
Tell us about your day, from when you wake ups to when you go to bed: what do you do, what are the difficulties?
SARA: My days are very busy: I wake up early every day to practice forensics at a law firm and in the afternoon I work for the start-up Aptus.AI where I play the role of Legal Data Analyst. In this period I am also writing a contribution on "evidence and privacy" which will then be published in a scientific journal of law. The main challenge of every day is to keep up with the news that arise from time to time, being the forensic practice and my role as Legal Data Analyst two fairly dynamic occupations.
HAGER: Before graduating, my typical day was devoted to writing my thesis in the morning and working in the afternoon. Before finishing the exams, it was studying and working, too. I have always sought a balance between these two activities and it has been exhausting. I think society requires us to excel, to have experience when approaching the world of work, to be unique and at the same time all the same. This pressure - common to my generation - led me to think that I, as a young woman of foreign origin, would have to work twice as hard as others to carve out a place in society.
You live and work in Italy: what is Italy like from the point of view of "modernity"? Is it an enabling environment, or would it be better elsewhere? SARA: I believe that from this point of view Italy could give much more than it currently does, but I am confident.
HAGER: Italy has great potential in terms of modernity, but I think it is still anchored to an old vision of work, education and society. For me, it is difficult to think of a stable future, especially since I come from a region, Liguria, which has a very high rate of youth emigration.
How did your journey in STEM begin? What brought you to the field of ML/AI? SARA: I approached the world of AI by attending a course in robotics and AI law. Then I attended a postgraduate course at the Sant’Anna and one at the University of Milan on the subject. I wrote a thesis on algorithmic decisions in the discipline of personal data protection. The world of new technologies intrigued me because it inevitably impacts on everyone's life and also because it raises many questions from a legal point of view and makes us reflect on the traditional schemes of law, which I find very stimulating.
HAGER: It was a "love at first sight". I am a jurist who holds the position of Data Analyst at Aptus.AI. At the end of my university career I found this position open and I applied, intrigued by the world of Legal Tech. But what most prompted me to apply is the interdisciplinary "vocation" of artificial intelligence and the effects it has on society (without counting the ethical and legal implications).
What do you think are the reasons why few women are interested in AI-related professions? What can institutions and politics make to improve equity and diversity in this field? SARA: I believe that few women are interested in the world of AI because of the preconceived idea that the technology sector is purely male. However, I believe that this is not always true and that things have changed and are still changing: I know many women who deal with AI.
HAGER: I don't think women are less interested in AI professions, but they are discouraged. Suffice it to say that fewer than 4 out of 10 STEM graduates are women. We are faced with a gender gap caused by multiple factors, such as the stereotype that science subjects are "unsuitable" for women. Not to mention that wages are on average lower, with the same level of education. Tackling gender inequality in STEM subjects first of all means tackling the wage gap.
What does diversity in AI and Data Science mean to you? SARA: In my opinion, the concept of diversity is extraneous to the logic of AI in the sense that it is the man who perceives the inequalities, not the machine. And it is the latter that gives rise to discrimination and bias.
HAGER: For me, diversity in AI and Data Science is a diversity with an intersectional lens. This term, as it is well known, was coined by Kimberly Crenshaw who grasped the interconnections between social gaps and complex social phenomena. Intersectional diversity allows everyone to be included and represented.
In what ways do you think technology has served women today? Where, on the other hand, has the technology been fallacious to women? SARA: In my opinion, technology opens up advantages and disadvantages for everyone without distinction. Probably one of the biggest problems facing women is the phenomenon of abuse and violence facilitated by technology. Think of that kind of apps, called stalkerware, designed to track location, calls, private messages, web searches and used mostly by partners against wives and girls.
HAGER: Without a doubt, technology has had the great advantage of making knowledge accessible to women: guaranteeing more job and education opportunities and encouraging creativity and talent. As for the negative aspects, I think the recent debate on the data contained in the period trading apps is emblematic (especially in light of the questioning of the historic 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling which governs abortion at national level in the USA). These apps contain sensitive data from a large number of women and often do not contain any information about privacy policies. Furthermore, they are often created by men with only one type of woman in mind: fertile, heterosexual, and sexually active.
What are the success factors for women in the STEM field? What advice would you like to give?
SARA: Behind every success in my opinion there is always a lot of work and a lot of passion. And a good character too. The advice I feel I can give to other girls is to always give your best.
HAGER: Never be afraid to ask, to expect, and - as Michela Murgia, Italian writer and feminist say - it is essential to “count to count”. In front of panels, workplaces, and television shows where women are absent, it is necessary to “count to count”. Count how many women (not) are present and regain possession of the space.
Thank you to Sara Sestito and Hager Taamallah for their meaningful thoughts, and do not forget! Join Women in AI by filling out our application form.