Meet the female-owned team using big data to end human trafficking
“Core to our company culture is the belief that if all the work we’ve done in the past seven years resulted in the recovery of only one person from sex trafficking, all that work would be worth it.” explains Emily Kennedy, President of Marinus Analytics. While that is certainly true, in 2019, Marinus’ program Traffic Jam was used to identify an incredible 3,800 victims of sex trafficking.
Marinus is a woman-owned company created with a social mission: founded in 2014 out of Carnegie Mellon Robotics, their focus is to investigate how AI can turn big data online into actionable insights that improve people’s lives, and they are already collaborating with multiple government organizations to fight trafficking around the world. While internet is being used to traffic people, Marinus Analytics counter this by using tech for good: their program uses graph analytics to detect organized crime as well as purpose-driven algorithms to identify vulnerability indicators, informing frontline professionals to hidden exploitation.
Here, the team tells us more about their work in ending exploitation and trafficking.
Where is your team based, how big is the team, and who is involved?
We are a team of 12, based in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. The co-founders are CEO Cara Jones, President Emily Kennedy, and Advisor Dr. Artur Dubrawski.
What's the global issue you're tackling?
Human trafficking and child protection
Walk us through your tech?
Every day, there are hundreds of thousands of ads online selling sexual services; behind many of these are victims of human trafficking. Our flagship tool, Traffic Jam, uses AI to help law enforcement recover victims and dismantle organized criminal networks. In 2019, Traffic Jam was used to identify an estimated 3,800 victims of sex trafficking. Traffic Jam is currently used by law enforcement agencies in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
What made you want to enter the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Semifinalists?
Sex trafficking is a $99 billion industry globally, so tackling it seemed like the best way we could use AI for good.
What's been your team's biggest challenge so far?
We have rapidly grown through word-of-mouth across three countries, but as we continue to expand it can be difficult to do so without an on-the-ground presence in each country. We have continued to expand globally in a thoughtful way by forming meaningful partnerships with organizations on-the-ground so we can grow the reach of our software while ensuring that the frontline workers who use our tools have the support they need.
Why is what your team is doing important now, and how do you see it scaling up in the future?
We are playing a part in the recovery of thousands of lives from exploitation. There is nothing more important than the individual chance to live a free and full life. In the last two years, we have extended the success of our work to child protection workers within human services agencies, creating AI solutions to empower them to get insights out of big data, prevent neglect, and enable them to spend more valuable time with vulnerable members of their communities.
How has the current climate impacted your work? Ways of working/ need for the solution/ changes in the industry
We have supported our customers as a semi-remote team for the entirety of our life as a company, nearly seven years and counting. The pandemic moved our team fully remote, and we were able to keep pace by the working infrastructure we already had in place. To further support our users, we have increased international partnerships, as well as the frequency and breadth of remote training resources.
How has the competition furthered your success? How has it changed you? The scale of the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Semifinalists competition is immense, and being one of three companies recognized as finalists – and the only company representing the United
States – is a huge honor and a torch that we are glad to carry.
Have you collaborated with IBM in any way?
We had the pleasure of collaborating with IBM on emerging work in the area of cyber fraud. In a June 2020 study of 35,000 unique digital illicit campaigns in California, we found that over 20% of the campaigns were mass-produced, suggesting that they may be linked to fraud. Additionally, data from the Federal Trade Commission suggests an increase in online scam activity in 2019, when customers reported a loss of $201 million to scams such as romance scams, a year-over-year increase of 40%. In partnership with IBM Watson, we are building tools to determine who is creating these campaigns, where they originate, and who might be profiting, with an eye towards targeting organizations that fund organized crime.
Finally, outside of your work, what's an area of AI that's exciting you right now?
We are interested to see developments in blockchain technology for the future of fighting human trafficking. From tracking Bitcoin transactions to supply chain management via blockchain, there seems to be much potential there, and many great researchers are beginning to tackle these issues.
Learn more about the prize here