Speakers’ Spotlight: Davar Ardalan

Speakers’ Spotlight: Davar Ardalan

An amazing interview with our keynote speaker Davar Ardalan! We’ll explain no more, simply read the blog and enjoy!

And, a little bit more about who is Davar. 🙂

My name is Davar Ardalan and I was born in San Francisco in the 1960s at the height of the hippie counterculture movement. We didn’t stay long enough to experience the summer of love festival as my parents moved us to Iran where my father began his practice as an architect amidst the ancient ruins of southern Iran where he helped the famous archaeologist Roman Ghrishman sketch his findings. On my tenth birthday, my family and I found ourselves sailing up the Nile through the Valley of Kings, on a traditional Arab dhow.

Davar as a young girl in rural Iran

These moments in history and others through the years — in Fiji, Tonga, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Italy, and France — have shaped every part of me. Being born of the East and of the West, my heart and mind have wandered in both directions. Leaning toward my eastern side, my principle belief became fate or kismet; when leaning on my western side, I became a believer in free will: “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Eventually journalism became my calling. I was a producer at NPR News in Washington DC for 22 years and was responsible for editorial and production decisions that required elaborate coordination and planning, such as shaping Morning Edition broadcasts from Baghdad, Kabul and New Orleans. Over the years, I incorporated social media campaigns parallel to our live events and worked to engaged diverse audiences, discover new stories, and foster new communities in the digital space.

And it’s the splendor of this quest that finds me heading to Dublin to be part of your event in early October!










Left: Davar on assignment in Egypt, Right: Davar Producing NPRs Morning Edition in March 2006


1) What is your personal definition of QA and testing?
In many ways QA is the bridge between the developer and the customer. I know from my experience, it’s critical to include QA from the onset of project creation. This will bring much more confidence to the product — knowing that monitoring, evaluation, and testing are key components of success. I’m eager to learn much more from industry leaders at Quest for Quality.

2) How was the last 12 months? What worked well, what didn’t move as quickly as you would have liked?

All of those horror stories you hear about Silicon Valley startups going through excruciating growing pains in the first year are true. Add to that the fact I’m a 54-year-old mother and grandmother and you see how the odds have been stacked against me. But our team at IVOW has built a strong network including with Stanford, SAP Next Gen, and some of the leading AI & Culture scholars in the world. We are continuing our R&D and together with Stanford’s mediaX will be convening an event on October 17 on AI for Culturally Relevant Interactions . It’s an incredibly dynamic time and it took a great deal of hard work, iteration, and sacrifice to get here.

We are fortunate that the economy is doing well and Angels and VCs are strategically generous. But for now our focus is still R&D.

Ardalan and IVOW Team Members at AI and Culture Symposium in April 2018


3) Where do you see yourself in the coming years? What are your career aspirations?
I live at the intersection of traditional media and the future of automated stories, voice intelligence, and robotics. As a long-time journalist, it’s incredibly thrilling to be actively part of shaping the future of storytelling. That’s what I hope to continue doing in the years to come and hopefully I’ll have made a difference in adding cultural context to the future of AI and interactive technologies.

4) What will you be talking about at Quest for Quality?
So much of how we consume media is changing. Social robots are tweeting and veteran storytellers are capturing stories using VR and AR. This explosion of tools, sources, voices, and data is indicative of a new more collaborative era for storytelling — but is the public getting quality stories? I’ll be talking about this and also addressing the critical lack of inclusive data . I strongly believe that in order to best tell stories that reflect all of us, AI algorithms must be culturally sensitive and informed by a diverse, cross-sectoral range of inputs and structured data.

5) What inspired you to attend?
This summer, I researched the various technology events coming up in the Fall and I was impressed by Quest for Quality because of the intimate focus — not only on big ideas but rather focused disciplines around software QA and testing. This is critical as we move ahead in the age of AI and engage with software experts and industry leaders about the challenges of new technologies and how to pivot now to make sure they are inclusive and relevant going forward.

6) Which influencers and websites do you follow to keep up to date with the latest developments? (Photo: Davar on assignment in Tonga)
The work of my former colleagues at the open innovation agency SecondMuse continues to inspire me. In particular their collaboration with NASA on the International Space Apps Challenge coming up October 19-21, the immersive storytelling projects they are leading in Fiji and Tonga to inspire healthy eating, and also helping cleantech startups manufacture and get to market via the M-Corp initiative. All very cool and impactful work on a regional and global scale.

Davar on assignment in the Kingdom of Tonga for SecondMuse in October 2017


7) How can people find out more about what you are working on?
I’m active on Twitter @idavar and our website reflects some of our recent work including our interactive paper on the future of AI & Storytelling through the lens of current AI
scholars in the field. I’m always open to hearing from you so please feel free to email me with any questions

8) Anything else you would like to add?
Always feed your curiosity! I’m so grateful to be married to an adventurous man who also loves to travel. This summer, my husband John Smith and I spent time in Lake Como, Italy, embedded in a tiny Italian village built in the 1600s. We learned so much about their local ways but I was still curious. We asked our AirBnB host if she could contact the owners and tell us more about the  history of the home. Within hours, we received an extraordinary email from owner Raffaele Beretta. “I bought Molina’s house because she moved me when I saw her. And I decided to save it”, he
said. And then proceeded to describe some of the renovations he made. “On the ceiling of the staircase that leads from the first floor to the second, I wanted to tell the story of Milarepa, the
Tibetan mystic, who lived in the eleventh century, whose existence was characterized by a series of dramatic evolutionary experiences,” Beretta wrote. “The central circle, partially incomplete, represents the wheel of rebirth, which we could refer to a universal Oedipal complex, or at least the lack of listening to the attempts to help all those who have tried to avoid humanity a burden of pain, which often becomes unbearable.”

Who knew?

Left: Davar with her husband John Smith on Lake Como, Italy, Right: Davar at Lake Como near Historic Village of Molina