Ballan grew up in Turkey where it’s not unusual for women to pursue careers as scientists. In her youth, she was inspired by Mission Impossible TV shows where agents used futuristic technologies like fingerprint recognition and iris detection. She also loved cars. “Those were the things that I was really interested in. And I think my journey started from there,” she explained during a conversation with Stanford’s Margot Gerritsen, Stanford professor and host of the Women in Data Science podcast.
After studying engineering in college, she pursued her love of cars to work for Bridgestone in Turkey. “I love patterns. And our problem was the tire patterns, how we can identify the right pattern and then balance the car on that right pattern.” She left there for a chance to develop fingerprint recognition algorithms for a NATO-sponsored research center in Turkey.
While she was drawn to technology, she was also fascinated with the brain and got a PhD in complex systems and neuroscience. “I always try to run away from technology because I like to work with people. One of the reasons that I picked neuroscience was I wanted to interact with people.”
This diverse background has prepared her well for understanding both the human and technological perspectives on transforming the driving experience where the car is connected to everything. She says today the car is a platform, and we design the driving experience around sensors and data.
She believes that within her lifetime we will see autonomous cars everywhere. And she says all data scientists should be trained in the ethics of AI as we need be very mindful how we are using these technologies to improve our lives.