Carnegie Mellon University
June 24, 2021

CMU Spinoff Marinus Analytics Awarded AI XPRIZE Third Place

By Yana Ilieva

Shilpa Bakre
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 512-705-1228

A Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company, Marinus Analytics, won third place and $500,000 in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE competition, announced Wednesday, June 23, 2021. This XPRIZE is a global competition incentivizing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for radical breakthroughs in problems facing humanity. Marinus Analytics was recognized for its revolutionary impact using AI to address the problem of human trafficking.

The work of Marinus Analytics first began as a senior thesis when Emily Kennedy was earning her bachelor’s degree in Ethics, History and Public Policy from CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Now, nearly 10 years later, Marinus Analytics is a fully fledged company with a cutting-edge suite of AI-powered technology that aids law enforcement in finding and protecting victims of human trafficking.

The company’s flagship software, called Traffic Jam, was first developed at CMU. It uses AI to help police efficiently sort through online sex trafficking ads, grouping them by phrases, phone numbers or locations. This grouping helps detectives identify the people who control the victims they have coerced — many of whom are minors. Traffic Jam has over 2,500 registered law enforcement and nonprofit users, tackling the global problem of human trafficking and preventing future exploitation. 

The scalability and scope of the tools that Marinus Analytics has created directly embodies the innovation and impact that the XPRIZE seeks to reward. Awarded by a global panel of judges, the AI XPRIZE was launched in 2016 and began with 150 registered teams from around the world using AI to tackle challenges facing humanity.

Marinus Analytics was one of the three grand finalists and the sole finalist from the U.S. The other two finalists were Aifred Health (Canada), which focuses on using AI to help physicians create personalized mental health treatment plans for patients; and Zzapp (Israel), which uses AI to predict where stagnant water bodies may occur and subsequently prevent malaria outbreaks.

All three finalists earned prize money; $3 million for Zzapp in first place, and $1 million for Aifred Health in second place.

Kennedy first used technology to tackle this massive problem in her senior thesis titled “Predictive Patterns of Sex Trafficking Online.” She then connected with two other Carnegie Mellon researchers, Artur Dubrawski, Alumni Research Professor of Computer Science; and Cara Jones, then a research analyst for Dubrawski’s Auton Lab in CMU’s Robotics Institute, to continue this important work.

With the support of CMU’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC), the three cofounded Marinus Analytics and brought its revolutionary products to market, partnering with local state and federal law enforcement to help put an end to human trafficking.

“We at CTTEC are inspired by the passion of the Marinus Analytics team and are happy to have been able to connect them with resources and support their efforts to bring their innovative technologies into the marketplace,” said Reed McManigle, the CTTEC Mentor in Residence and licensing manager for Marinus. “We are excited for them to have this opportunity to be recognized and to expand their vital work.”

With the XPRIZE award, Marinus Analytics will “be able to further invest in research and development, find more victims and organized crime rings, and put even more powerful tools in the hands of public safety professionals in the areas of child protection and cyber fraud,” Kennedy said.

Michael McQuade, CMU's vice president for research reflects, "For over 10 years Emily Kennedy dedicated her time to solving the problem of human trafficking and the recognition from winning third place in the AI XPRIZE cements the importance of the work that Marinus Analytics does and will continue to do. It also exemplifies the interdisciplinary research that Carnegie Mellon is famous for."

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