Future-Tech Expert On Leadership And Launnie
by Stephanie Williams
Tasmanian Amanda Johnstone is a globally acknowledged AI technologist and the founding CEO of Transhuman, a mental health and emotion AI technology company. A trailblazer in leadership and STEM, Amanda is heading home next month for a very special International Women’s Day event with TasICT.
Amanda’s contributions have been celebrated by TIME as a Next Generation Leader and by The CEO Magazine awarding her the Start-up Executive of the Year award, highlighting her impact in social impact technology.
An entrepreneur for over 20 years, it was at the young age of 17, Amanda co-founded award-winning retail chain, Sebachi, in Tasmania. Under the mentorship of Cotton On founder, Nigel Austin, Sebachi became one of Australia’s first e-commerce stores in the early 2000’s.
Amanda has always been passionate about social issues, as Australia’s first Youth Development Officer at 18 in local government at the West Tamar Council – she also took on philanthropic roles in management, policy and strategy in suicide prevention at a youth suicide prevention retreat in Tasmania for fifteen years. Her many personal experiences with suicide, inspired Johnstone to invent her proprietary mental health App, ‘“Be A Looper” and EmotionAI technologies.
Tell us about growing up in Tasmania. Was tech a part of your childhood? Growing up in Tasmania was like being in a painting where the hues of technology started to seep through the canvas as time went by. My childhood was analog in many respects (I’m 37 now, so grew up in the time of no mobile phones until I was in year 6), but I vividly remember the thrill of cobbling together my very own computer, a Frankenstein’s monster of tech, which Mum and I bought piece by piece for a mere $50 from the education department. It was a thrilling time, booting up that machine to the sound of dial up via an hourly pay as you go connection in Kings Meadows, and winning a Microsoft Windows 95 software package felt like claiming a golden ticket to the future. I wasn’t just eager, I was ravenous for knowledge and I still am.
How did you get your start in AI technology and future tech? My foray into AI and future tech has the makings of an ensemble film, where I’m not the sole inventor but rather the orchestrator, harmonising the brilliance of minds like Oliver Rozynski’s ground-breaking EmotionAI concept with the virtuoso performances of technologists, scientists, and developers to commercialise and deploy it to the market and protect the data that drives it. That’s my role as the CEO and this is how we’re scripting the narrative of EmotionAI at Transhuman.
My academic waltz with computer science was short lived (a whole semester at Curtain Uni before dropping out), but the real learning comes from the hands-on work of doing. And when I have maestros like Dr. Chris Mattmann from NASA JPL to guide me, every day is a masterclass in innovation!
Social issues are close to your heart. What role does, and can, technology play in helping people? When it comes to the role of technology in social issues, I see it as the great enhancer of our humanity, not its replacement. Technology doesn’t subtract from our human experience; it amplifies it. We’re on the cusp of a renaissance where our digital addiction morphs into meaningful interaction, where we exchange the cold touch of screens for the warmth of spatially computed and tactile handshakes and hugs, where wearables emancipate us from the tether of phones, and where AI and The Internet of Things syncs with The Internet of Bodies, ushering in a revolution in work, wellness, and home life.
In 2023, LinkedIn named you a Top Voice in Artificial Intelligence. What does this recognition mean to you? Being recognised as a LinkedIn Top Voice in AI isn’t just a personal triumph; it’s a clarion call for clarity in a field shrouded in myth, doomsday forecasters and apprehension. It’s a platform that allows me to democratise AI education, to cut through the noise and offer a beacon for those eager to harness this transformative technology in a low barrier to access (free!) way.
You’re coming back to Tassie soon as a guest speaker for International Women’s Day at TasICT. Why is it important to empower women in leadership, especially in STEM fields? Returning to Tassie for International Women’s Day at TasICT isn’t just a homecoming; it’s a mission. Empowering women in leadership and STEM is about curating a chorus of diverse voices, ensuring our technologies reflect a kaleidoscope of perspectives to ensure we don’t build bias into technology by only having one gender or perspective at the table.
What are you working on next? As for what’s on the horizon, Transhuman is charting new territories with Fortune 500 companies, steering them through the landscape of EmotionAI.