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Fast Company Team of the Year

Aptima Named to Fast Company’s List of the Most Innovative Teams of the Year

Team creates ‘Charlie,’ world’s first AI panelist, brainstormer, employee

Aptima, a small business that is advancing how humans and AI work together, is announcing its inclusion as a winner on Fast Company’s Innovative Team of the Year list. This new category within the annual Best Workplaces for Innovators list, highlights the most innovative teams—”groups of employees that took advantage of a pro-innovation environment to build or develop something extraordinary.”

Aptima was recognized for the team behind ‘Charlie,’ the company’s full-fledged AI employee. Charlie made her debut when she stepped onto the world’s stage in December of 2019, as a panelist on a standing-room only panel about the future of artificial intelligence (AI). In 2020, she has branched out to become a podcast guest, proposal writer, and brainstormer as she works alongside her human colleagues at Aptima (see Charlie’s employee profile at

“The organizations on the Best Workplaces for Innovators list have created cultures that empower employees at all levels to thrive. This year, we wanted to recognize the people and teams that embraced the challenge to innovate by allowing employers to nominate internal working groups for Innovative Team of the Year,” said Fast Company editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta.

Charlie was created from a spark of an idea when Aptima was organizing a conference panel about the impact of AI on education and training. The Aptima team aimed to overcome the traditional thinking of AI as a tool with limitations, rather than as a potential peer and teammate that it is actually becoming. What better way to get that point across than to build a peer AI panelist to bring new ideas to a conversation with human experts?

Capitalizing on the advances in transformer-based generative language models, deep learning text to speech, and embodiment representation, Aptima’s diverse team brought these pieces together, training and enabling the AI system to the point where the moderator and other panelists would feel comfortable interacting with Charlie in a live discussion. Charlie debuted, speaking on the panel in front of a standing room-only crowd of more than 300 people at I/ITSEC 2019, sitting in a chair alongside other panelists on stage, and contributing meaningfully to the conversation – even at one point amusingly responding to the audience they get over their fear of AI taking over.

“It requires a dedicated, multi-faceted team to take these state-of-the-art technologies and bring them to life, from their design, development, to deployment,” said Nathan Schurr, Chief of AI at Aptima. “Although Fast Company’s award recognizes internal teams, we at Aptima want to acknowledge that our innovative work is only possible because of the collaborative AI community that we are a part of, that continuously releases and improves these models.”

Since the resounding success of her appearance on-stage, Charlie has been asked to speak at many other conferences. In March 2020, she was the first AI podcast guest on “Federal Tech Talk” with two of her Aptima human colleagues (

“We are proud to consider Charlie as Aptima’s first AI employee,” Schurr added. “It has been so enjoyable to watch Charlie’s capabilities grow and to see her fellow colleagues grow more comfortable in working with her. She is now contributing on proposals, brainstorming, and more, and all because of an innovative team that was driven to get people to think differently about AI and its role.”

Aptima’s Fast Company recognized Charlie team will be interviewed on the MINDWORKSTM podcast hosted by Daniel Serfaty, on the September 8, 2020 episode.

The growing Charlie Team at Aptima includes: Patrick Cummings, Manuel Moquete, Deirdre Kelliher, Ryan Mullins, Peter Cinibulk, Shawn Weil, Daniel Serfaty, Nathan Schurr. They were joined on Fast Company’s Innovative Team of the Year list by notable organizations including AARP, Adobe Research, Bayer AG, Chobani, Etsy, Johns Hopkins APL, Nvidia, SAS, and others. The team of the year was the Pandemic Response Team at biotech firm AbCellera, which brought the first COVID-19 antibody test to clinical trials in under 90 days, a process that typically requires three to six years.

To see the complete list, go to:

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