A profile on 2015-2016 DiverseCity Fellow Alumnus Ritesh Kotak.
For Ritesh Kotak, the DiverseCity Fellows program changed the course of his career.
When he joined the Fellows program in 2015, Ritesh was a Research and Innovation Strategist at the Toronto Police Service, working on the incorporation of technologies and cyber security in the service.
Today, he runs his own consultancy business and frequently appears on local and international media talking about the latest cyber security issues on CP24, CBC, and BBC as a subject matter expert on social, cyber, and digital trends.
Ritesh credits the DiverseCity Fellows program and his mentorship with former Deputy Chief of Police Peter Sloly for pushing him towards a larger leap of faith. In the Toronto Police Service, Peter was a mentor and a great influencer for Ritesh, giving him Ritesh autonomy and support to pursue innovative and new ideas and encouraging him to push himself beyond the status quo. Once in the Fellows program, Ritesh found himself among an innovative and passionate cohort of rising leaders and felt an even stronger pull to do more for society by pursuing a new path.
After reflecting on his career and discovering a desire to work with organizations driven by purpose instead of profit, Ritesh completed an MBA at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Afterwards, he made the decision to join the technology sector and launch his own consultancy.
Big decisions are never easy, but Ritesh was driven by his passion for technology and how it can make cities more inclusive and accessible. He also found inspiration in his entrepreneurial family’s experience opening and running a grocery store.
As Ritesh started working to find clients and build his business, the importance of believing in yourself and networking with others became clear.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will,” says Ritesh. “Networks are very important. No network event is too small or too big—you’ll meet great people with great ideas and grow as an individual in the long run.”
So what urban technology issues are on Ritesh’s mind lately?
Bias in algorithms. “Machine learning is only as good as the data that fuels the machine learning engine,” says Ritesh. He explains that if there’s bias in the data—the way its collected, the way the questions are asked, who’s targeted—then the results will be biased. An example Ritesh cites is using public safety data to determine high-risk areas to position additional police patrols. If there’s an elevated risk in an area it makes sense to have police stationed there to respond, but it also means that neighbourhoods that are already over policed will likely be targeted, which can contribute to a continued overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Technology-assisted accessibility. “Technology can be a powerful enabler for people with disabilities,” says Ritesh. Think of someone with vision impairment. In a smart city scenario, Ritesh explains that a device that’s hooked into city data can help someone travel to a different city by plotting a route, tell them where their bus will be and when it approaches, purchase a ticket, and even let them know when a favourite coffee shop is nearby.
If you’re curious to hear more of Ritesh’s ideas, keep your eyes out for his upcoming book on technology and society from a futurist approach, which contemplates how we can use technology for good. He expects the book to be published within 18 months, so keep an eye on his Twitter account for the announcement.
When Ritesh isn’t busy consulting on our latest urban technology challenges, you might find him spinning some hot beats as a DJ—next to technology, music is another of Ritesh’s passions.
Want to chat with Ritesh about the future of our smart cities or cyber security? Just send him an email and he’d love to connect!