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Celebrated Journalist and Producer Writes a Chapter with Groundbreaking AI Tech

An up-close portrait of Liane Thompson.

Liane Thompson understands what groundbreaking stories do: present new information in new ways.

This has been key to her immense, sprawling career that spans multiple waves in technology and culture.

It’s why she was among the first video journalists to report on the ground during 9/11, in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010, covering Israel-Palestine conflict in the 1990s, and at many other globally disruptive events—her broadcasting résumé includes National Geographic, NPR, The New York Times, CNN, and more.

It spurred Thompson to start her own production company in Hungary. And it’s what led her to the forefront of modern television’s new era, serving as executive producer on reality shows Trauma: Life in the E.R. (for which she has two Primetime Emmy Award nominations), Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, and others.

More recently, it enticed Thompson to co-found Aquaai, an award-winning environmental tech firm with her spouse, Simeon Pieterkosky. Together, they’ve brought affordable technology that makes aquaculture and waterways more sustainable, efficient, and resilient to climate change.

The trick has been following nature’s lead—all the way to a better source of information.

“They look and swim like fish,” Thompson says, describing Aquaai’s fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). Equipped with three cameras and environmental sensors, these fish bots gather rich visual and environmental data and deliver them to a simple dashboard.

A gold, striped fish-shaped robot with cameras fitted around the machine.
Aquaai’s fish-like autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). (Photo coutesy of Aquaai Facebook)

Technology like this is typically built or designed for the US Navy or oil and gas—organizations with gigantic budgets.

“We thought, ‘why not make a technology that everyone can afford so you can really have that impact you need to protect the waterways?’” Thompson said.

Aquaai’s AUVs report on changes in water temperature or oxygen levels, salinity, and pH levels, as well as changes in fish stock feeding habits—events that fish farmers need to know and respond to quickly. Its early work with Norwegian salmon farmers Kvarøy proved highly valuable and preceded the launch of an Aquaai Norway subsidiary.

Beyond aquaculture, the fish-like drone can be used to monitor areas like canals, ports, and other large waterways where 24/7 surveillance can help identify and mitigate pollution, structural damage, and ongoing degradation due to climate-related conditions.

“We thought, ‘why not make a technology that everyone can afford so you can really have that impact you need to protect the waterways?’”

Having moved a lot during childhood, building things—businesses, connections, communities—from scratch was a skill Thompson learned at a young age. Following a stint in Europe after high school, she returned to Chico (one of her many childhood homes) as a single mom and enrolled at Chico State with hopes of establishing a career path.

The transition into student life brought support, opportunities, and lessons still close to her heart. Among these was her early success as a writer for The Orion.

“My first article made the front page,” she said. “I instantly knew this was for me: deadlines, finding stories, multi-tasking. Everything clicked after that.”

Thompson also worked at the Center for International Studies for Professor Robert Jackson, who remains one of many close friends in Chico today, along with her bestie from second grade in Chico, Rina Venturini DiMare (International Relations, ‘88).

While her story is largely punctuated by change, renewal, and reinvention, Chico features as a constant. “It was just a great community, a beautiful campus, and a time when I made memories with good people. That’s why I love it and still come back.” 

With new projects on the horizon for Aquaai, Thompson continues to wield the power of storytelling.

Read more from our changemaker series.

A framed portrait of Gabriel Flores.

Gabriel Flores (Business Administration, ’11): Enterprise Engineering Manager, Latitude AI

Pratik Mehta (MA, Computer Science, ’11): Head of Artificial Intelligence, CloudMedx