The Path to Artificial Intelligence is Weird, But Interesting

First step is overcoming the fear of the future.

Artificial intelligence has the potential for long-term digital disruption across organizations and automated devices, and could even outsmart humans. To adopt and embrace what’s to come, decision-makers in both industry and government have to prepare, build trust, collaborate and educate.

That’s according to Joanna Bloor, a self-proclaimed “startup junkie” and the founder of The Amplify Lab. Bloor spoke with GovernmentCIO Magazine about her experiences and whether organizations need to be discussing the boundaries and guidelines around how AI is developed and used, considering the transformation the workplace could see with expanded use of automation.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Artificial Intelligence

CXO Tech Forum

GovernmentCIO Magazine: Though the concept of AI may have been around 20 or so years ago, the technology we have today wasn’t. How did you get started in tech and become interested in AI?

Bloor: I was introduced to the whole dot-com startup world back in the mid ‘90s, so I got to be a part of the building of the advertising world on the internet. That really taught me two key core lessons: One, as new technology comes into the workplace, you have to have such an experimental mind, and an open mind to what could be. It just takes a completely different approach to how you think about how to do anything.

And two, this whole idea that almost everybody has to be a little bit of an inventor, because the how has it been done before? doesn’t exist, and even models of how it has been done before might not work. You have to look at multiple different models and different industries to potentially come up with those things, which comes back to this whole bigger question, especially when I think about the future and current wave of new technology, of what could you do and what should you do?

What happened to me in the mid-’90s really made me lean forward in technology and be curious about it and really start educate more than anything else. So, I’ve been really interested in chatbots and virtual reality and AI and bitcoin, and all of the different technologies out there.Which brings me to today, which is what I actually do. '

Somebody created a chatbot that will automatically on an individual level sue Equifax in small claims court for you in every state in the U.S. This is where I get super excited. This is where I think all of this technology really gets difficult. This is what I mean by, you have to think outside the box here. How we even approach a problem just shifted. Every law firm in the company should be like “wait, what?” I know lawyers who sue companies for doing stuff like this, and their business just shifted.

GovCIO Mag: Are decision-makers in more traditional organizations taking the right steps to prepare for the digital disruption of new tech like AI?

Bloor: No. Today, I’d say predominately my clients are Fortune 100 plus companies, who are just like I didn’t even know how to think about it this way. This is where I come in and say, “people need to learn how to think differently.” How to think like a startup is really important.

A really great AI example of thinking like a startup is how Salesforce is using their Einstein technology, not only within their company but with their customers. What I think Salesforce has done a remarkably fantastic job on the human side with is building not only this concept of trust with their employees, customers and their partners, but they’ve also built this expectation of experimentation with their employees, their partners and their customers. If a company is trying to explore this, you can be kneecapped by any of those people these days.

GovCIO Mag: So, what does this mean for an organization?

Bloor: The what could you do versus what should you do is going to become one of the most important questions. Back to your question about traditional companies. You think about the partnerships that you have between your sales organization or your IT organization, and the “how you think” kind of methodology, and there’s so much of a tell us what you need and we’ll build that thinking that happens. Or a, this is what we think you need and this what we’ve built, not really thinking about what is needed to solve the problem or what is the potential future human impact of that.

That whole conversation doesn’t happen, so I think that the product managers of the world, the scope of what your responsibility is is really beginning to change. When you talk about AI, because that line between human and technology is so blurry, there’s going to have to be an ethical module to the supply chain. So, is there going to be a chief ethics person? Which, ironically, usually today is the lawyers and HR. Lawyers are absolutely taught ethics, but in a way that is how do we be ethical within the boundaries of the law, but the law is not moving fast enough.

GovCIO Mag: Do organizations need to adopt their own boundaries and guidelines for how AI is developed and used?

Bloor: I think we’re too early to actually have that. I think they absolutely need to take a page out of the Silicon Valley cultures’ book of carving out a section of the company for innovation. And in this innovation hub, the rules are different. The rules are experimentation, the rules are potentially partner with competitors, the rules are break things and test things.

But within those rules, there’s also a different set of expectations. Similar to my example with Salesforce, it’s going to be that we’ve decided to create this experimented area, we’re not going to solve everything for everybody, we’re going to figure out who our early adopters are, and instead of solving a hundred problems, we're going to solve one.

It’s figuring out how to experiment and learn with that, and then have the same sort of upfront communication, collaboration and attitude of we’re in this together. Especially when I think about government entities or larger companies, that’s a really terrifying thing to do.

GovCIO Mag: How could the workplace change if AI continues at this pace? What does it mean for the government and how it interacts with citizens?

Bloor: The fear of adoption is actually step one of getting people to think differently. Have an innovation hub, but don’t keep the exciting interesting stuff in a box separately. Let the entire organization be a part of the adventure.

I think the skills and talent people are going to be looking for is going to shift. We live in a world that is very much, what did you do to get the “A" or what is the right answer? When approaching a new, different way of thinking and trying to innovate, you almost need to break things 20 or 30 times before you come out with the right answer. I don’t believe human nature is really comfortable with that.

The second one is actually being able to identify the innovators. As somebody who has been working in the startup world for years, I’ve learned to look for the talented people who think differently. I think there will have to be investments not only in the how do you think about the technology and innovation, but also in the people who are kind of left behind.

GovCIO Mag: Are there any leadership positions in government that should be adopting new skills or roles in order to efficiently take on new tech? Like the concept of a chief AI officer?

Bloor: I think the past has taught us in innovation is the need to actually collaborate with competitors. Today, the consumer is being taken advantage of, which is why I think the ethics thing has happened. This is why I think AI by itself is not enough. I think about the ability for identity to be managed through blockchain, and how you bring that into the equation.

It’s AI plus blockchain that actually protects the person. Now, you’ve put a team of three people — somebody who knows AI, somebody who understands blockchain and somebody who is an ethicist — who comes in and makes sure we’re thinking about the human being at the end of the day.

GovCIO Mag: So, what holds organizations back? How do they get there?

Bloor: I see [fear as] the stumbling block for more companies on why they can’t adopt change. So, this fear of the future that is so prevalent in almost every part of our experience and yet there’s this hope and positivity in this country on every level of I know this sounds scary but we can, that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. I have traveled everywhere, there’s tiny pockets of it, but there’s a curiosity to be a bit “brave new world” with this whole idea of no rules that doesn't exist anywhere else and I think it’s one of this country’s biggest strengths.

There’s this youthful energy that persists here and is applauded, and this belief that yes, you can. For companies and governmental organizations, and the Silicon Valley culture of why not, if they can really tap into this belief as opposed to a no mentality, they’ll be able to change and do that. It’s the balance between the why not and the fear that really will make things interesting. It’s going to be weird, but it’s going to be interesting.

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