How Humans and AI Can Propel Customer Experience with Vasco Pedro of Unbabel


Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Subscribe: Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Dr. Vasco Pedro is the co-founder and CEO of Unbabel. He owns the vision, overall business strategy and sets the direction for Unbabel’s product development. Responsible for the company’s culture, Vasco is heavily involved in recruiting and spearheads Unbabel’s fundraising efforts, which total USD$91 million in venture capital to date. He is a leading presence in the burgeoning Lisbon startup scene, with Unbabel known for being the first Portuguese company to be accepted into the Y Combinator accelerator program.

Vasco received his Ph.D. in Computer Science in May 2009 from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), working with Jaime Carbonell and Eric Nyberg. His thesis, titled “Federated Ontology Search,” focused on developing new methods using ontologies (a set of concepts which compartmentalizes variables for computations and establishes the relationships between them) in large scale data-processing scenarios. From 2001-2009 he was a Research Assistant at the Language Technologies Institute, contributing in the field of Question Answering (a computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language), alongside the team that eventually went on to create IBM’s Watson. Vasco was a Fulbright Scholar, 2001-2005, and was awarded a scholarship from Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Ph.D. Scholarship, 2006-2010.

Episode Links:  

Vasco Pedro’s LinkedIn: 

Vasco Pedro’s Twitter: @justvasco

Vasco Pedro’s Website: 

Podcast Details: 

Podcast website: 

Apple Podcasts: 



YouTube Full Episodes: 

YouTube Clips: 

Support and Social Media:  

– Check out the sponsors above, it’s the best way to support this podcast

– Support on Patreon: 

– Twitter: 

– Instagram: 

– LinkedIn: 

– Facebook: 

– HumAIn Website Articles: 


Here’s the timestamps for the episode: 

(00:00) – Introduction

(01:30) – We need to create a new version of the translation service that blends artificial intelligence and humans in a number of different varieties to provide just this very simple, straightforward API for translation. That was the original idea. 

(04:21) –  Companies are pressured earlier to be able to serve multiple markets. And as you expand to multiple markets, you face the fact that people in that market will speak a different language and I need to be able to serve them.

(06:49) –  Our goal is to build the language operations platform that enables every enterprise to seamlessly scale across languages. And a big part of that is the full stack that we’ve built on translation and different components of AI, quality estimation or anonymization, or the actual interfaces for humans to translate and all the different components.

(08:43) – AI will have the biggest impact in areas that are highly commoditized and require a lot of human effort. A lot of humans can acquire the knowledge and the skillset to do translation and to do transcription. Overall, AI is not replacing humans, it is augmenting humans. And it’s enabling humans to be more productive as a tool, so far.

(10:43) –You will need a smaller amount of human effort per unit, but that human effort overall would be more valuable, because it translates into a higher value. I don’t see, unless you’re talking about very basic repetitive tasks, I see the real value is in this interaction of being able to give the boring task to AI and to let the human do the higher cognitive load function type of tasks. 

(15:10) – We started by focusing on customer service and the drive behind that was a number of things. One, conversational interaction is particularly suited for enabling AI to have a large impact. There’s this sense of almost the inequality of customer service, depending on language.

(16:59) – We’re still focused on text, chat and email, but in a way that I, as a customer service agent, don’t have to really care about the language you’re talking. You, as an agent, focus on being an amazing customer service agent and really understanding your product and providing that level of customer service. And we act, we sit in between to make sure that that communication happens at a high quality human level on both ways, both from the customer to the customer service agent and vice versa.

(20:07) – Unbabel is a platform and solution for language operations that relies on multiple things. So the portal is really the product that the LangOps use to implement, manage and scale the translation layer. This is powered by the underlying platform, which is the actual bit that does a translation and would set up pipelines. And that’s where a lot of the AI and human work combined to provide fast, scalable, robust and high quality translations.

(24:13) –  The digital-first world that we’re accelerating into, and despite all the very, really bad things that the pandemic brought, that’s probably the silver lining in terms of accelerating into the future, highlighting the need for that, for the ability to overcome language challenges. It’s very clear that even in Unbabel, which is a company that’s focused on eliminating language barriers, everyone that we hire needs to speak English, because otherwise we can’t really communicate yet at the level that we do, we need to do. You’re now really being able to overcome physical barriers, but still have some sort of pseudo physical presence. And so the glaring barrier becomes language. If your appearance and location are not an issue for communication, then, really, the language that you use becomes the number one barrier for it.

(29:34) – Conversational is still going to be, you mentioned the interface, but it’s going to expand more beyond text into voice, which was pioneered in the media is going to migrate into a lot of business use cases because we were forced to do it.

(31:49) – If you’re a consumer, don’t settle for bad customer service, just because they don’t speak English.