It feels like 2018 was a huge year for change. We started off with an awful lot of fear, fear coming from people saying: AI is going to destroy jobs, and it’s going to be some sort of new apocalypse.
This is HumAIn. A weekly podcast focused on bridging the gap between humans and machines in this age of acceleration. My name is David Yakobovitch, and on this podcast I interview experts in sociology, psychology, artificial intelligence, researchers on consumer facing products and consumer facing companies to help audiences better understand AI and its many capabilities. If you liked the show, remember to subscribe and leave a review.
Hi everyone. Welcome back to the HumAIn podcast. My name’s David Yakobovitch, your host here on bridging the gap between humans and machines in this age of acceleration. Today, this is my distinct pleasure to have Oliver Christie on our podcast. He is very involved in the AI industry, from both a consumer and enterprise play, and he has his own new venture, moven.AI, that we’re going to talk a little bit about today and how that’s game-changing for the industry. Thanks for being with us, Oliver.
Thank you so much. My pleasure.
It’s really great to catch up with you. We’ve been on some panels together around New York with NYU, and we often talk very technical about how AI is changing jobs. I wanted today’s conversation to be more geared on everybody and how we can understand what is going on and how we can be a part of the changing landscape.
So, whether you see, perhaps, as some of the trends or signals, here in 2019, that are becoming more mainstream, that consumers should begin to think about in the industry.
Great question. So it feels like 2018 was a huge year for change. We started off with an awful lot of fear, fear coming from people saying: AI is going to destroy jobs, and it’s going to be some sort of new apocalypse. It didn’t happen last year, but it’s starting to happen.
There are starting to be very real job losses or other actually it’s tasks. AI is starting to automate away some of the tasks we do as a job. So anything which is repetitive, and she was relatively straightforward, well, if a machine can do it better and cheaper, that’s what’s going to happen. So we need to have a really open and honest discussion about what AI can really actually do right now.
What sort of jobs. I was going to say they are at risk, but what jobs are going to change? So if you… I got pulled into to talk to a very large bank, one of the top five, about a type of automation. There’s a role there, which is basically people, a very large team, looking at insurance documents for underwriting.
You look at the document, you sort of into one of 20 piles, and then an extra one for, we’re not sure about this. And they wanted to automate away that job. So, I came in, I described the technologies, some OCR, which is basically how you read a check, some natural language processing. So how we look at the words in context, and from that you could figure out quite easily how to do the job.
So we’ve kind of went through the process of here’s what you can do. And then at the end of it I said: Yes, but don’t do this, this isn’t the smartest approach. If you build a software, you build a system and: yeah, so you can fire everyone. And that was what they wanted to do, because it’s great for the bottom line.
At the moment, we think of people as an expense, and it’s something to reduce that expense. So I suggested, instead, a much better idea is to look at what the process is for decision-making around a loan application and that the value in what the decision-making is much better than the process.
So instead, have man and machine working together because otherwise this bank is, and they’re going ahead, with it actually it’s happened, and a lot of people lost their jobs. But then now stuck in 2018. They’re not going to be any smarter. They don’t have people there. The algorithm is sort of fixed in place.
So as a bank, it’s not a very…it’s not a great long-term move. So we’re kind of short term thinking. For the general public, maybe it’s a case of thinking: Well, what is it that you can uniquely do? What is it that makes you. Well, what are your human skills and characteristics that a bank needs and a computer maybe can’t replicate.
I know the LinkedIn 2018 survey did mention that people skills are one of the most in demand skills. How do you communicate strategy, manage and lead? That’s a very complex skill, very complex traits.
It is. On one hand, it’s great saying: Consultants will always be needed. But it’s the same, actually, with quite a few different job types or types of skills. Human empathy is still a big deal. It’s really quite hard to get a machine to talk well, to show empathy. It’s coming some exciting things, but maybe the thing we still are best at doing is being human, It’s being ourselves.
I think we’ve got taught. We’ve been for the last decade, two decades, maybe quite a lot longer. Technology has taught us to be a certain way. Business has taught us that we need to be, we need to act a certain way to make us more like a machine. And I feel like there’s a shift coming where we’re going to become more human.
It’s such an interesting viewpoint you’re starting. Is all over almost contrarian that we’re going to become more human, because as an educator in the scene and working with financial organizations who are either reducing their staff or trying to change the skills of the staff, it does seem that roles are becoming more technical.
Can a financial advisor also speak about code? And the question, that’s being begged for me, is a big bank like the clients you’ve worked with that now, lots of individuals are no longer working in their capacity. We mentioned they’re stuck and how we get them unstuck, and empathy, yes; and ethics, yes; and training guests are part of this conversation, but where does that leave them?
It’s now 2019 and all the reports say hiring is to the roof, salaries is to the roof, everything’s going well. But, I wonder if we were to take a survey of the landscape of those individuals, are they all employed? Are they, what does that look like? And I’m not saying you have the answer, but it’s a big challenge.
Oh, it’s a huge challenge. It’s the largest single shift since the last industrial revolution. We’re still, actually, very early in seeing this change happen. You look at New York, you look at certainly Silicon Valley and the people who are employed there, it’s technology, of course.
But then you look outside, into just upstate New York. Some beautiful areas which are being frankly abandoned obviously by politics, by business and so on. And you’ve got people who are smart, hardworking living, what used to be called the American dream. But we’ve had, I feel like we have a two tier, we’re getting a two tier society. We’re getting those people who can use technology can be in this space and be accepted and understand it to a degree. And those who are getting left behind, those who are not able to catch up, not able to be part of this shift. And we need to ask why?
Some of it is simply a case of education. And by that I don’t mean university, I mean access to information and some of it simply being connected in the right way. Broadband, for instance, isn’t it across the whole US, it really isn’t. And if you’ve got someone who’s frankly working a minimum wage job or being paid less than that, it’s very, it’s going to be even harder. I don’t think that’s a sort of society we should aim for.
Bringing in the conversation about minimum wage is also very interesting, because you have cities like New York city and Seattle that have said it’s our mission to allow each and every individual to live an affordable life. And they’ve been increasing over several years, the wages bridge that gap. And then what small businesses have said: Well, our bottom line can no longer afford this. So what additional automation solutions can we implement to also have less staff if we’re paying each staff more? So it’s almost a result of when regulators and the government come in to intervene to what capacity can companies see down the road?
These are the effects that these decisions make, a government shutdown doesn’t do just, something in Washington DC. But how does it trickle down to Silicon Valley? And there’s a lot of that going on.
It’s a huge shame that at this moment that there’s absolutely no leadership coming out from Washington. The president is an idiot.
Okay guys, we’ll cut that. I’m kidding. But no, please do talk all about that, but yeah.
Well, we don’t have leadership coming out of Washington in terms of a future direction which looks and understands this type of technology. We’ve seen Washington doesn’t understand how the internet, or email works, or social media, not at all.
So there’s a disconnect there, a very large disconnect. And it’s also why we don’t have really any regulation whatsoever around AI. So at the moment, it’s the wild West, which is very exciting if you’re Amazon or Facebook or whoever else. But people are waking up to the fact that a lot of companies are using data and algorithms fairly poorly over them. Pretty without the right intention, should we say.
A lot of it is based on things like how a drug dealer works or a Vegas slot machine. It’s meaning where we’re clicking a lot more, with buying more, where we’ve got more time on site, and all of this is great for the company, but it’s not very good for the end user. It’s optimized our time away from us. It’s made us less human, less creative, less that’s going to connect. And this is where very large companies will carry on heading, this sort of slightly mindless optimization to make things cheaper and faster, but not actually produce something which is better.
There’s going to be something like a gold rush of much smaller companies. It can be one or two people who will have an idea of how to do something better. So,very much. In the early days of e-commerce anyone could set up a store online. It wasn’t too expensive. I set one up in 1999.
It’s possible to start using AI very cheaply, but the real question is what are you going to do with this new set of tools? What’s your purpose? What’s the thing you’re going to try and do to kind of flip it back. It’s, we become more human.
Connected experiences start with people. And, as you said, the technology we’re seeing today is actually making us less connected. We have devices like our I-phones that all day we’re searching on different social media platforms to see what our friends are doing and what’s occurring in the news. This year it was mentioned in a new statistic that the amount of television watching time has gone up for the first time in over a decade. And the reason that’s gone up is because everyone is watching these streaming platforms, like Netflix and Hulu. And before, when someone would say: Let’s go out to dinner; let’s meet up with our friends; let’s go to a networking event. Now it’s: Oh, let’s watch the new series on Netflix.
And yes, some of it’s exciting new technology, it’s interesting and thought provoking. But, for me, an experience, recently, that demonstrated this disconnect that’s occurring is I went to a major event in New York city. And there were over 500 people at this networking event. It was very exciting and everyone had different color stickers, and names, and tried to make a very human connection.
And throughout the evening I met different individuals. And I came up to someone, he didn’t have a name tag, he didn’t have the stickers on. I said, let me engage in this conversation: Hey, what’s your story. And we started talking, and actually found that we had things in common. We worked for an organization.We both live in the same city, all these interesting things.
And then, halfway into the conversation, he asked me a very interesting question. What he said was: Why didn’t you come up to me tonight? I didn’t actually really talk to anyone. I was just listening to the speaker. Like, why me? I said, quite straight back: Why not, why not have a conversation with you? That’s what we’re here for, to engage with each other.
The reason for me sharing this story is how we can build these more connected experiences. And well, don’t we owe it to ourselves? Don’t we owe it to society to do this? Because if not, what will the world look like if we think very pessimistic or dystopian in a hundred years in the future?
Exactly. It’s funny. This is key. It’s about being more human, and in 2019 is certainly going to be the year of being more human. And this certainly means genuine connection. I find ,for the last couple of years, the best things that have happened through a long conversation. It really does make all the difference in the world, getting kind of, getting past all the fuss to, well, what are the things that really matter?
Of course, I taught technology, but it’s what’s behind that. Interestingly enough, you wrote something pretty much exactly, four years ago on Medium. And the title is “People are inherently good”. You wrote about how we had the opportunity in each moment to truly connect from a place of good, of love and of power with all beings. The interesting thing is that sentiment is as relevant now as it was then. And yet, would you say over the last four years that the technology’s been built, it doesn’t seem to reflect that sentiment at all?
We don’t. We have. We’re not. We’re just. It feels like we are having this discussion now and I’m having more discussions, especially, around diversity and how important that really is for what we build, what we solve for. And the other, I suppose, that the flip side of that is that we need to get much more personal and the things we’re creating are much harder. You have to ask completely new questions, but it’s much more exciting.
I would agree with those statements. And it’s interesting that you brought up the posts from four years ago, because I don’t blog too often. But when I do it’s very sentimental, or it was like some hidden meaning or purpose behind that.
And what’s interesting, this blog post “People are inherently good”. I wrote this post , actually, four months before I moved to New York city. So it was an interesting time period in my life where I transitioned from one company where I was doing data science into another. But there was, well, as you mentioned, an organization, a lot of things that occur and I didn’t see eye to eye with that organization.
And culturally was not a good fit. And at the end of the day I realized, well: There’s more to life than just every single decision being made, every single cog in the wheel. For me, with this indicated on each and every day. I’m reminded whether working with people who I hire or organizations that I partner with or data that’s being ingested is what is the grand scale? What is the big picture?
And one for organizations to be around for more than five years, they do need to think about their people. Treating people as they are people, people are not just resources. People are not just numbers, but they are your greatest asset because when people partner with the machines. Well, it’s people who maintain the machines, build the machines and people augmented by machines. That is going to be very powerful and we’re starting to see that today. In New York, there’s now the R labs, which is focused on augmented and virtual reality technologies. It’s kicked off in 2019.
You’re seeing a lot of interest around shared experiences coming back into digital. We’re talking about connected experiences in tech and 2018 we saw some of that. There were sites like Calm.com and Headspace.com, and these other meditation type apps that did attempt for you to connect back with you, but not you with others.
Exactly. We all needed a bit of breathing space last year, but of self-love should we say: the world is quite crazy. So to stay grounded, especially somewhere like New York. 18 million people who are busy and want to get things done, a subway that still doesn’t work, it’s challenging. So, where technology can help us become more grounded or again, more human. Fantastic. I’m all for that. There’s really no downside there, particularly.
It’s interesting that you said earlier about people being classed as just a cost in a business and you, actually, are absolutely right. You look at a profit and loss sheet and the employees are a cost or a cost center. So, what is it? 150 years we’ve been thinking of how to reduce that cost center down. It’s just naturally economics. And I would suggest that doesn’t work anymore. I would flip it 190 degrees and say: people are an asset.
So not what can you squeeze out of them, but what are all the things that person can bring to an organization? We’ve all got a huge number of talents and they’re really diverse. I know a lot about certain subjects and nothing about others. So, if I need that information, fantastic, I’ll look it up and that’s suddenly very valuable.
So companies are forgetting what they’ve got. They’ve got this huge resource of endless experience, and it’s mostly been ignored. Pretty much universally. So I’m hoping that changes. I hope people start saying: Well, what else could we do? Technology becomes the mechanism that lets it happen, but really it’s people and people’s experience, which will be key.
My biggest concern today is that we’re losing our way that we, as society, are in this race for AI, this race for more money, this race for automation. The signals are beginning to show about a new lost generation. Back in world war one, that was the last generation, a time where people going to and coming from war were disoriented, wandering directionless.
What should software engineers be thinking? What should these people in towns that were once thriving, booming examples of the American economy now consider. When you see people at the top, a lot of Americans will often have great admiration. Amazon, is it the next Microsoft, but then you hear that Jeff and his wife of 25 years are getting divorced.
So you could become the greatest billionaire on earth, the greatest showman.You can become the biggest company, but you can’t have it all, Is it? You can’t have it all or we choose not to have it all. And we’re entering loss generation 2.0, and that’s one of my biggest concerns.
You might be right. I can see some of the signs of this, people seem to be very disconnected, depressed. It’s not obvious what success looks like anymore, but there’s also a shift towards something better, kind of a what are the things that matter? What are the things that really matter? Connection, family, personal growth, and your role in the world.
And some of these things are quite hard to put a financial value on, or you really shouldn’t. It doesn’t, it’s not the point. But there is a shift happening. There’s a lot of hearing, a lot of conversations around some pretty big shifts away from a purely consumer model towards something which is much more relevant for the individual.
One of the projects I was involved in, it’s kind of a future-based project where if you re-imagine the bank, what should it look like? Well, at the moment, every single bank is basically identical. We have slightly different branding, but not very different. Every branch is vaguely similar, and every product is basically identical.
So, a credit card, a mortgage loan, is the same from every bank. And this credit card is one credit card for everybody. There’s no tailoring. There’s no understanding who you are. The bank simply doesn’t care who you are at all. And you go: Well now, a bank shouldn’t care who you are. Well, it’s just easier for them not to bother thinking about this.
What if instead we changed the model. The bank actually knows an awful lot about your spending habits. Tell them what sort of a person you are. What matters to you, what you do in your personal life, the activities you enjoy, what you do in your work. And there’s absolutely no reason why they couldn’t take that information and start helping you in your personal life.
I’d recommend the sport you’d like, or going out, or the restaurant, which actually is going to fit your style. Or it could be things which help in your professional life. So here’s a book, here’s a course, here’s an event you should go to. You’re kind of aiding and assisting you in your life. So it’s banking as a personal assistant in a way it’s surprising this isn’t really happening. We have chat bots, but again, they’re not for the individual, that purely to make things cheaper.
The banking industry is such a classic model that it’s been the foundation of culture, the foundation of countries, having banks. The United States has more gold bullion than any country in the world. And one would think that when you visit your personal banker, they would be there to help you and offer products that could be customized for you. The other day I visited one of my personal bankers. They said: Would you like to open a new checking or savings account with us today? And do you know what my first question was?Why, why? And what’s your interest rate? And they didn’t have an answer. And it’s, but shouldn’t. If they are one of the big 10, 20 banks your interest rate should be matching what the credit unions are matching. You should be able to be looking out for my interest. I shouldn’t have to.
So one change I’ve made this year is I’ve taken all my money from one of the big 10 banks and moved it into a credit union and other products because that big bank was not serving my best interest. Not necessarily just because this organization has been in the news for different things that they’ve done, but then not changing one would expect: Oh, they’re going to change. I’ve been with them for over a decade. I have this trust with them. They care for me. These are things that myself, as a consumer would think, but then I haven’t seen that ever reciprocated with a large credit card interest or fees and so forth.
So it’s interesting though, it takes an awful lot for someone to move banks. A bank like Wells Fargo has seen this, which is why they’re quite happy to do a lot of criminal things for decades.You have lawsuit, after lawsuit, after lawsuit, because they are a corrupt bank. And yet, they’re putting out more branding and saying: Hey, trust us. We won’t just keep stealing from you, and people on the whole are happy to go along with that. Wells Fargo should have been bankrupted a long, long time ago.
You could probably make the same argument for Goldman Sachs. It’s interesting that we don’t call this out enough, or when it gets called out the impact Isn’t so big. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe that’s what we’re used to. There’s a certain level of discomfort we’re quite happy to put up with.
So it’s interesting. Over Christmas, I did a bunch of shopping through FreshDirect, and it was great. It was very easy. I could just sit on my laptop and order everything, and didn’t have to go out into the cold. It all turned up. The following day is incredibly quick. You order it at midnight and it comes at seven o’clock in the morning.
One of the things they delivered was a box of clementines. You’re going to say: Well, wait a minute. What’s this got to do with AI? It does get there, eventually. It had come all the way from Morocco, which is firstly, you look at the supply chain that’s remarkable all the way from Morocco. They tasted fantastic.
I ordered super fast and it was cheap ,really for what it was, and fresh. But once I looked all, once I’d eaten half this box of clementines, my wife. I looked at, looked into what the ingredients were. And these clementines had been created with a pesticide, which is carcinogenic. So you’ve got this odd trade-off between something which is very fast, it’s come from the other side of the world. It’s cheap. It’s very easy. On the other hand, you’ve got a little bit of cancer going on. Now I normally buy organic.
So I can pay to get rid of the cancer part, shall we say? And you keep with all the good or the good things. The interesting thing is this is an Amazon company. They don’t tell you on the website that this is your trade-off, and this is just a box of clementines. It’s nothing so clever. So when we’re buying AI services from Amazon, or anyone else, we’re going to have to really look at what we’re actually buying. There’s we might be happy with the trade-off, but it’s asking the question more than everything else
Asking the question as we are doing today. Just this year, in New York, I’ve been to several events and one director for another financial organization, State Street, was talking about their new product. Their product is about looking at your financial portfolio and seeing if a movement occurs with earnings from a company. What disclosures should be shared or how are all the web of lies connected.
And it’s like, should I sell my stock? Should I freak out? Or no, no, no, It’s just a market correction. And you’re right. The consumers this year are beginning to take a stand: You want to bring AI into my life? That’s great. I approve, but I need transparency. I need you to tell me what I’m getting, because if you don’t tell me I’m in the fight back, I’m going to do a lawsuit. We’re going to stand against your product. We’re going to boycott until you go bankrupt.
You could have something even simpler, which is to say: If I don’t trust your company, you can’t have my data. I simply don’t want to talk to you. And that seems to be happening quite a lot with consumer focused products.
No, I’m not going to talk to you. I don’t trust you. So I’m going to turn you off and you turn off the source of data. The company has nowhere else to go. It has to, 2019 apart from being more diverse and companies are going to have to be more ethical. They’re going to have to really explain what they’re doing and what the benefits are to both parties.
With this information, people will be absolutely fine giving up the data because you see what you get back. I mean, it goes beyond the kind of Facebooks of the world. It’s going to be a much more common conversation.
At the end of the day that is based on humans. And so without humans, would there be a need to collect data?Would there be a need to create automation, to create better human experiences. So there will be new careers, new ethicists people, new fair commissions, new regulations coming out. It’s going to be shaping up to be a very dynamic year of technology. We’ve seen this year with CES 2019 that a lot of new technology has come out.
The majority of which has been in the refinement stage of better experiences, smoother experiences. But we’ve also seen that more breakthrough technology of being on the unapologetic. And that unapologeticsim is like Procter and Gamble and L’Oreal, together saying: We’re going to create an AI makeup sprayer for your face that you no longer have blemishes, so that you can be who you want to be.
So it’s interesting the technology could be to make a consumer feel better about themselves or to feel better with others. Only time will tell whether it’s all about our feelings or what direction this year shapes up to be. I know one thing ,for sure, is these conversations that you and I are having are just the beginning.
I think they are. This is key, having this sort of open conversation, this open dialogue. You’ve noticed we haven’t said anything technical. We don’t need to talk about the technical, the mechanics behind the scenes to get to what are the things that should matter to individuals and society.
We need to lead much more with what matters, rather than leading with the technologies. That’s certainly something that is going to happen this year, because once you do that, you can figure out: Well, what are the problems we need to solve? What really matters? And then you ask: Well, we need to solve this, what tools are available?
And that’s really all AI is; it’s a whole bunch of different tools which can give you a particular insight. So, I’m seeing that’s where things are pushing towards and actually happening quite quickly as well.
It’s new tools, but the same solutions, still with the same old humans. We are not going anywhere.
More humans. I hope it’s a much more diverse set of people who are involved in decision-making that will really help, and talking about the things which are uniquely human. It’s it’s: Hey, it’s much more exciting.
I couldn’t agree with you more, Oliver. I appreciate your thought leadership always. For being with us here today on the HumAIn podcast. There’s so many things in the works this year. It sounds like you’re off to a great start and bringing more humans into the conversation with AI solutions. Is important and we’ll circle back as we see what new solutions banks take on this year, especially the clients you’re working with, Wells Fargo is named. We’ll finally see something special this year, only time will tell.
Yes,this year is going to be fantastic. A lot of shifts. So yeah, looking forward to seeing what, where it goes.
Absolutely. And for the consumer, listening on the podcast, as always, it’s up to you. If I have a takeaway today, it’s up to you, you can make the decision.
Where do you want your data stored? Who do you want to use? Who you are? Well, it comes down to your pocketbook and you can spend where you choose to spend and you have the right to have the data to inform decisions. If there is a Clementine that tastes delicious, that you get from online delivery.
Well, shouldn’t you have the option to get that organic Clementine or at minimum, shouldn’t it be the duty of the company to disclose to you? That this is not a California organic Clementine, but this is one from Morocco. And not only does it have potentially these adverse side effects, but also it ,actually, costs more gasoline to get it to you. So it’s not just potentially. It’s the whole supply chain. I digress.
That’s it for this episode of HumAIn. I’m David Yakobovitch . And if you enjoyed the show, don’t forget to click subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you are listening to this. Thanks so much for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.