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AI Lessons from TEDxWomen

December 21, 2018 Leave a comment

2018 has been dominated by relentless news coverage on the topic of Artificial Intelligence or AI, (perhaps even moreso than Blockchain – another hot topic du jour), which in turn proclaim doom or nirvana depending with whom you speak, and when. Why, I attended a recent TEDxWomen event at Salesforce Tower in London where I helped facilitate discussions about Robotics and AI, and I must say that given the level of interest and diversity of the group in attendance, it quickly became clear to me that ordinary people’s expectations, perceptions and conversations about the progress of AI needs feeding back to the people and processes that develop it. 

The topics under discussion originate from a couple of TEDWomen talks about: Robotics and developing empathetic AI co-pilot. The first talk featured Ayana Howard’s view that robots can be good yet also biased, sexist and racist, which could make them doubly dangerous given the level of trust and emotional attachment we humans sometimes place in robots. The second talk by Nivruti Rai, focused on tapping into our collective intelligence via a personal agent or ‘co-pilot’ which can provide constant guidance to its human subject, based on ‘wisdom-of-the-crowd’ style insight and thus influencing the users every decision e.g.: choice of meal, traffic navigation, and lifestyle choices, including choice of dates or marriage partners!       

Given the degree of emergent influence and impact on individuals, business and society, it is not surprising the level of trepidation people have about the unknown / unintended consequence of AI and its myriad applications. However, this group surprised me with their pragmatic and optimistic take on these developments, which are summarized in the following top 3 messages we played back to other attendees, as follows:

1. We must Embrace AI – AI is here to stay, therefore embrace it with certain knowledge that controlling AI might not be perfect, but as humans we can adapt and course correct as necessary

2. Absolutely need to address underlying bias issues – Must ensure those that work on AI also represent the diversity of humanity, particularly among typically under-represented minorities 

3. Emerging trends can be startling – Some countries have decided to sanction dating or marriage to AI, perhaps a harbinger of a likely future with evolved AI systems

In conclusion, it is heartening to know that people wish to be actively involved in the evolution and application of AI, especially where it impacts and influences their lives – i.e. before, rather than after the fact. Also, there is reasonable optimism and excitement, laced with trust in our human ability to adapt to the level of change it will undoubtedly manifest on society and people alike. After all, what is the point in having to receive last rites each time you engage an autonomous vehicle, or take advice from your trusted co-pilot? 

Becoming Salesforce: Beyond Cloud Services

March 9, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve always maintained (here and here) that a tradition for innovation trumps mere culture of innovation hands down. This was clearly demonstrated at a recent boot camp for new joiners to Salesforce, in San Francisco. Judging by the frenetic pace of a week long immersion in all things Salesforce, the work involved in introducing and maintaining the  Salesforce ‘Ohana’ culture of innovation is a relentless and never-ending pursuit that is worthy of any tradition.

SF Boot Camp

By all accounts this was a ‘mega’ boot camp event, comprising over 250 new hires from many different countries and regions. Below are my top three takeaways from the event:

1: Ohana and Value Alignment
Salesforce believes passionately in giving back to the local community and included a day one agenda item for attendees to undertake pro bono work for some of the local charities. After a couple of hours physical labour, one starts to realise just how serious Salesforce takes the 1-1-1 pledge (i.e. to contribute one percent of employee time / resources / products to help local communities via charity, education and other worthy causes). As if that wasn’t enough, Chief Adoption Officer, Polly Sumner later bought  the point home with a passionate talk about how each employee must make it a mission to define their purpose and actively pursue it by aligning with company values and recording as individual annual objectives. The result: a committed workforce that is empowered to make meaningful and positive contributions, as part of their day job and career aspirations. Given such a culture, it is not surprising why and how customer success is the ultimate raison d’etre for Salesforce

2 – Change is rapid and constant
Several speakers, over the course of the event, took pains to emphasize the need to adapt and adopt a fast paced mentality in order to survive and thrive in Salesforce. With three major (as in all the bells and whistles) releases each year, the Salesforce platform and clouds are constantly evolving to become ever faster, smarter and more personalised with each new release. The latest offerings in Analytics (Wave), user experience (Lightning) and Internet of Things (IoT Cloud) is merely a foretaste of what is likely to manifest on such a dynamic platform. If you are inclined to wonder how or why I can say this things, then look no further than the amazing level of talent gathered at the event. Every background was represented, from ex-marines to rocket scientists, or ex McKinsey, Deloitte, IBM and Capgemini consultants, plus key talent from competitors such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP. The Force is strong in the Ohana.

3 – Awesome is more than just a word
I must have counted over one hundred separate utterances of the word ‘awesome’ (including two completely unforced instances by yours truly), but suffice it to say I have yet to come across any organisation where employees seem to be in such awe of their own, er  ‘awesomeness’, for lack of a better word. As part of the boot camp, we were also introduced to all the Salesforce clouds i.e.: Sales, Service, Marketing, Apps, Community, Analytics and  IoT Clouds. What is truly impressive is how they all integrate and work together or separately as per customer requirements. A typical customer pitch kicks of with the inevitable Safe Harbour statement and a thank you to the customer, followed by a description of the new technology, new business and new philanthropic models espoused by Salesforce and how that could be made to work better for the customer. It is indeed a brave new world for cloud services.

Overall, the boot camp delivered an unabashed experience of the Salesforce Ohana culture and, given the number of attendees at this event, there definitely is a strong demand for more talented people with the right experience and mindset to join such a fast growing organisation. Finally, and by all indications, Salesforce is certainly showing the hall marks of a company with a clear tradition for innovation that is deeply rooted in its values. Long may it continue, and I can’t wait to see what’s next on the ever changing horizon. Mahalo!