A Google privacy engineer says he quit over ‘constant gaslighting’ following the firing of two AI experts

Timnit Gebru Sundar Pichai
AI researcher Timnit Gebru (left) and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

  • A Google privacy engineer said he quit after the company controversially fired two AI ethicists.
  • One of them, Timnit Gebru, was fired in December, prompting widespread employee outrage.
  • The engineer, Damien Desfontaines, has been with the company since 2014, per his LinkedIn profile.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A senior privacy software engineer at Google said he quit the tech firm, citing “constant gaslighting” following its prior dismissals of two AI experts, including the high-profile case of Timnit Gebru.

Damien Desfontaines, who goes by TedOnPrivacy on Twitter, announced the news Thursday.

“Personal news! Today’s my last day at Google. My “shields down” moment was the firing of @timnitGebru, then @mmitchell_ai, and all the constant gaslighting since then. I will not be taking further questions at this time,” he said, before adding a smiley face emoji.

Gebru, the AI ethicist who said Google fired her in December, commented on his post and said, “Thank you so much for your support and I hope your future is full of being at environments that value and nurture you.”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Desfontaines has been with Google since 2014 and is based in Zurich, Switzerland. Insider has reached out to him and Google for comment.

Google is still grappling with employee outrage following what Gebru said was her firing from the company. Google maintains that Gebru was not fired and that she instead resigned. A group of Google employees pushed back on that claim in a December blog post, saying she did not resign.

Gebru, a renowned researcher in the ethics space, said she was discussing her potential resignation with Google amid negotiations regarding a research paper of hers, which found potential bias in certain models. Instead of responding to the conditions she set, Gebru said Google bypassed her and let her direct reports know that she had already resigned.

Google fired another ethicist that Desfontaines referenced, Margaret Mitchell, just two months later in February because of what the company said were “multiple violations” of its rules.

At the time, a Google spokesperson said those violations included “the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.”

Mitchell told Insider in February that she had tried to use her position to “raise concerns to Google about race and gender inequity, and to speak up about Google’s deeply problematic firing of Dr. Gebru.”

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Google AI chief Jeff Dean sparks cries of hypocrisy as he urges marginalized groups to work with its researchers: ‘After what you did to Timnit?’

Jeff Dean - SVP, Google AI
Jeff Dean, SVP at Google AI, was accused of being hypocritical after he called for people from marginalized groups to join the tech firm’s mentorship program.

  • Google’s AI chief urged people from marginalized groups to link up with the tech firm’s researchers.
  • Jeff Dean’s tweet was seen as hypocritical due to the firm’s spats with two ex-AI leads at Google.
  • Timinit Gebru, one ex-lead, cited a diversity report that showed attrition in minority women at Google.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google’s lead exec for artificial intelligence sparked an online backlash after encouraging students from historically marginalized groups to apply to a mentorship program at the company, despite an ongoing feud with his team’s former ethics leads.

On Saturday, senior vice president of Google Research and Health Jeff Dean posted a tweet encouraging people from “historically marginalized groups” to apply to the firm’s CSRMP (Computer Science Research Mentorship Program) scheme, which matches students with current Googlers in order to help them pursue their research interests.

But dozens of experts in the AI field jumped into Dean’s replies to highlight Google’s as-yet-unresolved spats with two of its own ex-senior artificial intelligence researchers.

Dean hit the headlines in December 2020 following a public fallout with the company’s ethical AI co-lead Timnit Gebru, a Black woman, who claims she was fired after co-authoring a paper on the risks for the tech to reproduce human biases. Her team leader, Margaret Mitchell, was ousted two months later.

Ali Alkhatib, director of the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco, responded to Dean: “Jeff, it’s been hardly more than 6 months since you fired Timnit and then Margaret for reasons that strained credulity & fell apart under the most basic scrutiny.

“You can’t possibly seriously expect me or anyone else familiar with this matter to send people your way, can you?”

Julien Cornebise, a former team lead at Google’s AI division DeepMind, also criticized Dean asking “how daft do you think people are?”

Meanwhile, Ayodele Odubela, founder and CEO of FullyConnected, a platform used to promote inclusion of Black professionals in AI, lashed out at Dean, writing: “Oh get the f*** out to there with that s***.”

She added: “You cannot genuinely encourage marginalized students if you don’t take accountability for unjustly firing Timnit.”

Another anonymous user added: “After what you did to Timnit? I don’t think so.”

The hostility is indicative of the challenge Google faces in rebuiling trust among the AI community. Even those who work at Google have called for the firm to commit to “academic integrity” in the wake of Gebru and Mitchell’s departures.

Gebru herself also responded, retweeting Dean with the words: “Have you seen your latest diversity report?” A recent internal study published by Google found that a growing proportion of Black, Native American, and Asian women had quit the company.

She added: “Do you remember us asking for ‘mentorship’? Or is it that you know this doesn’t do sh*t while continuing to destroy the #1 thing we asked for, psychological safety?”

Insider approached Google for comment.

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.

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Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang talks about the value of ethereum, advances in crypto mining and the global semiconductor shortage in a recent interview. Here are the 10 best quotes.

Jensen Huang - Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang speaks during a press conference at The MGM during CES 2018 in Las Vegas on January 7, 2018.
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang

  • Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang spoke to a group of journalists at the Computex IT conference.
  • He said ethereum will be valuable due to its scalability and credibility in areas including DeFi.
  • He also spoke about Nvidia’s role in the future of crypto mining and said he believes a metaverse is imminent.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Jensen Huang, the CEO of chip and graphics card producer Nvidia, recently spoke to a group of journalists at the IT expo Computex about his views on ethereum’s value, how Nvidia’s products fit into the crypto ecosystem and why he thinks we’re on the cusp of creating a metaverse in an interview published by VentureBeat.

Nvidia’s graphic processing units are top-level graphic cards that also have crypto mining capabilities. Huang, a big proponent of artificial intelligence, unveiled a lower resolution graphics card at the conference that has been designed specifically for crypto mining. He also addressed the global chip shortage, Nvidia’s role in it and whether he believes the Chinese government will interfere in the development of artificial intelligence.

Here are Huang’s ten best quotes from the interview, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

  1. “Am I excited about proof of stake? The answer’s yes….Ethereum has established itself. It has the opportunity now to implement a second generation that carries on from the platform approach and all of the services that are built on top of it. It’s legitimate. It’s established. There’s a lot of credibility. It works well. A lot of people depend on it for DeFi and other things. This is a great time for proof of stake to come.” – on the opportunities ethereum provides and the network’s value for blockchain and crypto.
  2. “We reduced the performance of our GPU on purpose so that if you would like to buy a GPU for gaming, you can. If you’d like to buy a GPU for crypto mining, either you can buy the CMP version, or if you really would like to use the GeForce to do it, unfortunately the performance will be reduced.” – on how Nvidia is trying to decrease graphic card prices and why they developed CMP.
  3. “We’ll just keep working with our supply chain to inform them about the changing world of IT, so that they can be better prepared for the demand that’s coming in the future. But I believe that the areas that we’re in, the markets that we’re in, because we have very specific reasons, will have rich demand for some time to come.” – on managing the ongoing global shortage of semiconductors.
  4. “It’s now established that ethereum is going to be quite valuable. There’s a future where the processing of these transactions can be a lot faster, and because there are so many people built on top of it now, ethereum is going to be valuable. ” – on the outlook for the ethereum network based on its scalability.
  5. “I believe we’re right on the cusp of it. […] There will be many types of metaverses, and video games are one of them, for example. […] We’ll see this overlay, a metaverse overlay if you will, into our physical world.” – on when and how a metaverse will become real.
  6. “You need that blockchain to have some fundamental value, and that fundamental value could be mined. Cryptocurrency is going to be here to stay. Ethereum might not be as hot as it is now. In a year’s time, it may cool down some. But I think crypto mining is here to stay.” – on the future of crypto mining and blockchain networks.
  7. “I believe that there will be a larger market, a larger industry, more designers and creators, designing digital things in virtual reality and metaverses than there will be designing things in the physical world. […] The economy in the metaverse, the economy of Omniverse, will be larger than the economy in the physical world. Digital currency, cryptocurrency, could be used in the world of metaverses.” – on his vision for the omniverse that Nvidia is developing.
  8. “My sense is that we’re welcome in China and we’ll continue to work hard to deserve to be welcome in China, and every other country for that matter.” – on whether the Chinese government will step in and regulate Nvidia’s work on artificial intelligence.
  9. “One of the most important technologies that we have to build, for several of them – in the case of consumers, one of the important technologies is AR, and it’s coming along.” – on the development and accessibility of augmented reality.
  10. “This is the largest market opportunity the IT industry has ever seen. I can understand why it inspires so many competitors. We just need to continue to do our best work and run as fast as we can.” – on the future of the graphics processing unit industry and the competition within it.
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These green tech companies are planning to capitalize on President Biden’s infrastructure plan – here’s how

Virgin hyperloop test site
Inside Virgin Hyperloop’s new test facility in West Virginia.

  • Biden’s infrastructure plan could create growth opportunities for many sustainable tech companies.
  • The proposal calls for a $2 trillion commitment to clean energy, roads, bridges, transit, and more.
  • Virgin Hyperloop, Sealed, and CityZenith stand to benefit, but Depcom Power isn’t quite convinced.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Virgin Hyperloop cofounder Josh Giegel saw the Biden Administration’s infrastructure proposal, he couldn’t help but think some details sounded familiar. The American Jobs Plan calls for “the second great railroad revolution” – trains that are faster, cleaner, and more energy-efficient, which is the kind of technology Giegel’s California-based company has been working on since 2014. As such, Giegel has little doubt the company will be able to capitalize on America’s push toward greener infrastructure.

“At the end of this decade,” he said, “I think we’ll be talking about the decade of Hyperloop.”

Read more: Meet the architects building multimillion-dollar underground bunkers for the ultra-rich, complete with secret bookcase doorways and robot security

It’s still early days for the infrastructure plan, but Virgin Hyperloop is one of many tech companies well-positioned to capitalize on it. The proposal, which will need approval from the Senate and House before it can be signed into law, calls for a $2 trillion commitment to clean energy projects, roads and bridges, transit systems, agriculture, and home and building upgrades, among other initiatives. Companies in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to construction all stand to benefit.

“The private sector will play an essential role in this,” said climate economist Gernot Wagner, associate professor at New York University and coauthor of “Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet.” “This is about incentivizing, motivating, and providing the money for private contractors and private businesses to come and build.”

For its part, Virgin Hyperloop has been pushing to get its high-speed, magnetic levitation rails built in the US since it began as Hyperloop One in a Los Angeles garage seven years ago. The startup rebranded after Richard Branson invested and joined its board in 2017. Last November, the company held its first passenger test when Giegel and a colleague rode in a Hyperloop pod within a vacuum-sealed tube. Virgin Hyperloop has held discussions with local governments about potential routes like Seattle to Portland and Chicago to Pittsburgh.

Giegel said a fully constructed Hyperloop will be able to travel at the speed of an aircraft, with a 10th of the energy consumption. One railway in each direction could move as many people as a 30-lane highway – with a fraction of the carbon emissions, given that the system runs on electricity.

“We have an opportunity now for a seismic change,” said Giegel. “We can make decisions now that we’ll benefit from in the 2060s and 2070s and beyond.”

Greenhouse effect

Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for upgrading four million buildings and two million homes to make them more energy-efficient. Lauren Salz, cofounder and CEO of New York City-based Sealed, hopes her company would benefit from the legislation. Sealed uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to calculate savings to a potential client’s utility bill based on factors like geographic location, size, and age of the home. If an upgrade makes financial sense, the company hires contractors to perform the work, which can include sealing leaks and installing new HVAC systems, smart thermostats, and energy-efficient LED bulbs. There’s no cost to the homeowner, and Sealed keeps the cost of the energy savings.

Sealed currently operates in New York State and is looking to expand soon. The infrastructure plan might necessitate that. “Private-public partnerships are definitely a possibility with this bill,” said Salz. “If that opportunity arose, and if it made sense for us and our customers, we’d definitely be interested.”

Even if no such deals come to fruition, Salz points out that having home-efficiency upgrades included in the plan should give the industry momentum. “There’s been a lack of awareness around how important energy efficiency is, particularly in the residential market,” said Salz. “It’s pretty exciting that it’s making it into the national discussion.”

Jump-starting growth

Construction firms will be sure to get a boost from new infrastructure legislation – as will tech companies that specialize in various aspects of the building process. Chicago-based software company CityZenith builds digital twins of physical spaces, allowing engineers and politicians to study proposed and in-progress projects to see how certain materials and features would impact the project’s carbon footprint and energy usage. The firm is currently working with the organizers of a new sports and entertainment district in Orlando and the 2030 District in New York City, a set of neighborhoods being outfitted with renewable energy and more sustainable design.

CityZenith founder Michael Jansen thinks the Biden proposal would be a boon for business. “We expect to get a lot of different types of work out of this,” he said. “The plan affords a lot of opportunities for projects that address climate change. It’s bold – and right now, the nation needs bold.”

Not all green tech entrepreneurs agree. Johnnie Taul, CEO of Scottsdale, Arizona-based solar power plant company Depcom Power, which claimed the No. 5 spot on the 2018 Inc. 500 and expects to hit $1 billion in annual revenue by next year, isn’t encouraged. “From what I’ve seen of the plan, I don’t have any positive takeaways,” he said. Taul doesn’t believe the government should play a role in helping certain industries grow, even if his industry is one that stands to benefit. He has a different idea for how to ensure the solar industry continues its growth.

“Lowering taxes,” he said. “It allows good businesses like ours to hire more, innovate more.”

NYU’s Wagner thinks it isn’t so simple, especially when something like climate change is at stake. “If you want the outcome that’s best for society and best overall, there is a very real role for government to play,” he said, adding that he believes Biden’s plan will have a positive overall impact on the private sector. “Investing money in green infrastructure creates jobs.”

Wagner notes that entrepreneurs in any industries potentially impacted by the plan should take the time now to ensure they’re ready if it’s passed. If you’re a roofer, for example, make sure you know how to install solar panels, but also know what permits and certificates you need, how to deal with local utility companies, how to talk with customers about pricing, and what you’ll need to do to potentially earn a government contract.

“It’s better to climb that learning curve now rather than later,” said Wagner. “There’s a lot of specialized learning involved and a lot of companies looking to take advantage of this plan.”

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Tesla ‘under review’ by California DMV over whether it misleads consumers with ‘full self-driving’ claims

Elon Musk
  • California’s DMV is probing whether Tesla’s “self-driving” claims broke state law, the LA Times first reported.
  • Tesla calls its $10,000 driver-assistance software “full self-driving” – it is not.
  • Amid a number of Tesla crashes, the technology is coming under increasing scrutiny.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is looking into whether Tesla illegally misleads consumers with its claims about its “full-self driving” technology, the LA Times reported Monday and Insider confirmed.

“DMV has the matter under review,” a DMV spokesperson told Insider. “The [state] regulation prohibits a company from advertising vehicles for sale or lease as autonomous unless the vehicle meets the statutory and regulatory definition of an autonomous vehicle and the company holds a deployment permit.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla’s FSD technology, which customers can add to their vehicles for $10,000, gives the vehicle the capability to change lanes, adjust speed, and complete some other maneuvers without assistance from the driver.

It does not make the car fully autonomous, however, according to widely accepted engineering standards, and Tesla’s own website.

But the company, and specifically CEO Elon Musk, have repeatedly made ambitious promises about FSD’s capabilities, only to subsequently push back the timing of new features and tout the claimed safety benefits.

Tesla has faced scrutiny over its driver-assistance features for years. But regulators and lawmakers have been taking an even closer look following Tesla allowing a small group of drivers to test a beta version of its newest FSD features.

The beta sofware has been at the center of several fatal crashes and high-profile traffic violations in recent weeks, prompting inquiries from lawmakers. Yet the company plans to roll out the software more widely even as videos posted by customers continue to show bugs that could pose major risks.

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Elon Musk trumpeted self-driving cars, joked about vampires, and recalled a USB-cable hunt on Tesla’s earnings call. Here are the 11 best quotes.

elon musk
Elon Musk.

  • Elon Musk discussed AI, clean energy, and production headaches on Tesla’s earnings call.
  • The Tesla CEO also mentioned fossil-fuel taxes, vampires, and USB cables.
  • Scroll down for Musk’s 11 best quotes from the call.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made several bold predictions, trumpeted the power of clean energy, and bemoaned the difficulty of mass production during the electric-vehicle company’s first-quarter earnings call on Monday.

The self-proclaimed “Technoking of Tesla” also touched on vampires, USB cables, self-driving cars, energy taxes, and World War II, according to a transcript on Sentieo, a financial-research site.

Here are Musk’s 11 best quotes, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

1. “More likely than not, Model Y will be the best-selling car or truck of any kind in the world in 2022.”

2. “There’s no question in my mind that with a pure-vision solution, we can make a car that is dramatically safer than the average person.” – asserting that a self-driving car, guided by multiple cameras that process images at superhuman speed, will be safer than a human-controlled car.

3. “Long term, people will think of Tesla as much as an AI robotics company as we are a car company, or an energy company.”

4. “I just love that they call it vampires.” – commenting on “vampire drain,” the term for electric batteries losing charge when not in use.

5. “You can actually power the entire United States with roughly a 100-mile grid of solar. It’s entirely possible to power all of Earth with a small percentage of Earth’s area.”

6. “Why don’t we do it? The energy basis of the earth is gigantic, super-mega-insanely gigantic. So you can’t just go and do 1 zillion terawatts overnight. You’ve got to build the production capacity for the battery cells, for the solar cells. You’ve got to put that into vehicles. You’ve got to put that into storage packs. You’ve got to put that into solar panels and Solarglass Roofs, and you’ve got to deploy all this stuff.”

7. “We should tax energy that we think is probably bad and support energy we think is probably good, just like cigarettes and alcohol, versus fruits and vegetables.”

8. “Prototypes are trivial, they’re child’s play. Production at large scale with higher liability and low cost – insanely difficult. Myself and many others at Tesla had to basically have several aneurysms to get this done.”

9. “What Tesla achieved on the automotive side was not to create an electric car. The truly profound thing on the car side is that Tesla was the first American car company to achieve volume production of a car in 100 years and not go bankrupt.”

10. “We’ve had production stop because of carpet in the trunk. We’ve had production stop because of a USB cable. At one point, for Model S, we literally raided every electronics store in the Bay Area. For a few days there, nobody could buy a USB cable in the Bay Area because we went and bought them all to put them in the car.” – describing how a shortage of one minor component out of 10,000 can halt production entirely.

11. “We’re talking millions of cars, a massive global supply chain, 50 countries, dozens of regulatory regimes. Solving those constraints and logistical problems makes World War II look trivial. I’m not kidding.”

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Members of Google’s ethical AI team reportedly complained about harassment and bias years before being fired

Timnit Gebru
Timnit Gebru was ousted from Google in December 2020.

  • Google’s former lead AI ethics experts reportedly raised complaints of harassment years before being fired.
  • Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell flagged bullying and misconduct in 2018, Bloomberg reported.
  • Google said some of the accounts were inaccurate and that it investigated harassment allegations thoroughly.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Two of Google’s most prominent researchers into AI ethics had flagged issues around sexual harassment and bullying long before they were fired from the company, Bloomberg reported.

Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, once chief AI ethicists at the tech giant, made headlines when they were ousted from the company in December 2020 and February this year respectively.

According to Bloomberg, the pair raised a number of concerns with senior management over the behavior of some colleagues in 2018, years before they were themselves kicked out.

Bloomberg outlined a litany of complaints by the pair to senior figures within Google.

In one instance, Gebru reportedly informed her superiors that a colleague, whose identity remains undisclosed, had previously been accused of sexual harassment at another company. Google said that it subsequently opened an investigation.

According to the report, both Gebru and Mitchell told the firm’s AI chief Jeff Dean about this colleague’s past behavior. They also discussed their fears of gender disparity among senior employees, including a “pattern of women being excluded and undermined” on the AI research team, and a number of women employees being assigned lower roles than less-qualified men.

The allegations came in mid-2018, just as new details of sexual misconduct allegations against former Android chief Andy Rubin emerged, which prompted a walkout staged by almost 20,000 Googlers worldwide. Rubin has denied all allegations of misconduct against him.

“I did not go into it thinking this is a great place,” Gebru said in an interview with Bloomberg.

“There were a number of women who sat me down and talked to me about their experiences with people, their experiences with harassment, their experiences with bullying, their experiences with trying to talk about it and how they were dismissed.”

However, Dean reportedly pushed back against the idea there was any systemic misogyny within the team, but subsequently announced a new research project led by the alleged harasser. Dean reportedly fired this person a short time later, in June 2019, citing “leadership issues “.

Gebru and a number of her co-workers are said to have reported other instances of workplace misconduct, bullying, and obstructive behavior among leadership.

In early 2020, around nine months before she was fired, Gebru says she wanted to examine a dataset publicly released by Waymo, Google’s sister self-driving vehicle company, to see if there was any difference in the way its AI detected skin color.

Bloomberg reported that the project was obstructed by months of internal “legal haggling”, resulting in Gebru and her team abandoning the project.

Waymo didn’t comment on the project directly, but a spokesperson told Bloomberg the company uses “a range of sensors and methodologies to reduce the risk of bias in our AI models.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell claims she had been denied a promotion while at Google due to “nebulous complaints to HR about her personality.”

Google told Bloomberg that it found no evidence that a HR employee had used those words to describe her.

The company pushed back against claims it had ignored allegations of harassment and said some of the reported accounts were inaccurate.

“We investigate any allegations and take firm action against employees who violate our clear workplace policies,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “Many of these accounts are inaccurate and don’t reflect the thoroughness of our processes and the consequences for any violations.”

Earlier this month, Alphabet investor Trillium Asset Management called on Google to introduce better protections for whistleblower employees.

The firm, which reportedly owns around $140 million worth of Alphabet stock, filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company to better workers that speak out against their managers.

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+447801985586) or email (mcoulter@businessinsider.com). Reach out using a non-work device.

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Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud for innovation investment, according to the latest Transforming Business poll

GettyImages 1211566430
Contactless payment with facial recognition technology.

  • Cloud and AI top the list of innovation investments by companies according to the latest Transforming Business poll.
  • Companies are still figuring out all the applications of these technologies.
  • Racial and gender biases in AI applications are issues no company can ignore.
  • Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud as key investment targets as they strive to innovate and drive growth into the future, according to the most recent Transforming Business poll.

Actionable data insights are a key outcome for these applications. “Many businesses are looking to streamline their operations and make them more efficient, as well as find new insights and connections in their data,” said Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at eMarketer. “They are turning to AI to help them achieve competitive advantage.”

While it might seem like AI and cloud are ubiquitous and widely utilized, companies are still figuring out all the ways it can change their business. Laura Urquizu, CEO of Red Points and one of the 100 People Transforming Business in Europe, wrote in an article for Insider that AI and machine learning had vastly improved customer experience by creating more personalized shopping experiences and increasing brand loyalty.

But the insights available via tools like AI and the cloud can do much more than some companies have figured out. “No matter how important customer experience is, however, it is a mistake to believe it is the only operational area that can (and should) be transformed using technologies like these,” Urquizu wrote. “The efficiency of your internal operations – your support team, supply chain, production, inventory, quality control, human resources, and so on – can all benefit from applying AI and ML technologies.”

The opportunities vary by industry, of course, and the global pandemic has created opportunities to put AI to the test as never before. BenevolentAI, whose CEO Joanna Shields is one of this year’s Transformers, used its technology to analyze vast quantities of scientific research, ultimately surfacing a drug treatment that has been used to treat moderate-to-severe COVID patients.

“One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that it has united science and tech for good, accelerating data-sharing agreements and encouraging the open publication of research results.” Shields told Insider. “This new environment of collaboration has provided a glimpse of the beginnings of a more open and adaptable R&D model that can accelerate the delivery of innovative and life-changing outcomes for patients.”

Innovation has not come without problems, however. AI applications have come under fire, demonstrably shown in some cases to reflect racial and gender bias in hiring tools, and voice and facial recognition.

Tech companies and their customers are under pressure to address these injustices with a appropriate urgency.

“[Businesses] must find a way to provide AI with the right data inputs, and give it instructions to behave in the most ethical way possible, ignoring and unfolding historical biases and to be confident in leaving the business’ past behaviors behind,” Michael Feindt, a 2020 Transformer and strategic advisor at Blue Yonder, a digital fulfillment and supply chain solutions provider, wrote for Insider.

It is possible, Feindt said, to apply these tools to actually combatting discrimination and inequity.

“Simply put, it’s down to us whether AI is a force for good or a force for bad. If you can provide it with data and instructions that are designed to shape the world in a certain way, AI will do that,” Feindt wrote. “So if businesses are willing to put in the time and effort to set things on a fairer course, AI can set about fighting discrimination and injustice.

This SurveyMonkey Audience poll targeted individuals who work in a management capacity at their company according to the Audience panel. They included respondents from Hong Kong (n=50), Singapore (n=50), The United States (n=207), Canada (n=104), France (n=52), the United Kingdom (n=51), Germany (n=50) and India (n=50), with local translations in Germany and France. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected total of 614 respondents March 3-4, 2021.

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An AI-powered version of Albert Einstein has joined UneeQ’s growing lineup of ‘digital humans’

Digital Einstein image 7
UneeQ’s virtual version of Albert Einstein.

  • UneeQ’s virtual version of Albert Einstein is among its latest batch of ‘digital humans.’
  • A digital COVID-19 health advisor and doppelgänger of a famed banker are also available.
  • Virtual companions could solve feelings of isolation and loneliness, the company says.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The latest virtual companions created by UneeQ, a New Zealand and Austin-based company specializing in “digital humans,” include an Albert Einstein chatbot.

The launch was timed to mark the 100th anniversary of his Nobel Prize in Physics. You can talk to Einstein via UneeQ’s website and he will answer back in his own special way.

According to its website, UneeQ’s mission is to revolutionize customer experiences with AI-powered ambassadors.

The German mastermind is not the only personality users can engage with on the firm’s website. UneeQ’s range companions also include a COVID-19 health advisor named Sophie and a version of Daniel Kalt, UBS’ chief economist.

Danny Tomsett, UneeQ’s CEO, said in a statement: “As part of our new Companions series, Digital Einstein, among other digital humans, can communicate with people in a way that comes most naturally – using conversation, human expressions, and emotional responses to best provide daily interactions that we hope make a difference in people’s lives.”

Here’s how some of its companions stack up.

Digital Einstein

The AI experience was created in conjunction with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Greenlight, who provided Einstein’s likeness including, his voice, image, and mannerisms, the company stated in a press release.

You can talk to Einstein about a variety of topics through his daily quiz, or chat about his life’s work and research. Insider asked him a bunch of questions, including whether the Earth was flat. “Of course the Earth is not flat. Don’t be ridiculous,” he answered.

We were also curious to know his views on COVID-19 vaccines but his response was evasive: “Let’s hope sooner rather than later we will have some form of resolution and normal life. Please be safe, stay healthy, and give your loved ones a hug as much as possible,” he said.

He, naturally, spoke with authority on the theory of relativity but was not able to answer more ponderous questions on how he thinks history has judged him. He simply replied: “Sorry, I didn’t understand what you said.”

Sophie

Launched in April 2020, Sophie is very much a product of our times. The digital companion was created to converse with users about the most common questions surrounding COVID-19.

The company said it used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organisation to launch Sophie as a public health advisor.

She is able to update users on the latest news and guidance around the pandemic, while also providing real-time advice on ways to stay safe based on credible sources of information.

Users of many dialects can converse with Sophie, since she is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Japanese, and more.

In terms of her personality, Sophie was designed to be empathetic, friendly, and non-judgemental.

Daniel Kalt

Uneeq’s website shows a range of companions it has created for large companies. Among these is the digital doppelganger of UBS’s chief economist, Daniel Kalt.

Kalt’s chatbot was developed for the bank’s Swiss arm to help people find the crucial banking and finance information they need.

According to the company, Kalt is able to draw on a deep trove of UBS’s financial forecast data and present insights to high-wealth clients “face to face.” Like Sophie, he is available at any time of day to have a personalized conversation with users.

Helpful heroes or fairweather friends?

There is clearly potential for this type of technology but it’s unclear at this stage whether “digital humans” can fully live up to expectations.

The world is facing an undeniable mental-health crisis, including a significant rise in anxiety and depressive conditions.

On the one hand, AI-powered pals are unlikely to be any kind of substitute for the appropriate treatment of serious mental-health conditions. But on the other hand, they could at least provide a bit of cheer and lightness for those facing prolonged isolation during the daily gloom of an ongoing pandemic.

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A Kellogg marketing professor explains how to use AI and analytics to grow your business

data worker
Many companies can improve how they analyze their industry’s market data.

  • Leaders should develop a working knowledge of data science to help their businesses grow.
  • It’s important to build on the success of teams that are already solving specific problems using AI.
  • Data and analytics can also show business leaders what consumers are likely to want to purchase.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If you pushed a shopping cart down a grocery aisle in the summer of 2013, you might’ve noticed a curious new snack: Watermelon Oreos. Perhaps you even reached for a package.

The limited-release flavor, alas, was not long for this world. But the data that was collected on who did and didn’t purchase it has led to some lasting insights. Namely, a team of researchers led by Kellogg marketing professor Eric Anderson discovered a segment of customers with highly unusual – and highly unpopular – tastes. If these customers purchase your new product, the researchers found, it is likely to fail.

This insight is as useful as it is unexpected. “The failure rate of new products is incredibly high. It’s hard to know, is a product going to succeed or is it going to fail?” said Anderson. Knowing that some purchases, which normally signal success, actually signal the opposite could be helpful for firms as they develop market-research strategies, or decide when to discontinue a product.

But insights like these require thinking broadly about your entire business, rather than focusing on a narrow silo. They then require collecting and analyzing a lot of data. And today, most companies simply are not up to these tasks.

“One of the big challenges for companies today is that you have processes for nearly everything. You have a process for … financial reporting, for managing a supply chain, for dealing with marketing. But if you go back and ask yourself, ‘Do we have a well-established process for doing AI and analytics in the company?,’ the answer most places is no,” said Anderson.

Instead, many companies develop an ad hoc approach to using artificial intelligence and analytics to solve individual problems – which limits the impact, making it unlikely that these tools will ever transform the company’s culture, or be used to drive its most critical decisions.

During a recent The Insightful Leader Live event, Anderson, who is also director of the new MBAi program, offered advice for leaders who want to develop an analytics and AI process robust enough to make a real difference in their business.

Develop a working knowledge of data science

The first step to success, he said, falls to leaders, who must develop a working knowledge of data science.

“This does not mean that you are a data scientist,” he clarified. While leaders don’t need to build their own algorithms, they do need to sufficiently familiarize themselves with analytics and AI to be able to gauge whether the data is being collected and interpreted correctly, and to understand the business problems that these tools are best equipped to address.

“You would never be caught dead saying I don’t know anything about finance, but I’ve got this really smart CFO that knows everything about finance,” said Anderson. The same should also be true of data science. “You can’t make the right investment decisions until you know a little more about the science.”

Data-savvy leaders also need to know enough to, well, actually lead their data science teams, and elicit the information they need from those teams to make smart decisions.

“Do you have the resources to succeed here? Tell me more about how this is going to lead to an impact in my organization. Tell me how this AI and analytics you’re proposing is deeply connected to my strategic priorities and is going to deliver on those priorities,” said Anderson. “You have to have the confidence to ask those probing questions.”

Support communication between business leaders and data scientists

Along these lines, Anderson explained that it is critical for business leaders and data scientists to learn to talk to one another.

Data scientists are often trained using clean, simplified data, or by working on proof-of-concept projects. But real-world projects are far more complex, involving lots of people, processes, and of course meetings and discussions.

“So data scientists need to become much better at communication with non-technical experts to overcome some of these hurdles,” said Anderson.

For their part, business leaders need to make sure that these discussions with their data scientists occur using a common language and framework so that everyone is clear about goals and expectations.

Don’t mess up what’s working

“In almost every big company we work with, there are pockets” of analytics success, said Anderson. “Don’t mess up what’s working.”

Instead, he suggested building on that success, and allowing that team to stretch itself to solve specific problems in other parts of the organization. Then, expand the team with those specific problems in mind. If you care about, say, predicting how a product will fare based on who purchases it, you’ll want to bring in a computer scientist who is an expert in predictive analytics. If you care about influencing customers’ behavior, on the other hand, you might bring in a social scientist who is trained in running A/B tests.

“If you start with problems, you can identify what your needs are and hire against them,” said Anderson.

Even smaller companies can follow a similar playbook. Thanks to the proliferation of online AI and analytics training, getting existing employees up to speed on these skills is a real possibility.

“If you want to get skilled up, it’s not impossible to do,” he said.

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