Diversity is Key to Eradicate Implicit Bias in AI Solutions

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The age of digitalization is upon us. We find stories of the impact technological advances are having–and will have on our lives, our work, and our futures–everywhere. And truly, diversity is key to eradicate implicit bias in AI solutions and technology in general.

The term implicit bias refers to the process by which our brains notice patterns and make generalizations based on observations and experiences. We often refer to this process as stereotyping and our brains do this, unconsciously, all the time. For each of us, our unconscious, or implicit, biases play a role in how we understand the larger world around us.

But, are we considering the role implicit biases will play in the development of this technology?

“This tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair,” write Keith Payne, Laura Niemi, and John M. Doris, for Scientific American.

“We all bring unconscious biases into the workplace,” writes Laura Berger. “These deeply subconscious attitudes span race, gender, appearance, age, wealth and much more. They influence everything from the car you drive to the employee you promote and the one you don’t. And because they are so reflexively triggered without our knowledge, they are virtually unconcealable.”

So as we contemplate our futures, I find myself wondering about this. Who is monitoring the unconscious biases held by those developing the technological solutions to tomorrow’s societal problems?

If we are not already discussing this, we need to start. Today.

AI in L&D: Benefits and concerns

An example of our increasing reliance on technology in L&D is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). My colleague, Annika von Redwitz, and I are keenly aware of the stated benefits of using AI in learning and development. As we see it, the impact of AI on L&D has the potential to disrupt the delivery of corporate learning in the future.

However, while we envision much good to come out of this, we both share concerns about the implicit biases programmers may be imparting to the technology they develop for L&D.

Why? Learning and development are critical to any company’s success today. And, to be successful L&D must prepare leaders, train managers, inspire employees, develop great communicators, promote diversity, and ensure teams are high-performing. According to PwC, by the 2030’s, 38 percent of all U.S. jobs could be replaced by AI and automation.

“Many people say AI will get ‘smarter’ over time as it is used,” writes Annika in a recent article we co-authored for “Training Industry.” “Of course, this is true, but we need to make sure the recognition software doesn’t inhibit creativity or reinforce thinking patterns that may need to change – not unlike what can happen when internal trainers do all the training in organizations for their peers.”

Unconscious bias is our tendency to make mental shortcuts,” said Natalie Johnson, a partner at Paradigm, a firm that helps companies with diversity and inclusion. “While these shortcuts are helpful–they enable us to make decisions quickly–they can be prone to error. They can especially be prone to error when making decisions about people.”

Research published by Infosys in 2017 shows AI is perceived as a long-term strategic priority for innovation, with 76 percent of the respondents citing AI as fundamental to the success of their organization’s strategy, and 64 percent believing that their organization’s future growth is dependent on large-scale AI adoption.

“Tech companies have made big advances in terms of building artificially intelligent software that gets smarter over time and potentially makes life and work easier,” writes Michelle Cheng, for Inc. “But these examples reveal an uncomfortable reality about A.I.: even the most intelligent bots can be biased.”

Ideally, thanks to digitalization, we will all have more time to focus on people and human interaction. But, we need to remember, that human beings are developing technology like AI, each with implicit biases that impact the solutions they design.

Not only is is essential that diverse teams (of humans) work well together to develop those algorithms–it is imperative that we continue discussing how to manage the potential for problems caused by stereotypes and unconscious biases.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

How to Leverage AI Without Losing Humanity

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Artificial intelligence, or AI, is technology that learns, reasons, and self-corrects, and it’s being used by businesses to improve the customer journey. Automation, machine learning, machine vision, and natural language processing are the primary pillars of AI that companies can lean on to make their relationships with customers more personal. These processes include learning, which is the acquisition of information and the rules for using that information; Self-correction, which is the process of automatically finding and fixing errors; and reasoning, which is the process of using the rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions.

Consumers are optimistic about AI, and over half believe it will have a positive impact on their personal lives. Many are still learning what it is, but companies are already using it to help them. It’s used to detect and deter security intrusions in IT; to anticipate future customer purchases and improve recommendations and offers; to make financial trading easier, and to automate call distribution in customer service departments. In fact, automation is one of the most significant benefits of AI, as it frees employees’ time to do more critical, customer-centric tasks.

One example of using AI to help a business reach its customers is a Harley Davidson dealership in New York. With the power of AI, the dealership’s marketing campaigns increased sales and the number of leads. The firm tested its advertising and found that the word, “call” performed 447 percent better than ads containing the word, “buy.” Artifical intelligence evaluated what was working across digital channels, then used what it learned to create more opportunities for conversion. And, because of the data AI managed, the dealership needed to hire six additional employees to handle the new business.

The infographic below, from Salesforce, provides more information about how AI is being used today and how you can leverage the use of AI to increase sales, build business, automate rote tasks, and more–without losing your humanity.

A version of this guest post was first published on the Salesforce blog, via Salesforce.

It’s a Digital World. How to Keep the Human Touch Alive

Thanks to modern technology, and our digital world, we may have more time to focus on relationships.

These days, pretty much everywhere you turn, there’s talk of digitalization–in how we travel, the products we buy, and how we pay for those products. The trend is sweeping the world, many industries at a time. And with it, come a lot of fears.

Fears of security threats. Fears of machines replacing humans in the workforce. Fears of a loss of jobs. Some people are cynical, wondering if machines in this new digital world will be reliable as workforce partners to get the job done.

I spoke with Otto Schell, founder of The Diplomatic Council Otto Schell Institute for Digital Transformation, and he feels strongly, “We must remain open to digitalization as it is rapidly enveloping us. Humans need not fear exclusion by Artificial Intelligence (AI), but understand we need to harness it and engage proactively by setting and maintaining the economic and social governance for our co-existence.”

A Diversity colleague of mine, Annika von Redwitz, and I are very interested in understanding what digitalization will do to the way the workforce builds relationships and interacts with each other–particularly in a diverse, globalized, and multicultural world. We spoke about whether or not digitization will make human connectivity obsolete.

For her, the answer is no. Human connectivity may be even more critical.

Below are the highlights of our conversation.

Melissa: “Annika, what is digitalization exactly?”

Annika: “Today, many businesses are looking at transforming their organizations to stay competitive in a fast-changing market. They may be moving from a product-oriented to a service-oriented business model, or adding new online services to their existing products.”

Melissa: “So, it sounds like digitalization is a significant evolution from humans using technology as a tool to, now, programming machines to run the business autonomously. Is that what makes the concept unique today in your mind?”

Annika: “In the nineties, the concept of re-engineering came up and described how companies re-invented their business processes with the help of the Information Technology available at that time. A lot of manual work was automated, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems became the standard.

Today, we call this “digital transformation”–for example, the Internet of Things, connecting machines with each other, or Artificial Intelligence doing things humans would have otherwise done. But it is a more radical shift than in the last century.”

 

Melissa: “Annika, if our job is to help leaders and teams work with people more efficiently and effectively, will that even be needed in the future?”

Annika: “It won’t become obsolete. In fact, digitalization will offer new ways for human beings to interact with each other.

Ideally, thanks to modern technology, employees will have more time to focus on strategic and complex tasks. And, remember, robots are programmed by humans, so it is essential that diverse teams (of humans) work well together to develop those algorithms.”

Melissa: “So, it sounds like we may be needed more than ever! If humans don’t need to focus on machines and simple tasks they need to do using technology, all they’ll need to focus on is human interaction.”

Annika: That’s right.

Melissa: “If an organization is looking at digital transformation what are the first steps?”

Annika: “It depends on the size and age of the company. According to the book, Radical Business Model Transformation, traditional companies need to analyze their status quo and enable established products and services to co-exist with new offerings.”

By the end of our discussion, we had agreed, leaders need to establish “a corporate culture based on mutual trust, support, and curiosity. They need to be able to explain the vision and purpose of digitalization and keep positively communicating those goals.

In other words, never underestimate the power of good ol’ fashioned communication.

 

A version of this post was first published on Inc. 

Photo: 123RF.com

Taking Tech Companies Global

If you’re a tech company expanding outside of the US, you’re going to need more than a slick logo and a ping-pong table to make an impact. From not anticipating cultural differences to failing to research the market before expanding, hyper-growth organizations can’t always predict the challenges presented by taking the business multinational. If your company is considering global expansion, considering the tips below will go a long way to making your growth across borders both pleasant and profitable.

Don’t Rely Solely on Virtual Communication

It’s no secret that good social and cross-cultural communication skills are vital to successful virtual relationships. Unfortunately, many tech companies (and start-ups especially) are comprised of engineers, developers and other employees used to working autonomously and independently, often working out of their homes or remote offices.

Email is the default method of communication. And sometimes various chat functions are used.  But studies in managing virtual teams show that face-to-face communication is 10 times more effective than phone, and phone is 10 times more effective than email. This means that you must encourage phone, video conference and even face-to-face conversations when at all possible. Making it clear to your employees that you expect them to know each other as people, not just as email thumbnails, fosters a personal connection between your global workforce. Personal relationships don’t just make project work more effective – it also increases employee retention rates and promotes a global mindset for staff.

Product Development: One Size Does Not Fit All

Expanding your products or services globally is a lot trickier than many international tech companies anticipate. Standards and viewpoints we accept in the US may not be viewed so positively abroad. For instance, Facebook has run into privacy issues in other countries, from the amount of user data they collect to claims that the ‘Like’ button violates certain German laws.

China is a notoriously difficult country for US firms to expand into. LinkedIn is poised to become one of the few US tech companies allowed in this restrictive market, in part because it offers a service not well established in China: Business networking.

The solution: Care and attention to the local culture, customs and laws. Take the time to create relationships with local economic development agencies, chambers of commerce and other local tech companies. Talk through your business proposition with leaders to discover what cultural challenges you may run into, then create a global game plan. Having a trusted business leader on the ground during your global expansion will prevent easily-preventable conflicts through innovative solutions only available from a leader with intimate knowledge of the country into which you are expanding.

Internal Culture is As Important as External

Consider the business culture of the new market you’re entering and make sure your internal communications reflect it. In the US, business mixes personal and professional. Tech startups especially build their teams around passionate people who love what they do, love the company they work for and are happy to rally around and even celebrate a set of common values. Many Asian companies also embrace a close company culture and in some cases look at a firm as an extension of family.

In some European countries, however, you’ll be hard-pressed to drum up this type of workplace enthusiasm. Employees see it as a job, they’re happy to come work, happy to have success, but the concept of colleagues as family is foreign.

Management style and decision-making methods need to be considered as well. Tech companies place an emphasis on consensus building and crowdsourcing ideas from among their disparate experts. Managers must find the right balance between leading the team toward a goal while still allowing the experts to feel their contribution matters.

Work-Life Balance is a Myth (But we can try!)

Let’s admit it – there are workaholics in the tech industry. It’s the norm to work long days and sometimes all night to get things done. When you’re based in the US, with only US times zones to deal with, it’s not as much of an issue. But if you expand into Europe, where work-life balance is taken very seriously, all-nighters are anything but typical and a different approach is necessary.

An even more delicate balance exists in India, where a heavy US business presence means Indian employees often work crazy hours to keep up with the demand of US-based customers. Does this make work-life balance difficult? Yes – while workers complain about working long hours and being stressed because of it, the hours also make workers in India feel needed and valued. There is an international trend towards making work-life balance attainable, and that’s important for business leaders to consider when planning global expansion. Make sure you are prepared to manage expectations across your culturally diverse workforce as part of your global business plans. It’ll improve relationships and increase employee engagement.

Now that you know the trends I see with expanding tech companies, I’m curious to know what unique challenges you’ve faced with global expansion. Drop me a line at melissa.lamson@lamsonconsulting.com and let me know. With your permission, your story might be one of the ones featured in a future blog post.

The Intercultural Communication Challenges of Skype Meetings

The Intercultural Communication Challenges of Skype Meetings

My intercultural business clients often enlist my aid to help them improve their Skype meetings. They count on me to provide them with a unique perspective on intercultural communication and want to hear my views about why it is so difficult and dissatisfying for them. From my perspective, the difficulty and dissatisfaction of using Skype to conduct meetings in an intercultural context is not due to the most obvious reasons.

We all know there are technical issues. Depending on the speed of the connections, coupled with the video and audio capabilities of the webcams and microphones, the display and the audio can cut in and out, and can be difficult to hear or visualize. There can be maddening lags, freezes, crashes and any number of unexpected glitches, all of which play havoc with even the most carefully organized meetings. These are not a big issue when using Skype for conversations within our private lives. But even when things go perfectly on the technical side of things within a business context, there are issues that need to be addressed for ensuring successful intercultural meetings.

For example, every language has a tempo. By that I mean, how quickly people speak, how long a time they leave between one sentence and the next, and how long they wait before responding to someone else’s words, varies. In the French language there is typically a slight overlap at the end of a spoken sentence; the next speaker begins before the other has finished. In English, in North America at least, we pause slightly to signal that it’s the other person’s turn to speak. In the Japanese language there are substantially longer pauses between one speaker and another. Such subtle differences can be found in all languages.

This is what I call the tempo, or rhythm, of a language. When the French or Japanese speak English, they bring their rhythms with them. Anglophones who learn other languages maintain their native tempo, as well. I encounter this phenomenon every day with my intercultural clients, accustomed as I am to observing such things. So I can easily understand how these different rhythms cause problems during intercultural Skype meetings, because when there is even the smallest lag during such sessions, our rhythms get disrupted.

When you are speaking your native language, such things are easily overcome. However, when you’re speaking a foreign language, each time you face such a disruption you become distracted from what you were in the middle of saying or hearing. The larger the number of cultures participating in the Skype meeting, the more complicated it becomes. Why?

How Easily Can You Multitask in Your Mind?

What is rarely acknowledged is that when we are speaking our native languages, we are able to multitask in our minds. We listen easily, formulate what we are going to say next, think about what we’re going to have for lunch, generate opinions about the others around us, notice the air temperature in the room, and so on. So what’s another minor distraction like lag?

Simply this. When you are using a second language, it’s impossible to multitask in your mind to the same degree; you have to focus more on listening. So if you don’t hear part of a sentence, then understanding suffers. If you’re distracted by that lack of understanding, it’s then more difficult for you to formulate what you want to say next. And even if you are able to formulate what to say next, the rhythm you are used to is disrupted and you are unsure of when to add a comment or question.

Furthermore, even if you are able to make sense of the partial sentences you’re hearing, can formulate what to say next and jump in at just the right time, there’s the next trap waiting for you. This is the biggest stumbling block for many of my clients: you see yourself while speaking a foreign language. As one client candidly told me, “That is a sight I’d rather not see!”

It’s easier to convince yourself when speaking in person to others that your accent isn’t so bad and the way you form the unfamiliar sounds of a second language doesn’t look weird to your listeners. (Indeed, how many of you who speak a second language dislike leaving a phone message because you don’t want your voice to be recorded in English? I know I prefer not doing so in French.) When using Skype you have to watch yourself looking uncomfortable and unsure while trying to construct a coherent message in another language within a technically challenging context. Frankly, all of us have to have nerves of steel to get through it. As a result, many Skype meetings are conducted without any video. It’s common in such cases to use slow Internet connection speeds as an excuse. But I wonder when I hear that whether it’s not more about a sense of self dignity that we are trying to defend.

Skype is not the villain here. Instead, it simply amplifies things that all of us working within intercultural situations in a language other than our native one face every day. This can result in some uncomfortable conversations but as I say to my clients, “Discomfort goes with the territory.” In turn, they tell me what a relief it is to discuss these issues of difficulty and discomfort so openly. They are rarely discussed at the office, where everyone simply pretends to be confident and comfortable during such meetings, with varying degrees of success.

When this fact of intercultural business communication is finally out in the open, the burden of pretending is lifted. Suddenly everyone can agree about just how awkward it is to function effectively in a foreign language when using Skype. That openness inspires people to be more patient and helpful, and less judgmental of one another. A shift in attitude, along with improved intercultural communication skills, not just an improvement in technology, is what it’s going to take to meet the unprecedented challenges of communicating globally across cultures online.

This post first appeared on sherwoodfleming.com Sherwood Fleming is an intercultural communication seminar leader and author of Dance of Opinions.