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TechBytes with Al Sporer, Executive VP and General Manager at Anexinet

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TechBytes with Al Sporer, Executive VP and General Manager at Anexinet

Hi Al, tell us how you prepare yourself for the disruptive world of technology?

That’s a loaded question…can you ever really prepare for the pace of change that happens?

I’ve had the opportunity to work in technology my whole career and it is amazing what has and hasn’t changed.

I think the best way to prepare is to be open to the fact that everything can and will be done better, faster, cheaper. Once you are open to that, you realize the things you thought were impossible yesterday could be a reality today.

From there, it’s all about anticipating what can be changed and leaning into innovation. Companies that resist disruption often suffer from a failure of imagination which creates a negative flywheel that is hard to recover from.

On the other hand, not every technology is a winner and you have to use critical thinking to evaluate new technologies and map them to the potential business outcome you are trying to achieve. Jumping on every bandwagon is just as disruptive as doing nothing.  When it comes to being prepared you have to really enjoy constantly learning and being a student of the industry.

Which specializations within AI are you most excited about?

The three areas that immediately excite me the most are Speech RecognitionNatural Language Processing, and Sentiment Analysis -especially when used together. All of us are familiar with Alexa, Siri, and the Voice controls in our cars. But this is just scratching the surface of what is possible when it comes to a natural interface and the applications of AI.

We learn to speak before we learn to write, and speech is still the easiest and quickest way for most of us to interact, but the language is complex and even today, it can be frustrating interacting with some of the common speech applications available today. Natural Language Processing has been around for a while, but we still need to provide complex training sets and detailed Machine Learning models to understand narrow topics.

Finally, trying to figure out sentiment and emotion creates another barrier to really being heard. Having first-hand experience developing applications that combine all three elements, I know there is a lot of promise but still work to do. Systems today still need to employ voice-to-text conversion, sentiment analysis, scoring, and visualization. We are still a ways off in doing this at scale and in real-time.

When we can, the applications for personal and business use will become really interesting.

Ways this could be used include: a customer service representative getting in-context feedback on a phone call, a financial planner getting proactive advice during a planning session with a client, or even a counselor getting augmented advice when helping a patient.  All of these applications are very possible and exciting to me.

E-commerce and B2C Marketing has used AI to merely automate mundane tasks and build bots for Customer Experience. Do you think these applications justify AI’s true potential in Marketing?

I think the current applications are a great start, but there is much more to come. Like my answer above, when it comes to e-commerce the goal of AI will not be to automate but to anticipate the next best action for a customer and take the friction out of the experience.

I’ll use my favorite mobile coffee app as an example. I get a lot of suggestions on the app itself but it doesn’t take the friction out where I need it the most, actually allowing me to safely mobile ordering when I’m driving. Every Saturday I finish at the gym and head to get coffee. I’m a little too far away to mobile order before I leave the gym but trying to use the app to order while driving is too dangerous.

Using AI to understand my behavior and taking the friction out of my journey would absolutely create a great experience and be valuable. Using AI to solve those types of use cases will create real value in the customer experience journey.

Apart from selling AI-as-a-Service to customers, what other ways do you think businesses should leverage AI and Intelligent automation to sustain growth?

People are the most valuable resource in every company and when they are doing low-value tasks it creates an innovation tax on the business. I’ll give an example where Intelligent automation could be used to drive growth.

In the Pharmaceutical industry, there is an important process called Adverse Event (AE) Reporting. AE’s must be monitored from multichannel interactions such as phone calls, emails, chatbots, social posts to name a few.  This is done via sampling and heavy use of the manual process. By using ML and automation, this process can scale up to include a much broader set of interactions, potential creating safer outcomes while reducing the number of false positives that currently must be reviewed today.  This is an example where ML has the potential to create safer outcomes while allowing companies to use valuable resources for higher-value tasks.

I think these are the types of problems Intelligent Automation will be able to solve and allow businesses the ability to unlock potential growth.

Is it safe to say that AI and Machine Learning development have finally outgrown their IT predecessors? Is it now an industry and a service in itself?

We are still in the early days of AI and ML. AI/ML tools and platforms have become much easier to integrate into broader use cases and every day there are more clearly defined spots to deploy ML and AI as a solution. Both large Cloud providers and small platform providers have created stand-alone services and the amount of functionality that has been added over the last 24 months is incredible.

But the implementation of AI and ML into business solutions, when compared to traditional methods, is still pretty low. We see great promise and some really good results, but I think we are just still scratching the surface of what we’ll coming into the market in the next 2 -3 years.

Coronavirus has resulted in a major slowdown of economies. How do you think technology can help slow down its rapid spread and revitalize economies back to any semblance of normalcy?

We’ve seen a lot of promising solutions that can help. We are currently working on a solution that will integrate thermal camera technology, facial/object recognition and mobile technology to enhance workplace safety. Coupling this type of solution with existing security features that create automated notifications, touchless access, and additional safeguards can help create a safer workplace environment for more people.

We also are seeing some really interesting solutions around Nanotechnology and Blockchain to create secure ways to share test results while letting individuals keep all of their personal health data private and secure. There is a fine line between public safety and personal privacy issues but finding a secure way to manage that balance can lead to a much safer environment for all of us.

AI, Blockchain, low-code DevOps, and RPA techniques are making a huge impact on the current tech markets. Where is the overall AI-ML market heading to in the next 4 years?

Going back to some of my answers above, I’m really excited about the advances that will be made in the Voice recognition areas and the ability to predict actions and outcomes.  A less obvious application will be in personal information security and the ability to control the sharing of personal information at a much finer grain detail. This will enable users of technology to opt into what level of automated service they want. This will not only impact B2C applications, but I’m very excited about how this can impact Healthcare and the control each person can have when interacting with providers.

The other area that is exciting to me is finding ways to include Augmented Reality into real-life use cases. That could be anything from field service technicians having access to enhanced repair manuals to next-level wearable technology that improves the performance of everyday activities from sleeping to sports.

Tell us more about the team you work with? What kind of skills and abilities does one need to be part of your technical Product development team?

As a strategy and product development firm we look for curiosity first and a deep passion for learning. Our team is composed of 4 major competencies. First, we have a very strong Strategy team that is incredible at ideation and translating business problems into technical solutions. Next, we have some of the best Designers in the industry that create the canvas for the products we build.

In parallel, we have an Architecture team that is always evaluating what makes sense and how to apply the best set of technologies to create long term benefits to our clients. Finally, we have a top-notch Engineering team that brings innovation into the market for our clients.

What is your opinion on the “Weaponization of AI technologies”? How do you promote your ethical AI ideas in the modern Digital economy?

There are two major areas to cover when it comes to Ethics and AI. The first and most obvious are bad actors. The second and more concerning are unintended consequences. In the first case, bad actors won’t go away and no amount of ethics will stop it.  The most practical solutions are strong security measures and strict enforcement.

With the global nature of technology, strong laws, and the will to enforce those laws become very important in creating a deterrent to those who choose to misuse technology. Without unintended consequences, we would be without a whole genre of movies and books.

Promoting innovation in a responsible way has to start with education and dialog. Living in an open society that can debate and freely talk about the effect those ideas could have on society is important. Without the free exchange of ideas and the willingness to understand and learn from each other only creates an environment where unintended consequences and compromised ethics will flourish.

I would turn the question around a little and say we should spend more time listening and learning and less time promoting our own ideas.

Any unique AI/emerging technology start-ups and labs that arouses your interest?

I’m really interested in the quantified self-movement (Wearable technology) from companies like Oura and the use of Nanotechnology for securing personal information from Quantum Materials.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read. 

Jay William, CTO at Quantum Materials and Mark Langsfeld, VP at Voicebase.

As Anexinet’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of Digital & Analytics Services, Al leads all customer-facing digital transformation efforts to enable a modernized customer experience.

With over two decades of experience building innovative technology services and adapting businesses to thrive amid evolving conditions, Al is a proven leader at delivering growth while aggressively managing bottom-line performance. Further, Al builds high-performance teams that generate and maintain strong customer relationships.

Technology has become the primary measurement of growth and success, stimulating enormous spending and profound user expectations in today’s business environment. As the region’s leading technology & digital solution provider, Anexinet has a pulse on the value that technology can provide to our clients. Our experts analyze, develop, recommend, deliver, and support technology & digital solutions that align with your business goals. We are a growing firm with experience & expertise across industries and technologies.

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