FUTURE OF WORK #5 INTERVIEW | 5 RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS
During the recent hype, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been labelled everything from miraculous to apocalyptic. Many companies have seen a jump in their valuations simply by slipping in that little acronym.
But what we haven’t seen (thus far), are enough real-world examples of AI changing the face of an industry. Yet in the world of fashion, Mad Street Den is aiming to do just that.
Ashwini Asokan spent over a decade designing products for the likes of Intel Labs in Silicon Valley. She then moved home to India and founded Mad Street Den with her neuroscientist husband, Dr Anand Chandrasekaran.
Bloomberg even named them one of the ‘50 Most Promising Startups You’ve Never Heard Of.’
In this interview, we discuss AI’s potential in the retail space (by harnessing the Vue.ai stack) and the workplace. Ashwini shares her thoughts on where the technology currently stands — and extrapolates it into the future.
1. What is the most exciting thing you’re working on at Mad Street Den at the moment?
We’re building AI that can see the world like we humans do, visually. And we’re focusing on applying that in the retail industry.
With our AI, we enable the retail industry to reimagine what Retail could look like if we unified all the Retail data that is generated and flowing across merchandizing, warehousing, product digitization, on-site, marketing channels and more.
And then we took that data and fed it back into the experiences we design for people across the globe, at stores, on sites, across social channels, helping people make meaningful decisions relating to what they need in their lives.
Our Computer Vision platform and products help generate data from all visual imagery, products and many more sources that the Retail industry produces.
This enables the creation of exciting new digital experiences for people across the world.
2. The future of AI is a topic that seems to polarize people. What’s your outlook for AI?
We’re at peak AI today. There’s so much noise — like in any industry that’s starting to take off.
People at the receiving end of this are scared. People at the creation end of this are aggressive. The topic of killer robots and the robots taking over humans is around all day. We’re far from that.
With AI, machines will get better and better at doing what we do as their capacity to perceive, learn about and understand the world around them improves. But for now, they’re pretty much purpose-built to help humans with tasks that are repetitive and time-consuming.
The human brain and our society are far more complex and we’re not going to surpass this overnight.
What we need to do now, is to start thinking about how we’re going to lay the foundations for the type of world we want to live in. We’re going to live alongside all kinds of AI in the future. We’re not preparing for it by scaremongering.
3. How can AI and machine learning be used to enhance the workforce/workplace?
AI is incredibly useful in helping us with time-consuming, repetitive tasks that are more tactical in nature.
This will help employees focus on tasks that are more linked to the long-term strategic goals, and also allow them to focus more on the business while leaving the more mundane tasks to the machines.
With the large amount of data at their disposal, AI and machine learning will also help us make better decisions by presenting it in a form that is easier to understand.
In fact, a recent Gartner study estimates that by 2020, AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, which actually exceeds the 1.8 million that it would wipe out!
There’s going to be a shift in what’s important in the coming 100 years. And there’s going to be pain. We’ll need to think carefully about how we can all use AI to enhance what we do.
On the other hand, we’ll need policymakers and builders of AI to think carefully about what we want automated, the effects of that and how to prepare for that systemically.
4. What is the biggest misconception that people have about AI?
That we can’t do anything about the fact that AI is the enemy. We often forget that we’re the ones building it.
Turning the rhetoric to focus on AI as opposed to how we’re building it, is doing no one any good and it’s certainly not changing the ‘Black Mirror’ scenarios playing out in front of us already.
We need to stop making it about killer robots and start focusing on the process and the people charting this path.
5. What’s your vision for the Future of Work?
Using artificial intelligence in the workplace will create a better, and more seamless employee experience, one that is nimbler and more user-driven.
This will mean that the desired skill sets will change eventually. This could also mean an addition of new job roles that could transform employee experience or journey in an organization.
Artificial intelligence will complement human abilities and skillsets and will, in turn, improve the productivity of many jobs.
I hope schools and academia start working backwards from the point where the world is filled with all kinds of AI. Then our children and the future workforce will have abilities that are going to help us live alongside AI in a meaningful way.