Blog: Women Leading the AI Industry, “Develop your vision for the AI space.”
Develop your vision for the AI space. You need to have a clear idea of what you think the industry should look like before you can start effecting change. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get swept up in the day-to-day demands of the technology and miss out on real opportunities to influence the space for the better.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Snell, Vice President, Product Marketing, Verint Intelligent Self-Service. As both a visionary and a pragmatist, she translates the broad visions of technology leaders across the enterprise into actionable insights and purposeful solutions. She is a graduate of Washington State University and can usually be found either participating in water sports or skiing down a mountain.
Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
Quite simply, twelve years ago, I decided I wanted to be part of the future and something that will change everything. So I left my job in advertising to move on to teaching computers how to understand humans and take action from that. This was before Siri or Watson, there was — and still is — SGT. Star on GoArmy.com, created to understand humans in their own words so they can have a conversation and learn about Army life anytime they wanted. To me this was and continues to be thrilling, inspiring an entirely new way to think about design, experience, service and data. Because all of the sudden people are more open, raw and real. And I don’t think this concept has fully caught on yet with businesses — that people are more open and honest with a bot that does not judge them. This thick, rich data informs brands in a way no focus group ever could and it’s actionable. So when you combine the ability to serve people anytime, understand them in their own words and get smarter over time, you’ve got a powerful system that can transform and augment services in truly meaningful ways. And even though it’s been twelve years for me, I feel like we’re just getting started. It’s really very exciting.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
Trust yourself and do something that excites you. I think the other lesson is that you don’t have to have a degree in CS to work in this field.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
We’re developing a new approach to Natural Language Understanding and Natural Language Generation that leverages new IP to give enterprises the power of true cognition and intelligence orchestration in their AI deployments.
We’ve developed net new IP in the form of a machine-learning model that scores symbolic and statistical responses to queries in real-time and returns a real-time recommendation for which response an IVA should return. We start with hybrid natural language understanding. The decision model we’ve created takes the next step. It gets us from understanding to cognition, and it sets a new bar for conversational AI.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been really fortunate to have a multitude of key people throughout various stages of my career and I’m grateful for each of them. One in particular though had a profound impact in my career eight years ago, she was a brilliant, fearless force who challenged me to think bigger and that it doesn’t matter where you are, Silicon Valley or Spokane Valley, you can build a network, ignite the future, inspire change and disrupt. She passed away in 2014, but the small time we had together had a defining effect on me.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
- The hype of the past five years is finally giving way to level-headed analysis of the technology and strategic implementations.
- The industry has finally moved beyond the association between AI and speech recognition and is now focusing its efforts on natural language understanding. At Verint we’re focusing on NLF
- Enterprises have grown in their sophistication in handling big data, reducing some of the barriers to AI adoption but also ensuring that AI can achieve better results.
- In conversational AI, time to resolution used to be the most important KPI. Now we’re starting to see performance tied to actual revenue, either through sales, upsales, or more efficient customer journeys. This is where AI for the enterprise currently has an enormous amount of potential.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
- The general public has a lot of misperceptions about what AI is and what it can do. For example, AI is not the same thing as automation. So long as those misperceptions exist, the industry will struggle to build the necessary coalitions for innovation.
- AI has been VC fueled, but the funding is moving to the later stages already. This is alarming because a lot of the necessary innovation is being commercialized out of early stage research and very small upstarts of talented PhDs.
- The pipe dream of general AI continues to drain attention and resources from dramatically more effective and impactful forms of applied AI.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
Striking a balance between security and freedom is one of the fundamental challenges of democratic society.
I also believe that all of us are smarter than each of us, and that’s the case not only when it comes to intellectual reasoning but also when it comes moral reasoning.
I absolutely believe in the need for safeguards, and I strongly believe that the scientific community needs to develop these safeguards by consensus.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
A fearless, badass female mentor in my life once told me, “Your actions matter. Your words matter.” As I’ve grown in my career, her words have stuck with me and the reality that as a leader, what you say and what you do can have a great effect on the people around you. Which is why I focus on bringing positive energy, inspiring goodness especially in the workplace. Even if it’s just a smile and personalized hello, sounds small but I’ve been told it’s helped make some of their toughest days better. Better days lead to happier employees, which leads to happier customers. Everyone wins when you inspire happiness.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
- Resist the urge to conform to the tropes dominating the AI and technology industry.
- Build a network that enables you to consolidate power for causes that you believe in. The people surrounding you should be advocates for the same changes that you’d like to see made in the world.
- Develop your vision for the AI space. You need to have a clear idea of what you think the industry should look like before you can start effecting change. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get swept up in the day-to-day demands of the technology and miss out on real opportunities to influence the space for the better.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
Put the women already in the industry in leadership positions. Don’t tell me they are not qualified or need more experience. Do it now.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Maya Angelou. It’s such an important reminder that you are responsible for your happiness, you make the choice. There are things that you can change and things that you cannot, when working within constrained or complex environments don’t complain, keep moving forward and work hard, sometimes just changing your attitude will lead to a new perspective and idea for progress.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Every year it feels like we are making monumental progress when it comes to advances in AI and technology, but even so I know that the truly exciting developments are going to come from the next generation of technologists, researchers, and scientists. We need to make sure that this next generation includes their fair share of intelligent and encouraged women by supporting girls going into STEM now.
This movement is personal for me. I have two young daughters, and I try to encourage their curiosity about science and technology wherever and whenever I can. One still wants to be a soccer star instead of a scientist, but I’m not giving up yet.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us.