Dr. Bob Lindnerco-founder and chief scientist, Veda;
Too often in tech companies, the team members who actually build the brand’s products and services are shut out of the full business. This is not because their contributions are not appreciated. Conversely, there is a misconception that the work that developers and engineers do is too technical or “in the weeds” for employees in other departments to understand. While today’s technology solutions are quite complex, at the very least, every employee should have a level of knowledge about the company’s mission and how its products and services benefit customers. The question then becomes: “How do we engage and train our employees?” – which is difficult in startups as team members wear many hats and time is a limited commodity.
Something my company has found effective is incorporating training into existing meetings. We recently devoted a portion of our regular staff to a series called “Artificial Intelligence Explained.” While this initiative supports the development of our employees, it also fuels a deeper understanding of the AI landscape for our buyers and, ultimately, society. In the following paragraphs, I will delve into each of these areas and why technology leaders must act as educators.
Reason 1: Help employees become ambassadors for the company.
The goal of the “AI Explained” series is to equip our employees with fundamental knowledge about the industry and how our company’s solutions fit together. We discuss a variety of topics, ranging from simply defining AI and machine learning to reviewing the complexity of healthcare data. It is not a lecture but rather a discussion and there are no “dumb questions”.
This initiative is especially important to me because of the culture that my co-founder and I have intentionally created. We are an inclusive company that values outside perspectives. This means that some of our employees may not have healthcare expertise. others may not have experience with AI and automation. When recruiting, we prioritize intellectual curiosity, previous experience that translates, and above all, analytical thinking. We have complete confidence in our team’s ability to look under the hood and gain a deep understanding of both our business and our industry.
Everyone who joins the company plays a key role in fulfilling our mission, regardless of their title and department. Our employees give a lot and in return, it is important that they are supported in their learning efforts. Continuous training is ingrained in the company culture, and because of this, we watch our employees develop into ambassadors for the company and grow stronger over time.
Reason 2: Help customers understand what they’re buying and upgrade the industry.
My company is at the intersection of two spaces that are complex and full of jargon—healthcare and artificial intelligence. Even the best-intentioned technology vendors can unwittingly confuse prospects with an overuse of “insider talk,” preventing buyers from getting a 360-degree view of the technology solutions that address their problems. To be fair, there are also some vendors who deliberately obfuscate to cover up shortcomings in their technology.
Intentionality aside, AI is usually considered too complicated for non-techies. I can say with certainty that this is a misconception. Consider, for example, an analogy with cars. Most of us have a basic understanding of how brakes work, gas mileage, gears in a transmission, and even torque. Even if we have little interest in how cars work, we have gathered enough knowledge to make informed purchasing decisions and acquire a vehicle that meets our needs.
AI should be no different. Just as car manufacturers invest in educating car buyers, technology and automation solution creators need to educate companies to consider their solutions. Once a person understands a small set of key terms—training data, features, labels, scores, precision, and recall—they can have informed conversations about AI in today’s landscape. True education on what to look for and how to speak the same language across the board elevates the entire industry. In fact, in my book, any vendor who avoids a detailed explanation of their technology is suspect.
Reason 3: Increase wider societal understanding of AI to increase its use and value.
Most people today still think that artificial intelligence is the technology of science fiction movies, but in reality, artificial intelligence is already embedded in our everyday technology. Rideshare apps like Uber calculate wait times. Navigation apps like Google Maps take user-reported incidents like traffic and construction to estimate how long it will take to get to a destination. Even something as small as movie recommendations on Netflix are powered by AI recommendation algorithms. Despite the lack of widespread understanding of how it works, AI is always working behind the scenes, transforming our lives. But achieving the true positive transformative impact of AI won’t be possible until more people fully understand the technology.
Recently, a Google engineer was placed on paid leave after claiming that the company’s artificial intelligence had feelings. In fact, today’s AI isn’t even close to having emotions – it’s unaware that they exist. I imagine many people who read the Google engineer’s claims believed them. This brings me back to the value of our “AI Explained” employee series. Because our team has basic training in the current and future capabilities of AI, they can easily dismiss untrue claims. They can also share the knowledge with their friends and family. Finally, they may also go to business meetings anticipating that others may need this exact training. Anyone who teaches to dispel myths like “AI is sentient” can then spread this message.
If you notice, especially as you scale and grow your teams, that the fundamental knowledge of your particular technology is lacking, I highly recommend taking a similar training approach. You can be sure that it will help your employees, as well as improve understanding of buyers and contribute to a more sophisticated social understanding.