ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
“AI will open up new types of jobs … the demand for skill sets such as data science and machine learning is at an all-time high”
Artificial intelligence holds enormous potential, and also poses challenges. Data scientist Natalie Nguyen writes about her company’s role in the digital future, and why AI might improve our capacity for creativity.
Iam very into coding. I did my first real coding when I got a computer at 14. I was at school in Vietnam and my first project was writing a software program to help my school library manage their books. At university I became interested in information visualisation. We have so much information around us and as humans it’s becoming harder to comprehend this huge quantity of data. My work experimented with how information can be visualised and communicated in the most effective way to a large number of people who might have different backgrounds and experiences.
After university I worked as a data analyst. The main job of a data analyst is to find relevant insights in data and to communicate those to people in the business. Here, I found a large part of my work (and that of my peers) was tedious and manual. Whatever question I was asked to look at, I would have to write code, then analyse data, then produce charts and narratives to explain it, then put all that into a PowerPoint presentation and format it. This could take hours, or even days. In that entire cycle of work, it didn’t feel like there was enough time for actual problem-solving and creativity.
After meeting my co-founders, Kent Tian and Sam Zheng, we were compelled to solve this problem and started Hyper Anna in 2016. Hyper Anna is an AIpowered data analyst. You can interact with her by asking questions in plain language. She will also prompt you with proactive insights she thinks might be relevant to you. Instead of taking the days or weeks that a human data analyst might take, she takes a couple of seconds and can service hundreds or thousands of business users at scale. We work mostly with very large enterprises and governments, because these are the entities that own massive data sets.
At the moment most of us make a lot of decisions based on our own experience or gut feel, because sometimes getting data-driven insights is difficult, time-consuming or impossible. But I think we all agree that having data points to help us shape or even challenge our thinking is always better than not having data at all. Hyper Anna’s mission is to enable people to get insights in real time and empower them to make decisions confidently. That’s a good thing!
We are currently working with some of the largest organisations in the Asia-Pacific region. Outside of the private sector, I am passionate about working with governments, because when these agencies make better decisions, the flow-on effect is we get better outcomes for people.
In a broader sense, I think we are very early on the journey with AI. As we create automation of more simple requests or decisions, it creates an appetite for more complex insights. I know some people are frightened about AI. I see AI as replacing tasks, rather than replacing jobs. If we think about the job of a good data analyst for example, that person is not going to just produce reports or ad-hoc analysis, he or she is also going to provide recommendations and suggested actions – a view about what you should do about the result you are seeing. Today, AI can automate and provide efficiency for the mundane, manual tasks, but not the strategic work. One of the fascinating insights we’ve heard from our users is that beside a gain in efficiency, they feel a greater sense of satisfaction in their work
AI will also open up new types of jobs; we have seen this already. The demand for skill sets such as data science and machine learning is at an all-time high in Australia and other countries, creating a lot more opportunities in this field. In my experience of working with data scientists, what surprises me is that to solve modern data science problems, data scientists need to have deep knowledge in the field they are working on. For example, at Hyper Anna we work on natural language processing, which is about machines being able to translate from human language in everyday English into analytical intent and the data and analysis required. One of our data scientists has a keen interest in literature and poetry and really excels in this.
The evolution of AI has been a story of exploration since its inception in the 1950s. The last decade, and especially the past five years, has seen many breakthrough innovations with great real-life applications. I believe the real story is what comes next, when we decide how we will use this technology for good.