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Megan Graieg

By Megan Graieg

Anima Anandkumar on AI at Amazon and the future workplace

Principal Scientist at Amazon AI and Bren Professor at The California Institute of Technology, Anima Anandkumar sat down with us after an intimate workshop with MBA students.

Amazon is using machine and deep learning across the full gamut of their business and is committed to continuing to invest in the development of innovative technology. They are deploying AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology in a wide range of their products to increase efficiency and improve services for their customers.

We wanted to know a little more about what exactly Amazon was doing with AI, so we asked Anima for the top three ways AI was currently being used in the company.

  • Cloud services
  • Retail: including supply chain management, product recommendations, and advertising
  • Research and development

Anima Anandkumar

The key area where Amazon is speeding ahead of the competition comes with their development of new technologies and uses of existing AI capabilities. The company has launched several new products off the back of their AI research, such as Amazon Prime Air (drone-based delivery system), Amazon Go (cashier-less grocery shopping), and Alexa (virtual assistant).

But with all this rapid technological advancement, there are unintended consequences and ethical concerns. These ethical questions are at the heart of all new development, according to Anandkumar. There are a few questions she uses to reflect on new technology, such as:

Anima Anandkumar quote

Another big ethical concern is accessibility. ‘Is this AI technology working equally well for diverse groups?’, asks Anandkumar. She encourages developers to think about their work in a multidimensional way – reflect on the domain and the impact. For instance, ‘Think of a facial recognition application – if it is only working for a subset of the population then there is a discrimination.’

Even AI advancements that pass the ethical tests will have a lasting impact on the future workplace. But the landscape won’t be as dire as many people make out. AI technology will mean more automation of mundane, repeatable tasks. Which means, argues Anandkumar, that MBAs will be even more necessary than they are now. Empathy, something only humans are capable of, will be an increasingly important commodity in the workplace.

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