allan waddell

The Ethics Centre: Injecting artificial intelligence with human empathy

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Proud to see Allan’s latest piece on AI published by The Ethics Centre. Here is the full text or you can read it there:

The great promise of artificial intelligence is efficiency. The finely tuned mechanics of AI will free up societies to explore new, softer skills while industries thrive on automation.

However, if we’ve learned anything from the great promise of the Internet – which was supposed to bring equality by leveling the playing field – it’s clear new technologies can be rife with complications unwittingly introduced by the humans who created them.

The rise of artificial intelligence is exciting, but the drive toward efficiency must not happen without a corresponding push for strong ethics to guide the process. Otherwise, the advancements of AI will be undercut by human fallibility and biases. This is as true for AI’s application in the pursuit of social justice as it is in basic business practices like customer service.

Empathy

The ethical questions surrounding AI have long been the subject of science fiction, but today they are quickly becoming real-world concerns. Human intelligence has a direct relationship to human empathy. If this sensitivity doesn’t translate into artificial intelligence the consequences could be dire. We must examine how humans learn in order to build an ethical education process for AI.

AI is not merely programmed – it is trained like a human. If AI doesn’t learn the right lessons, ethical problems will inevitably arise. We’ve already seen examples, such as the tendency of facial recognition software to misidentify people of colour as criminals.

Biased AI

In the United States, a piece of software called Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (Compas) was used to assess the risk of defendants reoffending and had an impact on their sentencing. Compas was found to be twice as likely to misclassify non-white defendants as higher risk offenders, while white defendants were misclassified as lower risk much more often than non-white defendants. This is a training issue. If AI is predominantly trained in Caucasian faces, it will disadvantage minorities.

This example might seem far removed from us here in Australia but consider the consequences if it were in place here. What if a similar technology was being used at airports for customs checks, or part of a pre-screening process used by recruiters and employment agencies?

“Human intelligence has a direct relationship to human empathy.”

If racism and other forms of discrimination are unintentionally programmed into AI, not only will it mirror many of the failings of analog society, but it could magnify them.

While heightened instances of injustice are obviously unacceptable outcomes for AI, there are additional possibilities that don’t serve our best interests and should be avoided. The foremost example of this is in customer service.

AI vs human customer service

Every business wants the most efficient and productive processes possible but sometimes better is actually worse. Eventually, an AI solution will do a better job at making appointments, answering questions, and handling phone calls. When that time comes, AI might not always be the right solution.

Particularly with more complex matters, humans want to talk to other humans. Not only do they want their problem resolved, but they want to feel like they’ve been heard. They want empathy. This is something AI cannot do.

AI is inevitable. In fact, you’re probably already using it without being aware of it. There is no doubt that the proper application of AI will make us more efficient as a society, but the temptation to rely blindly on AI is unadvisable.

We must be aware of our biases when creating new technologies and do everything in our power to ensure they aren’t baked into algorithms. As more functions are handed over to AI, we must also remember that sometimes there’s no substitute for human-to-human interaction.

After all, we’re only human.

Allan Waddell is founder and Co-CEO of Kablamo, an Australian cloud based tech software company.

The "Odd Couple" - my first year as co-CEO 

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One year ago, I made the biggest move of my career and joined Kablamo as co-CEO.

Not only was shared leadership new to me, but from the outset it was clear Allan and I were very different people.

Allan brings the creativity and technical vision to our team. His insights into areas like artificial intelligence and running Agile at scale are mind blowing, and the right kind of crazy. He can take the esoteric and make it accessible, pushing all of us to think deeper, farther.

My strengths? Let’s just say I leave that kind of creativity to Al. I know how to build and scale businesses, plan and execute strategies, and keep organisations and people happy as they strive for greatness.

Human instinct being what it is, the initial reaction is to push away from this kind of personal difference in a co-CEO model. It can be a scary leap into darkness for both people. The “visionary” can worry that the “manager” mind might over-manage and constrain —becoming an idea killer, a clipper of wings. On the other hand, the manager may worry that the visionary will be impossible to channel in a way that can deliver consistent customer outcomes and meet payroll each week!

Long story short, between my unfamiliarity with this shared approach, and the fact we’re both such polar opposites, I was nervous about what lay ahead.             

While I’ve started with the differences, for the co-CEO model to work there must be some critical similarities – similarities which are values-based, not financial. 

For Allan and I, nurturing a strong values-led culture at Kablamo is a principle neither of us will compromise on. We have rock solid alignment around the type of business we want to build, how we want to treat people and how we want to be treated in return. We’d rather walk away than build a shitty, transactional company and culture filled with uninspired people who are just there for a paycheck.

And this brings me to another critical point: Ego. A healthy confidence and belief is one thing, but for the co-CEO model to work, you need to have right-sized egos that are willing to accept imperfection, share success and to learn from failure. In that sense, it’s not for everyone. Needless to say, trust —and a lot of it— needs to be a big shared value between both leaders.

So, what’s been the result for Allan, myself and the Kablamo team in our first year as co-CEOs? By embracing our differences, Kablamo has grown far beyond what I thought possible when I first agreed to share the CEO role. Our varied skill sets allow us to focus on the areas we excel, which has helped lead to strong organisational growth. 

In fact, 12 months on, it’s clear our differences are one of the biggest benefits of this co-CEO model (in a future post, I plan on digging down into this a bit more).

Not only has our customer base significantly expanded to include some of Australia’s largest media, financial and industrial organisations, we’ve more than tripled our staff numbers to accommodate the demand.

While growth is important, what matters most to Allan and me is Kablamo’s culture. We’ve developed a strong set of values and a vision for our future. We’ve also grown and evolved our leadership group on our mission to become a high performing team. We’ve started our employee benefits program, and launched our giving arm, Kablamo Impact. We want to build a good company, not just a financially successful company.

Underpinning this all is our focus on building a world-beating culture. Our secret sauce is our people. Day-in and day-out, this team is delivering truly transformational digital products and outcomes in some of Australia’s largest and most well-known organisations.

And their hard work is being recognised. Earlier this year, we were named as finalists at AWS’s Partner of the Year awards for Data, Analytics and Machine Learning.

Now with a solid foundation built, and much more confidence in our shared leadership model, this next financial year will be the most exciting in our history… stay tuned.

Even if you’re not ready or convinced by the co-CEO path, consider giving shared leadership a try, if only in a limited way —sometimes going against your human instinct can pay off. 

Read on LinkedIn and connect with Angus f.

Architecting Culture at Scale

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Last week, we proudly welcomed Angus Dorney to the Kablamo family.  In his blog post, Angus did an awesome job expressing the significance of his joining, and the much-needed step-change that Kablamo brings to enterprise. We're on the precipice of something new, something great, it's a very exciting time for us.

But thanks to his inherent humility, Angus did a pretty darn average job of expressing one of the more outstanding gifts he brings to us.  Please allow me to explain. 

Angus is known industry-wide for his effectiveness as a tech leader, but what truly distinguishes him in my opinion is his ability to maintain culture at scale.  Angus knows how to grow a business, just Google his name to see a shopping list of distinguished achievements. But he also knows a much more profound thing, how to grow a great culture that matches business growth.  

"Company Culture” these days is 101 level HR marketing fodder, an afterthought. The ideal of company culture is too often tossed around as a concept that sounds great but doesn’t necessarily mean much. 

Kablamo is built around our humans.  We didn’t buy them.  We gravitated together because we share a single vision, we have a single purpose: Deliver cloud software in a way that absolutely knocks the socks off our loyal enterprise customers.  We don’t have dispensable people any more than we have dispensable ethics or values.  Our humans are exceptionally bright and deliver outcomes with unwavering humility. We don’t need or want undeserved monikers like “we’re the best”, “the biggest”, “the fastest”, “the most cloudiest/devopsiest/secopsiest” — we just get on with it. Our team builds really valuable software, we solve problems.  We work really hard, but we maintain balance —and we don’t just say it, we do it. And we enjoy it. 

Our new Co-CEO embodies the ideal of servant leadership. Angus is the safe pair of hands to grow something culturally unique like Kablamo into something much bigger. What’s so critical here is that scaling the Kablamo culture will mean huge benefits for organisations looking for a trusted accountable partner to drive truly valuable enterprise solutions at scale. (Just for fun , try saying that 5 x with a mouth full of marbles)

So, welcome, Angus.  Kablamo’s culture is on the launch pad for the next stage of our journey and the mission is clear.

— Allan Waddell, Co-CEO (Proudly) and Founder Kablamo