Technology Explained: Talking Artificial Intelligence with Fast Forward Labs' Hilary Mason

January 13, 2016 Katie Nunez

Fast Forward Labs Hilary Mason

I’m new to Narrative Science but not to the world of data and technology.  With a background in the Internet of Things (IoT), technology and startups, I’m at home in an “unholy wealth of data” to quote Kris Hammond, Chief Scientist at Narrative Science. So when presented with the opportunity to attend my first Narrative Science event to learn about artificial intelligence (AI) and data alongside other Chicago technology aficionados, I literally jumped at the chance.

The event, “Technology Explained”, was held at 1871 and co-hosted by Kris Hammond, Chief Scientist at Narrative Science and Hilary Mason, CEO at Fast Forward Labs. The event was a platform for sparking discussion around why AI is succeeding today and how businesses can leverage AI to make better decisions and optimize efficiency.

AI and Data

According to Hammond, “NLG [natural language generation] came from an unholy war around data.” Natural Language Generation is a field of AI that transforms data into narratives while AI technologies like NLG aren’t brand new, Hammond says, “there just wasn’t data for it…until now.” But he isn’t advocating data literacy as a required job skill. He believes every job will be enhanced by AI so that employees will be more productive.
 

Narrowing the AI Scope

Hilary Mason of Fast Forward Labs shared her perspective on businesses and AI. With so many new technologies in the AI space, it’s no surprise that companies often get distracted by so many options. Mason suggested implementing a four-step process to help teams narrow scope, focus their energy and remain innovative:

  1. Brainstorm ideas and perform a massive brain dump. At this stage, no idea is too big or impossible.
  2. Review the open source community. Is the technology already commoditized or does it need to be built from scratch?
  3. Explore the results.  
  4. Narrow the scope. How useful with this be? Something frivolous can be fun but it won’t always be useful.


As conversations related to AI tend to do, the topic came around to the unfounded fear of robots taking over the world. “I am not panicked – I’m an optimist,” says Hammond. Removing human bias from the system allows us to trace human reasoning back to the data. “Instead of thinking of democratization of data, it’s the democratization of information,” says Hammond. And Mason agrees: “I see real value in AI enhancing human production by eliminating cognitive drudgery that happens right now.”

How Businesses Can Use AI Today

At Narrative Science, we envision a future where data storytelling is as common as the word processor is today. We’re entering an era where advanced Natural Language Generation is ubiquitous and it’s going to help people be smarter and businesses run more efficiently.

Given the audience’s feedback after the event, it’s clear that others in Chicago are also excited about the future state of AI and the business impact. “I came to learn about a topic of interest and I left with so many ideas about how I could start using AI today!”


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