Artifcial Intelligence and the Future: Podcast with Kris Hammond

May 7, 2015 Kris Hammond

“People will look at spreadsheets the way my generation looks at computer punch cards.” – Kris Hammond

A transcript excerpt from The Emerging Tech Roundup, the first in a podcast series launched by the research firm Blue Hill Research and venture capital firm OpenView, with Narrative Science Chief Scientist, Kris Hammond, Bill Hill Research’s James Haight and OpenView’s Kyle Lacy.

Listen to the complete podcast here and view the complete transcript on OpenView’s blog, “Emerging Tech Roundup with Kris Hammond, Narrative Science, originally published May 1, 2015.

James: What are the top one, two, three pain points that you’re seeing out there of why Narrative Science matters?

Kris: I think the massive pain point that we see in the world really has to do with the history of big data and the history of data analytics in general. We’ve collected outrageous amounts of data. We have analytics, we can run across that data to discover and report on absolutely almost everything that data touches. We have visualizations where we can just display that data, but when push comes to shove the people who need the information that’s associated with that data usually do not have the depth of data analysis skills to pull it out on their own. Literally, a company will have tens of millions of dollars of investments in data analytics, in data scientists.

Then the bottleneck becomes they need someone to look at that dashboard, figure out what’s going on, and turn in not one report but usually hundreds of reports. If they really wanted, thousands of reports so every single stakeholder associated with the data gets the right information. That pattern we see over and over again.

We’re seeing a shift away from, “Let’s grab all this data and do something with it.” That was really driven by engineering. We’ve seen a shift to the business side of business, saying, “Look, there’s things we need to know. I need this information. Not the data, but the information. I need a mechanism for turning that data into information I can actually read, ingest, and deal with so I can make decisions.”

That is a constant pain point. Everything else pales in comparison to that. If I’m looking to report, if I need to know how all my sales force is doing, I can use sales.com, I can look at the spreadsheet, at the visualization, but it’s not going to tell me. If I map that data into stories for every single sales person, every single manager, all the way up the hierarchy of the organization, then everybody knows what’s going on. They can understand it and respond to it at exactly the level and exactly the way in which it is the most powerful for them to understand things and really take those actions.

That’s the kind of story we keep hearing over and over again. Even if you look in the world of visualization, clearly they’re giving ways to look. We’re going to help you tell the story. For us, it’s less “we’re going to help you tell the story” and more “Quill will tell the story.”

We’re not a tool to help you tell the story. We’re a tool for telling the story of what’s happening on your factory floor. What’s happening with your logistics? What’s happening with your sales team? What’s happening in terms of the effects of your marketing? All of those areas have tremendous masses of data, which is absolutely going fallow because we do not have the people to look at it, figure out what’s going on, and report on it to the people who make decisions. That for us is huge.

Kyle: Yes, it leads me to a quote I heard a long time ago, which is basically, “We must move from numbers keeping score to numbers that drive better actions.” I think that’s what you’re talking about. We can collect all this data constantly and try to figure out what it’s saying, but we want to actually drive actions in business and do instead of just report constantly.

With that said, where do you think the future lies? What is the grand vision for what you guys are doing? What’s the future of everything that we’re talking about, other than Terminator coming back?

Kris: For the core technology, it’s a wonderful horizontal technology. We have our focus in financial services and marketing services, performance, looking at how things are performing. But the reality of the technology is that anywhere there is a collected data set, and that data set was collected for a reason and the specific kinds of information you want from that data set including things that are advisory and predictive, Quill can actually take on the role of explaining what’s going on. Not in the data but in the world through the lens of that data.

The really long term of this is that I fully expect the Quill technology to be the face of data, to be the voice of data. Wherever right now there is a spreadsheet, there will instead be an explanation of what’s going on in the world based upon Quill reading that spreadsheet and explaining it to you.

People will look at spreadsheets the way my generation looks at computer punch cards.

Even when I was a kid it was something that was already archaic. That made no sense anymore. But we will look at that level of data, a machine communicating with us on its level as being archaic. Some people will have nostalgia about it, but it will be outmoded because everyone will be thinking, “No, no, no. When I want information from the machine about the data it’s collected about my world, my business, my government, myself, my health, all the equipment I touch — when I want that information it’s simply going to tell me. It’s going to tell me because it knows how to look at that data, figure out what’s going on, and explain it to me.”


Kris Hammond is the Chief Scientist at Narrative Science. Connect with Kris on Google+ and Twitter.

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