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Unbabel Podcast: Lori Thicke and the language last mile

At 27, Lori Thicke moved to Paris with one goal in mind — to write the great Canadian novel. But life had other plans in store for her and the novel was put on hold. Instead, Lori founded a global translation business — Lexcelera — and, after crossing paths with Doctors without Borders, went on …

The post Unbabel Podcast: Lori Thicke and the language last mile appeared first on Unbabel.



At 27, Lori Thicke moved to Paris with one goal in mind — to write the great Canadian novel. But life had other plans in store for her and the novel was put on hold.

Instead, Lori founded a global translation business — Lexcelera — and, after crossing paths with Doctors without Borders, went on to creating the world’s biggest translation NGO.

At Translators without Borders, Lori has done it all, from sitting behind a computer screen to travelling to Kenya to work with translators and interpreters in the field. What started out as a small project eventually grew to a network of over 30.000 volunteers in 180 different countries. All thanks to one woman’s belief in the power of language.

In the second episode of the Unbabel Podcast, we asked Lori about her 20-year long career in the translation business, what sparked her interest in languages and the life events that shaped both her humanitarian and entrepreneurial mindsets.

Let us know your feedback, questions, and suggestions at [email protected] You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app to get these episodes as soon as they come out!

The following is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

Fernando: Hi Lori. Welcome. It’s great to have you. Thank you so much for joining us. I’d like to start by talking about Translators without Borders. And I would like you to take us to the moment when you decided to create a nonprofit organization to provide free translation.

Lori:  First of all, thank you so much for inviting me. I’m really excited to do this podcast with you. And also it’s something I’m super passionate about, so it’s a great day today. And I also love telling the story of how Translators without Borders was formed, because it was just one of those fortuitous things. I had meant my entire life, like many people, I think, to do volunteer work. And I always meant to. But you know, I got, first of all, I was busy at university and then I moved to France and I started a business, and then I had a son, and there’s always an excuse. And I, I was realizing that meaning to volunteer wasn’t the same as really volunteering, but I still wasn’t doing it. And then one day, doctors without borders, Médecins sans Frontières, that fantastic organization knocked on our door, so to speak, and asked my translation company for a bid, to bid on a translation project for them.

And all of a sudden it just was like the stars were aligning. And I thought, well, if I don’t charge you for this, then what happens? Can you use the money elsewhere? They said, we can, we have a lean organization. This was just before they won the Nobel peace prize and they said they could use the money elsewhere. And so that’s how Translators without Borders started helping nonprofits do more. And that’s what Translators without Borders does today.

Fernando: So that first project, this is how you, the project kind of picked you, but then when you started scaling this, how do you choose the projects that you accept to do, the causes that you support? How does that process work? 

Lori: If we’re going to talk about the scaling, I have to go back a little bit. So between 1993, believe it or not, it was that long ago, and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, my office did all the volunteer management, the translators did all the volunteer translation, and it was a small organization, even if we were doing a million words a year. Then the Haiti earthquake happened and because a lot of our nonprofits were very much involved in Haiti, like Doctors without Borders, Action against Hunger, for example, the needs just exploded and I realized we needed to scale and we needed it to scale beyond managing it on a volunteer basis in my office. So I found a board of directors who helped me scale the organization. And that’s when we really started kicking off in 2010.

Fernando: So as you’ve mentioned, I guess the work is not always done sitting behind the screen in the comfort of your home. You have people that work in the field in crisis situations. Can you tell me a little bit more, how does that work when you go on the ground?

Lori: Oh, Translators without Borders has really changed, that happened when we realized the importance of local languages. So yeah, we were sitting behind a desk when we were supporting nonprofits with main world languages, which we still do today, so yeah, a lot of that is behind the screen, a typical translator activity. In fact, the translators are amazing. I have some friends who also translate for Translators without Borders, who will put in a day of work and then go home and translate for Translators without Borders. But after Haiti, I thought, you know, it’s not these, um, European languages that are really reaching the vulnerable people. I thought, how could that be that we don’t really have that on the nonprofit, you know, the humanitarian radar about local languages. So I went to Africa to look into that. And I was just astonished by how little access people had to information when it was in a major world language like, like English or French and not in their language.

So now to answer your question, and I could talk about local languages all day, but to answer, you know, to focus and answer your question. The truth is that we’ve discovered a real need for local languages. So there’s a need for main languages to support nonprofit work, but there’s also a really big need and that’s where we need to go into the field. That’s where we support translators and train them, and interpreters as well in the field.

For example, in working in Nigeria, the democratic Republic of Congo to extremely dangerous areas, and I’m really proud of the team that they go there and they do do the training. They do do the work with the Rohingya, also in refugee camps working with them, opening up access to knowledge and their language is super important.

Fernando: So the translators, in Translators without Borders, who are these people? What kind of people are volunteering and can anyone offer their translation service to you? How do you screen that? 

Lori: There are 30,000 volunteers today, as we speak, not everybody’s working everyday. So I think we’d cover 180 countries and 200 language pairs. They may be students, working translators, retired translators, there’s a lot of different profiles, but there’s also translators we’ve trained, interpreters we’ve trained, who maybe came from a different field, maybe were doctors or engineers and just wanted to help their country.

So they’ve made it out. They’ve got an education and they want to give back to the people in their community.

Fernando: That’s great. So Translators without Borders on their website mentioned 83 million words translated so far. Besides this impressive metric, how do you really measure the impact that Translators without Borders had?

Lori: Oh, I love that question. So there are a few different ways. I think that’s a great metric. It’s not the only one. We have a Wikipidia project, for example, we’d call it Wiki medicine that translates medical articles. And we’ve seen that 120 million people have accessed those articles, which is super significant because there’s such a dearth of language.

I mean, we can access anything we want in our languages, but there’s a real dearth of of information in a lot of local languages. And with Ebola that there was some major measurement going on there, and I also personally participated in some measurement in Kenya. You know, the frontline of any health crisis, in say most countries of Africa, are the health workers, the community health workers. So we measured Ebola information and you know, that was a problem of information as much as a problem of the disease. So we measured the understanding of the healthcare workers, the frontline health people when they were trained on Ebola prevention in English, the Ebola prevention was 60% understanding and in their own language it was like 90% understanding, and that’s hugely significant.

Fernando: So you really cared about measuring the impact, I understand now from your answer, because it’s important to you to understand what is working and what’s the impact that it’s bringing.

Lori: Yeah. And it’s hard to do, you know, it’s not like when you give money. Umm, like, I also have a project where I help orphans in Kenya, in a village in Kenya.

So you can see that’s really tangible. The kids go to school, they literally get a little fatter, and that’s their grandmothers have food in the house. So things like that happen that are really tangible, but us, in the language industry, it’s so not tangible that I think we have to work super hard, but also to feel a sense, all of us need to feel the sense of that what we’re doing is helping and is making a difference.

Fernando: Obviously, you’re very passionate about this subject. You dedicated 20 years of your life to leading Translators without Borders, and then you decided to step down. So what led you into that decision?

Lori: Well, Translators without Borders is not the kind of thing that should be managed part-time. In my free time, I couldn’t be nearly as effective as the management team is now, and they are, they just, they’ve really taken it quite a lot bigger than I could.

Fernando: How did you see the world change in that time? Are we getting closer to universal understanding?

Lori: Are we getting close?

I think we’re very, very, very far. I know that’s not the answer that I wish I was giving, but I do think we’re very, very far because three fifths of the world’s population can’t access the knowledge they need to live healthy lives, to take care of their children, to develop new technologies that can make their lives better too, fight poverty, to fight disease. And that is just so wrong. We talk about, this is the information age, but in fact, there’s this language last mile.

You know, we talked about the digital last mile. So people have digital access to the whole of the world through the internet, but they still have to get it to their home, so that’s the digital last mile. Well, we had this language last mile, where all the information in the world practically is available on the internet, but if you’re stuffed by the language last mile, you can’t get it into your head.

So it can’t help you this so-called information revolution, the information age, people can’t access the basic information they need if it’s not in their language.

And, well, while Translators without Borders supports humanitarian organizations around the world, boy, it would be so great if people were less vulnerable, if there was less poverty, if there were less need for humanitarian aid because they can actually access the same information we can, whether it’s to build something, to make an advance in science, to protect ourselves against completely preventable diseases that people shouldn’t be dying from. To eat healthily, to know so much that we, that we know, and language is the barrier to that.

Fernando: I love that, that concept of the language last mile, because I think that’s the premise that led to Unbabel being created. So there’s so much information out there, but then if it’s not in your language, you cannot really access it unless you have a way to translate everything, which is Unbabel’s vision of the future. So I love that.

Lori: Oh, definitely. So my vision for a long time has been that we need technology and the crowd to deal with that, but that means the technology to let the crowd in whatever country, whether it’s in Uganda or India, for the crowd to translate their own information and we need a place for it to be able to live on the web. Wikipedia has that, but there’s so much other content that could be translated, it needs the technology. People need to be trained as well. They need access to the tools. 

Fernando: It looks like we are still far, as you said, from universal understanding, but we know the way there and we will get there.

Lori: I love that vision. I love that picture. And then I hope you’re right.

Fernando: You said you had a love for your language, English in this case, and on your website there’s a tagline that says, “Speak to me in my language”. What’s the meaning of this statement? Is a person’s language and, uh, the right to being spoken in their own language a universal right?

Lori: Oh, it should be. It really should be. Because I, again, I, I mean, you know, obviously my heart is with humanitarian work, but I’ve also been really frustrated too, because until Translators without Borders started really advocating and raising awareness, mostly humanitarian work would be delivered in English or French or Spanish or Portuguese, whatever the quote unquote official language of the country where they’re giving aid is. And the thing is marginalized, poor rural person is so unlikely to speak a European language.

So how is that helpful? To have a poster telling you not to, how not to get HIV, how not to get Cholera, how not now, how not to get Ebola or Coronavirus, how not to get those diseases and many more when it’s not even in their language?

So yes, speak to me in my language. I need to understand what you’re saying. 

Fernando: Without even going to those smaller countries in the United States, there are currently movements that are pushing for English to be the official language of the United States and maybe making it harder for people that speak other languages like Spanish, that millions of people are speaking, to have access to the information in their language. What is your view on this movement to make English the official language of the U.S.?

Lori: I think it would be a lot more easily justified if the U.S. wasn’t an immigrant country in the first place. If you want to speak the native language of the U.S., it’s not English.

Fernando: So when you say native language of the U.S., which has obviously existed before English was spoken in the U.S., are those languages alive today? Are there many?

Lori: Once I started looking at these new eyes, these new language eyes at what’s going on, I went back to my home province of British Columbia and Canada. British Columbia had the richest, most diverse, probably in all of North America, collection of local languages, spoken by the local people.

There were 32 indigenous languages, most of them not from the same family group. So it’s, it’s really quite diverse. But what happened was, in order to get rid of the culture, I think they, I think their goal was to quote unquote, “take the Indian out of the Indian”. So in order to get rid of the culture, they had to get rid of the languages.

People in Canada and Australia and the United States, were literally punished for speaking their languages. And those languages have been all but all but killed. And there’s been some really interesting research being done because there is a little bit of a resurgence, at least in my province of British Columbia and people wanting to reclaim their languages.

There was some research done from the university of British Columbia I believe, that found out that those villages that were reclaiming their languages, the young people were six times less likely to commit suicide.

And what that says to me is how important language is for our confidence, our sense of self, our sense of identity, our sense of belonging to our culture. Think of how many Wars are fought so people can speak their language.

Fernando: So you clearly believe that it is important to preserve languages that are dying. It’s more than the language that, that you are saving by preserving them, right?

Lori: Yes, absolutely. There are certain words and certain concepts that are only available in one language and not in another, and that’s a richness and a certain kind of knowledge that’s kept, that’s preserved in one language. For example, again, in British Columbia, what we call a trout, they called salmon in their language, and it took a long time for geneticists just recently to find out that was actually salmon. It’s, it’s actually a salmon. It’s a lot of trout, and that knowledge was contained in the language, but it’s more than that. It’s, it’s sure, it would be way easier when I’ve talked about access to knowledge.

It would be way easier if we all spoke the same language, but the truth is it’s not only a richness of the culture, it’s people’s identity and confidence and how they see the world, we can’t take that away. 

Fernando: You mentioned certain languages have words that are untranslatable, and if you lose the language, we lose the meaning of that. Portuguese have a  favorite one, which is “saudade”. That is not translatable in almost any other language. Do you have any favorites in any language, a word that is not translatable?

Lori: Just, I mean, it’s not my favorite, but it’s one that I’ve noticed cause I live in France. I’ve lived here for a long time. I noticed that the fact that they have no word for overachiever, means there’s no concept of overachiever. You know what I mean? There’s no way to describe, I mean, I know a doctor who’s an Olympian who’s, uh, written a book and I can’t remember what else. There’s no way to describe her. So that comes with concept and the words come with the concept. 

Fernando: Okay, so going in the complete opposite direction, the quest to have one universal language and that would break down language barriers, right? Is this something that humans can ever do? Create one language and is this something that we should be trying to do?

Lori: I don’t think so. Cause we will fight to preserve our language. Imagine if it’s the universal language is not one of ours. It’s not ours. Not even one of ours. It’s not our language. We’d fight to the death. So the only way that would work is if there is an authoritarian government that literally punishes people for speaking their own language.

Fernando: Yeah. I guess if you went with the most spoken in the world, it would be Mandarin, so I would not speak it. 

Lori: It would take generations, and that’s the problem. Even people understanding a bit of French, a bit of Portuguese, for example, and reading really important literature about science or technology. Even if they have notions of those languages, they’re still going to miss so much.

It would take generations to get that kind of fluency of understanding back.

Fernando: Yeah. So assuming we do keep our different languages, but we want to understand and to be understood, how do you see the role of machine translation in the future of translation? 

Lori: People aren’t going to like this answer, but we have no choice. We have absolutely no choice. It’s, it’s like travel agents. We love them, but they’re more or less gone now because we can do it on TripAdvisor. And the truth is, over the last say, 10 years, translation became commoditized. People weren’t like valuing what we did. It became a commodity and all, and every translator knows this pain all based on price. It was just a commodity. No one was any different from any other, like tissue paper, but now it’s democratized. So it’s becoming to the point with neural machine translation, NMT is so good that anyone can access translation. I feel what we need to do as translators now is move up the value chain, or we will go the way of travel agents.

So whereas you see some travel agents are becoming super specialists in Safari travel, they’re carving up niches. I believe translators need to move up the food chain somehow, whether it is with creative services, trans creation, training machine translation engines. Anyway, I’m sorry to say, but neural machine translation is so darn good that, yeah…

Fernando: Well, you’re in the right place to say it because Unbabel, as you know, strongly believes in the model of AI and humans working together.

And the crowds helping the AI to get better, the AI helping the crowd to get better and evolving together. So that’s clearly Unbabel’s point of view. And it seems that we are aligned. I mean, humans will always find their place in this system, but the machine translation will just get so much better with time right? And how do you think in terms of years, how far are we from really machine translation being to the point where it does most of the tasks?

Lori: Two years, two years max. Two years. You’ve heard it here first. We’re doing, in my company, machine translation neural, it gives you a really good first draft, so it takes away some of the grunt work.

I know absolutely some people would prefer to do  everything from scratch, but neural machine translation means you can go at 900, 1000, 1100 words an hour, making it better. 

Fernando: Well, that’s certainly the future. Now, let’s go back in time. I’m curious. You started your first company selling Christmas trees when you were only 12 years old and another at 17 selling flowers. How did you go from trees and flowers to language and translation? 

Lori: Okay. Well, um, it’s always been a pull for me. My dad was a businessman and was convinced that his daughter would go into business no matter how many times I told him that I would never go into business. I moved to France to write the great Canadian novel, and I needed to make money, so of course business was my, it was my fallback. And that led me being in France and loving languages. That led me to found a translation company, which I did when I was 27. 

Fernando: Is this the same company that you still managed today?

Lori: Yes. Yes. So, we’re not going to do the math on this, okay? 

Fernando:  So I’m curious because for so long you did balance being an entrepreneur, managing your own business, and creating a hugely successful nonprofit. So how did you achieve that for so long? 

Lori: Uh, now I was, you know what, to be honest, it was really tough, um, to manage all that. And I think both suffer a little bit. I couldn’t get my company its full attention and I couldn’t give Translators without Borders their full attention, Translators without Borders was obviously the, the one that gets your heart. So I didn’t do a very good job of it. My son says he’s, he’s not damaged, but yeah, I didn’t balance it well. 

Fernando: There’s also that connection with work and family. Not only work and nonprofits, but then you also have family on top of that, and your Twitter bio reads that you’re currently working on a book about your nomadic life with an unusual father. So I guess it all, it all goes back to that. Can you reveal a little bit about this project? 

Lori: Yeah. I started the book to actually write about the founding of Translators without Borders and why language matters, because we’re aware that language matters like no one else is. So I really wanted to write that book, but somehow I ended up writing about my background.

My dad was super humanitarian as well as a business person, so obviously affected me, but there are so many good stories in my eccentric, crazy background that I just got sucked into writing that story. For example, when I was 14, just to give you an example of my crazy upbringing, when I was 14 our house burned down and my father, who was a single father raising me and my brother, had forgotten three weeks earlier to send a check in to renew the fire insurance.

So we lost everything. Our house burned to the ground. There was just nothing left. And my father looks at my brother and me and says, well, kids, now we’re free. 

So that’s how I grew up. 

Fernando:  Do you think that, uh, your son will be doing a book about growing up with you in the future? 

Lori: Oh my God, no, because I’m so stable. I did Translators without Borders from 1993, I did my company from 1986 – I’m way too stable. 

Fernando:  So this, uh, beginning of your nomadic life with your father, you think that’s where your passion for languages and traveling and other cultures comes from?

Lori:  No, but it’s, it’s where my passion for business, cause I actually do have a passion for business, and my passion for helping people. I was just thinking the other day, when I was growing up, if you saw a car with the lights on, you’d open the door and turn the lights off for them. Now of course you’d be arrested or something. But I mean, it’s a very small example, but that’s, I just grew up, my dad always wanted to help people, whether it’s turning their lights off or helping families that didn’t have much money. That’s what I got from my crazy dad. 

Fernando: So the language, this love for language, where did you get that from? 

Lori: I’ve always had a love for my language and that’s where I get it from.

When I came to France, obviously, maybe to make money and not having enough money to write the great Canadian novel, I started working as an editor and that led to the founding of my translation company. Then, I mean, my eyes were just open, especially by going to Kenya the very first time and realizing that language is this huge barrier to knowledge.

And then I got a really big appreciation for it and I started looking at the world in completely different light, realizing how important language is, not only to people’s self identity and understanding of the world and culture, but to the very information they can access. 

Fernando: So my final question would be to ask for your advice. You said that before you started Translators without Borders, you wanted to contribute, you wanted to volunteer, and you were almost doing it, but not really doing it. What’s your advice for other people that feel the urge to contribute to start a nonprofit project, but they still didn’t find the right moment or the right trigger to do it?

Lori: Oh, that’s a tough one. I mean, you want to say the Nike slogan, “just do it”, but I still need to get to the gym this week, so I know, “just do it”, it’s easier said than done. I was just so lucky that Médecins sans Frontières, doctors without borders, gave me the chance to do something and made it easier for me to help them. Even though starting a nonprofit is tough, it was the opportunity to see the need and also the need falling right in my, um, my wheelhouse. That made it a very lucky and fortuitous meeting for me.

Fernando: Thank you very much, Lori. Is there any final message that you would like to leave us with? 

Lori: Oh, thanks Fernando, it has been really great and very exciting talking to you. I think we need more political will because something that’s really important, and the thing that I’m probably most passionate about of anything is access to knowledge. There’s no money in it so, it’s, people don’t want to do it, but we should do things like that, even if there is no money in it.

But we should do it just because it’s important. As translators, for example, I could envision a world where where existing translators are helping train up translators in the developing world.

Fernando: As they say, teach them how to fish instead of just giving them a fish for dinner, right? 

Lori: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And translators themselves are super, you know, as a group, they’re really nice people. It’s, it’s basically a creative job and I find that they are super happy to help, but they need a way, a structure for how to do that. Obviously, 30,000 volunteers, there are a lot of translators who’ve come forward.

I just envisioned something even more where there is some mentoring and helping build capacity in the crowd. We’re talking about the crowd here. That’s the only way we’re going to have universal access to knowledge. 

Fernando: Okay, Lori, thanks again. It was great having you in the Unbabel podcast, and I hope we will talk again in a few years because at the speed that things are developing, and I’m sure you’ll keep contributing to it, uh, we can have a conversation in a few years.

Lori: Oh, thank you Fernando, and I’m really looking forward to seeing your other podcasts. I saw some of the guests you have coming up. It will be really interesting to see what they add to the conversation.

Fernando: Thank you for listening to the Unbabel podcast. 

If you want to learn more about Lori’s work, head over to her blog, at If you liked the Unbabel podcast and don’t want to miss future episodes, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And if you really, really like this, help others find our podcast by leaving a review or sharing this episode with your friends.

The Unbabel podcast is produced by myself, Raquel Magalhães, Raquel Henriques and resonate recordings.


Executive Interview: Brian Gattoni, CTO, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency 

Understanding and Advising on Cyber and Physical Risks to the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure  Brian R. Gattoni is the Chief Technology Officer for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security. CISA is the nation’s risk advisor, working with partners to defend against today’s threats and collaborating to build a secure and resilient […]



As CTO of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency of the DHS, Brian Gattoni is charged with understanding and advising on cyber and physical risks to the nation’s critical infrastructure. 

Understanding and Advising on Cyber and Physical Risks to the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure 

Brian Gattoni, CTO, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency

Brian R. Gattoni is the Chief Technology Officer for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security. CISA is the nation’s risk advisor, working with partners to defend against today’s threats and collaborating to build a secure and resilient infrastructure for the future. Gattoni sets the technical vision and strategic alignment of CISA data and mission services. Previously, he was the Chief of Mission Engineering & Technology, developing analytic techniques and new approaches to increase the value of DHS cyber mission capabilities. Prior to joining DHS in 2010, Gattoni served in various positions at the Defense Information Systems Agency and the United States Army Test & Evaluation Command. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Cyber Systems & Operations from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).  

AI Trends: What is the technical vision for CISA to manage risk to federal networks and critical infrastructure? 

Brian Gattoni: Our technology vision is built in support of our overall strategy. We are the nation’s risk advisor. It’s our job to stay abreast of incoming threats and opportunities for general risk to the nation. Our efforts are to understand and advise on cyber and physical risks to the nation’s critical infrastructure.  

It’s all about bringing in the data, understanding what decisions need to be made and can be made from the data, and what insights are useful to our stakeholders. The potential of AI and machine learning is to expand on operational insights with additional data sets to make better use of the information we have.  

What are the most prominent threats? 

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) of the Department of Homeland Security is the Nation’s risk advisor.

The sources of threats we frequently discuss are the adversarial actions of nation-state actors and those aligned with nation-state actors and their interests, in disrupting national critical functions here in the U.S. Just in the past month, we’ve seen increased activity from elements supporting what we refer to in the government as Hidden Cobra [malicious cyber activity by the North Korean government]. We’ve issued joint alerts with our partners overseas and the FBI and the DoD, highlighting activity associated with Chinese actors. On people can find CISA Insights, which are documents that provide background information on particular cyber threats and the vulnerabilities they exploit, as well as a ready-made set of mitigation activities that non-federal partners can implement.   

What role does AI play in the plan? 

Artificial intelligence has a great role to play in the support of the decisions we make as an agency. Fundamentally, AI is going to allow us to apply our decision processes to a scale of data that humans just cannot keep up with. And that’s especially prevalent in the cyber mission. We remain cognizant of how we make decisions in the first place and target artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that augment and support that decision-making process. We’ll be able to use AI to provide operational insights at a greater scale or across a greater breadth of our mission space.  

How far along are you in the implementation of AI at the CISA? 

Implementing AI is not as simple as putting in a new business intelligence tool or putting in a new email capability. Really augmenting your current operations with artificial intelligence is a mix of the culture change, for humans to understand how the AI is supposed to augment their operations. It is a technology change, to make sure you have the scalable compute and the right tools in place to do the math you’re talking about implementing. And it’s a process change. We want to deliver artificial intelligence algorithms that augment our operators’ decisions as a support mechanism.  

Where we are in the implementation is closer to understanding those three things. We’re working with partners in federally funded research and development centers, national labs and the departments own Science and Technology Data Analytics Tech Center to develop capability in this area. We’ve developed an analytics meta-process which helps us systemize the way we take in data and puts us in a position to apply artificial intelligence to expand our use of that data.  

Do you have any interesting examples of how AI is being applied in CISA and the federal government today? Or what you are working toward, if that’s more appropriate. 

I have a recent use case. We’ve been working with some partners over the past couple of months to apply AI to a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief type of mission. So, within CISA, we also have responsibilities for critical infrastructure. During hurricane season, we always have a role to play in helping advise what the potential impacts are to critical infrastructure sites in the affected path of a hurricane.  

We prepared to conduct an experiment leveraging AI algorithms and overhead imagery to figure out if we could analyze the data from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flight over the affected area. We compared that imagery with the base imagery from Google Earth or ArcGIS and used AI to identify any affected critical infrastructure. We could see the extent to which certain assets, such as oil refineries, were physically flooded. We could make an assessment as to whether they hit a threshold of damage that would warrant additional scrutiny, or we didn’t have to apply resources because their resilience was intact, and their functions could continue.   

That is a nice use case, a simple example of letting a computer do the comparisons and make a recommendation to our human operators. We found that it was very good at telling us which critical infrastructure sites did not need any additional intervention. To use a needle in a haystack analogy, one of the useful things AI can help us do is blow hay off the stack in pursuit of the needle. And that’s a win also. The experiment was very promising in that sense.  

How does CISA work with private industry, and do you have any examples of that?  

We have an entire division dedicated to stakeholder engagement. Private industry owns over 80% of the critical infrastructure in the nation. So CISA sits at the intersection of the private sector and the government to share information, to ensure we have resilience in place for both the government entities and the private entities, in the pursuit of resilience for those national critical functions. Over the past year we’ve defined a set of 55 functions that are critical for the nation.  

When we work with private industry in those areas we try to share the best insights and make decisions to ensure those function areas will continue unabated in the face of a physical or cyber threat. 

Cloud computing is growing rapidly. We see different strategies, including using multiple vendors of the public cloud, and a mix of private and public cloud in a hybrid strategy. What do you see is the best approach for the federal government? 

In my experience the best approach is to provide guidance to the CIO’s and CISO’s across the federal government and allow them the flexibility to make risk-based determinations on their own computing infrastructure as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.   

We issue a series of use cases that describeat a very high levela reference architecture about a type of cloud implementation and where security controls should be implemented, and where telemetry and instrumentation should be applied. You have departments and agencies that have a very forward-facing public citizen services portfolio, which means access to information, is one of their primary responsibilities. Public clouds and ease of access are most appropriate for those. And then there are agencies with more sensitive missions. Those have critical high value data assets that need to be protected in a specific way. Giving each the guidance they need to handle all of their use cases is what we’re focused on here. 

I wanted to talk a little bit about job roles. How are you defining the job roles around AI in CISA, as in data scientists, data engineers, and other important job titles and new job titles?  

I could spend the remainder of our time on this concept of job roles for artificial intelligence; it’s a favorite topic for me. I am a big proponent of the discipline of data science being a team sport. We currently have our engineers and our analysts and our operators. And the roles and disciplines around data science and data engineers have been morphing out of an additional duty on analysts and engineers into its own sub sector, its own discipline. We’re looking at a cadre of data professionals that serve almost as a logistics function to our operators who are doing the mission-level analysis. If you treat data as an asset that has to be moved and prepared and cleaned and readied, all terms in the data science and data engineering world now, you start to realize that it requires logistics functions similar to any other asset that has to be moved. 

If you get professionals dedicated to that end, you will be able to scale to the data problems you have without overburdening your current engineers who are building the compute platforms, or your current mission analysts who are trying to interpret the data and apply the insights to your stakeholders. You will have more team members moving data to the right places, making data-driven decisions. 

Are you able to hire the help you need to do the job? Are you able to find qualified people? Where are the gaps? 

As the domain continues to mature, as we understand more about the different roles, we begin to see gapseducation programs and training programs that need to be developed. I think maybe three, five years ago, you would see certificates from higher education in data science. Now we’re starting to see full-fledged degrees as concentrations out of computer science or mathematics. Those graduates are the pipeline to help us fill the gaps we currently have. So as far as our current problems, there’s never enough people. It’s always hard to get the good ones and then keep them because the competition is so high. 

Here at CISA, we continue to invest not only in our own folks that are re-training, but in the development of a cyber education and training group, which is looking at the partnerships with academia to help shore up that pipeline. It continually improves. 

Do you have a message for high school or college students interested in pursuing a career in AI, either in the government or in business, as to what they should study? 

Yes and it’s similar to the message I give to the high schoolers that live in my house. That is, don’t give up on math so easily. Math and science, the STEM subjects, have foundational skills that may be applicable to your future career. That is not to discount the diversity and variety of thought processes that come from other disciplines. I tell my kids they need the mathematical foundation to be able to apply the thought processes you learn from studying music or studying art or studying literature. And the different ways that those disciplines help you make connections. But have the mathematical foundation to represent those connections to a computer.   

One of the fallacies around machine learning is that it will just learn [by itself]. That’s not true. You have to be able to teach it, and you can only talk to computers with math, at the base level.  

So if you have the mathematical skills to relay your complicated human thought processes to the computer, and now it can replicate those patterns and identify what you’re asking it to do, you will have success in this field. But if you give up on the math part too earlyit’s a progressive disciplineif you give up on algebra two and then come back years later and jump straight into calculus, success is going to be difficult, but not impossible. 

You sound like a math teacher.  

A simpler way to say it is: if you say no to math now, it’s harder to say yes later. But if you say yes now, you can always say no later, if data science ends up not being your thing.  

Are there any incentives for young people, let’s say a student just out of college, to go to work for the government? Is there any kind of loan forgiveness for instance?  

We have a variety of programs. The one that I really like, that I have had a lot of success with as a hiring manager in the federal government, especially here at DHS over the past 10 years, is a program called Scholarship for Service. It’s a CyberCorps program where interested students, who pass the process to be accepted can get a degree in exchange for some service time. It used to be two years; it might be more now, but they owe some time and service to the federal government after the completion of their degree. 

I have seen many successful candidates come out of that program and go on to fantastic careers, contributing in cyberspace all over. I have interns that I hired nine years ago that are now senior leaders in this organization or have departed for private industry and are making their difference out there. It’s a fantastic program for young folks to know about.  

What advice do you have for other government agencies just getting started in pursuing AI to help them meet their goals? 

My advice for my peers and partners and anybody who’s willing to listen to it is, when you’re pursuing AI, be very specific about what it can do for you.   

I go back to the decisions you make, what people are counting on you to do. You bear some responsibility to know how you make those decisions if you’re really going to leverage AI and machine learning to make decisions faster or better or some other quality of goodnessThe speed at which you make decisions will go both ways. You have to identify your benefit of that decision being made if it’s positive and define your regret if that decision is made and it’s negative. And then do yourself a simple HIGH-LOW matrix; the quadrant of high-benefit, low-regret decisions is the target. Those are ones that I would like to automate as much as possible. And if artificial intelligence and machine learning can help, that would be great. If not, that’s a decision you have to make. 

I have two examples I use in our cyber mission to illustrate the extremes here. One is for incident triage. If a cyber incident is detected, we have a triage process to make sure that it’s real. That presents information to an analyst. If that’s done correctly, it has a high benefit because it can take a lot of work off our analysts. It has lowtomedium regret if it’s done incorrectly, because the decision is to present information to an analyst who can then provide that additional filter. So that’s a high benefit, low regret. That’s a no-brainer for automating as much as possible. 

On the other side of the spectrum is protecting next generation 911 call centers from a potential telephony denial of service attack. One of the potential automated responses could be to cut off the incoming traffic to the 911 call center to stunt the attack. Benefit: you may have prevented the attack. Regret: potentially you’re cutting off legitimate traffic to a 911 call center, and that has life and safety implications. And that is unacceptable. That’s an area where automation is probably not the right approach. Those are two extreme examples, which are easy for people to understand, and it helps illustrate how the benefit regret matrix can work. How you make decisions is really the key to understanding whether to implement AI and machine learning to help automate those decisions using the full breadth of data.  

Learn more about the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.  


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Making Use Of AI Ethics Tuning Knobs In AI Autonomous Cars 

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider   There is increasing awareness about the importance of AI Ethics, consisting of being mindful of the ethical ramifications of AI systems.    AI developers are being asked to carefully design and build their AI mechanizations by ensuring that ethical considerations are at the forefront of the AI systems development […]



Ethical tuning knobs would be a handy addition to self-driving car controls, the author suggests, if for example the operator was late for work and needed to exceed the speed limit. (Credit: Getty Images) 

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider  

There is increasing awareness about the importance of AI Ethics, consisting of being mindful of the ethical ramifications of AI systems.   

AI developers are being asked to carefully design and build their AI mechanizations by ensuring that ethical considerations are at the forefront of the AI systems development process. When fielding AI, those responsible for the operational use of the AI also need to be considering crucial ethical facets of the in-production AI systems. Meanwhile, the public and those using or reliant upon AI systems are starting to clamor for heightened attention to the ethical and unethical practices and capacities of AI.   

Consider a simple example. Suppose an AI application is developed to assess car loan applicants. Using Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL), the AI system is trained on a trove of data and arrives at some means of choosing among those that it deems are loan worthy and those that are not. 

The underlying Artificial Neural Network (ANN) is so computationally complex that there are no apparent means to interpret how it arrives at the decisions being rendered. Also, there is no built-in explainability capability and thus the AI is unable to articulate why it is making the choices that it is undertaking (note: there is a movement toward including XAI, explainable AI components to try and overcome this inscrutability hurdle).   

Upon the AI-based loan assessment application being fielded, soon thereafter protests arose by some that assert they were turned down for their car loan due to an improper inclusion of race or gender as a key factor in rendering the negative decision.   

At first, the maker of the AI application insists that they did not utilize such factors and professes complete innocence in the matter. Turns out though that a third-party audit of the AI application reveals that the ML/DL is indeed using race and gender as core characteristics in the car loan assessment process. Deep within the mathematically arcane elements of the neural network, data related to race and gender were intricately woven into the calculations, having been dug out of the initial training dataset provided when the ANN was crafted. 

That is an example of how biases can be hidden within an AI system. And it also showcases that such biases can go otherwise undetected, including that the developers of the AI did not realize that the biases existed and were seemingly confident that they had not done anything to warrant such biases being included. 

People affected by the AI application might not realize they are being subjected to such biases. In this example, those being adversely impacted perchance noticed and voiced their concerns, but we are apt to witness a lot of AI that no one will realize they are being subjugated to biases and therefore not able to ring the bell of dismay.   

Various AI Ethics principles are being proffered by a wide range of groups and associations, hoping that those crafting AI will take seriously the need to consider embracing AI ethical considerations throughout the life cycle of designing, building, testing, and fielding AI.   

AI Ethics typically consists of these key principles: 

1)      Inclusive growth, sustainable development, and well-being 

2)      Human-centered values and fairness 

3)      Transparency and explainability 

4)      Robustness, security, and safety 

5)      Accountability   

We certainly expect humans to exhibit ethical behavior, and thus it seems fitting that we would expect ethical behavior from AI too.   

Since the aspirational goal of AI is to provide machines that are the equivalent of human intelligence, being able to presumably embody the same range of cognitive capabilities that humans do, this perhaps suggests that we will only be able to achieve the vaunted goal of AI by including some form of ethics-related component or capacity. 

What this means is that if humans encapsulate ethics, which they seem to do, and if AI is trying to achieve what humans are and do, the AI ought to have an infused ethics capability else it would be something less than the desired goal of achieving human intelligence.   

You could claim that anyone crafting AI that does not include an ethics facility is undercutting what should be a crucial and integral aspect of any AI system worth its salt. 

Of course, trying to achieve the goals of AI is one matter, meanwhile, since we are going to be mired in a world with AI, for our safety and well-being as humans we would rightfully be arguing that AI had better darned abide by ethical behavior, however that might be so achieved.   

Now that we’ve covered that aspect, let’s take a moment to ponder the nature of ethics and ethical behavior.  

Considering Whether Humans Always Behave Ethically   

Do humans always behave ethically? I think we can all readily agree that humans do not necessarily always behave in a strictly ethical manner.   

Is ethical behavior by humans able to be characterized solely by whether someone is in an ethically binary state of being, namely either purely ethical versus being wholly unethical? I would dare say that we cannot always pin down human behavior into two binary-based and mutually exclusive buckets of being ethical or being unethical. The real-world is often much grayer than that, and we at times are more likely to assess that someone is doing something ethically questionable, but it is not purely unethical, nor fully ethical. 

In a sense, you could assert that human behavior ranges on a spectrum of ethics, at times being fully ethical and ranging toward the bottom of the scale as being wholly and inarguably unethical. In-between there is a lot of room for how someone ethically behaves. 

If you agree that the world is not a binary ethical choice of behaviors that fit only into truly ethical versus solely unethical, you would therefore also presumably be amenable to the notion that there is a potential scale upon which we might be able to rate ethical behavior. 

This scale might be from the scores of 1 to 10, or maybe 1 to 100, or whatever numbering we might wish to try and assign, maybe even including negative numbers too. 

Let’s assume for the moment that we will use the positive numbers of a 1 to 10 scale for increasingly being ethical (the topmost is 10), and the scores of -1 to -10 for being unethical (the -10 is the least ethical or in other words most unethical potential rating), and zero will be the midpoint of the scale. 

Please do not get hung up on the scale numbering, which can be anything else that you might like. We could even use letters of the alphabet or any kind of sliding scale. The point being made is that there is a scale, and we could devise some means to establish a suitable scale for use in these matters.   

The twist is about to come, so hold onto your hat.   

We could observe a human and rate their ethical behavior on particular aspects of what they do. Maybe at work, a person gets an 8 for being ethically observant, while perhaps at home they are a more devious person, and they get a -5 score. 

Okay, so we can rate human behavior. Could we drive or guide human behavior by the use of the scale? 

Suppose we tell someone that at work they are being observed and their target goal is to hit an ethics score of 9 for their first year with the company. Presumably, they will undertake their work activities in such a way that it helps them to achieve that score.   

In that sense, yes, we can potentially guide or prod human behavior by providing targets related to ethical expectations. I told you a twist was going to arise, and now here it is. For AI, we could use an ethical rating or score to try and assess how ethically proficient the AI is.   

In that manner, we might be more comfortable using that particular AI if we knew that it had a reputable ethical score. And we could also presumably seek to guide or drive the AI toward an ethical score too, similar to how this can be done with humans, and perhaps indicate that the AI should be striving towards some upper bound on the ethics scale. 

Some pundits immediately recoil at this notion. They argue that AI should always be a +10 (using the scale that I’ve laid out herein). Anything less than a top ten is an abomination and the AI ought to not exist. Well, this takes us back into the earlier discussion about whether ethical behavior is in a binary state.   

Are we going to hold AI to a “higher bar” than humans by insisting that AI always be “perfectly” ethical and nothing less so?   

This is somewhat of a quandary due to the point that AI overall is presumably aiming to be the equivalent of human intelligence, and yet we do not hold humans to that same standard. 

For some, they fervently believe that AI must be held to a higher standard than humans. We must not accept or allow any AI that cannot do so. 

Others indicate that this seems to fly in the face of what is known about human behavior and begs the question of whether AI can be attained if it must do something that humans cannot attain.   

Furthermore, they might argue that forcing AI to do something that humans do not undertake is now veering away from the assumed goal of arriving at the equivalent of human intelligence, which might bump us away from being able to do so as a result of this insistence about ethics.   

Round and round these debates continue to go. 

Those on the must-be topnotch ethical AI are often quick to point out that by allowing AI to be anything less than a top ten, you are opening Pandora’s box. For example, it could be that AI dips down into the negative numbers and sits at a -4, or worse too it digresses to become miserably and fully unethical at a dismal -10. 

Anyway, this is a debate that is going to continue and not be readily resolved, so let’s move on. 

If you are still of the notion that ethics exists on a scale and that AI might also be measured by such a scale, and if you also are willing to accept that behavior can be driven or guided by offering where to reside on the scale, the time is ripe to bring up tuning knobs. Ethics tuning knobs. 

Here’s how that works. You come in contact with an AI system and are interacting with it. The AI presents you with an ethics tuning knob, showcasing a scale akin to our ethics scale earlier proposed. Suppose the knob is currently at a 6, but you want the AI to be acting more aligned with an 8, so you turn the knob upward to the 8. At that juncture, the AI adjusts its behavior so that ethically it is exhibiting an 8-score level of ethical compliance rather than the earlier setting of a 6. 

What do you think of that? 

Some would bellow out balderdash, hogwash, and just unadulterated nonsense. A preposterous idea or is it genius? You’ll find that there are experts on both sides of that coin. Perhaps it might be helpful to provide the ethics tuning knob within a contextual exemplar to highlight how it might come to play. 

Here’s a handy contextual indication for you: Will AI-based true self-driving cars potentially contain an ethics tuning knob for use by riders or passengers that use self-driving vehicles?   

Let’s unpack the matter and see.   

For my framework about AI autonomous cars, see the link here: 

Why this is a moonshot effort, see my explanation here: 

For more about the levels as a type of Richter scale, see my discussion here: 

For the argument about bifurcating the levels, see my explanation here:   

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars   

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.   

These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5, while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).   

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there. 

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend). 

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).   

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.   

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3. 

For why remote piloting or operating of self-driving cars is generally eschewed, see my explanation here: 

To be wary of fake news about self-driving cars, see my tips here: 

The ethical implications of AI driving systems are significant, see my indication here:   

Be aware of the pitfalls of normalization of deviance when it comes to self-driving cars, here’s my call to arms:   

Self-Driving Cars And Ethics Tuning Knobs 

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task. All occupants will be passengers. The AI is doing the driving.   

This seems rather straightforward. You might be wondering where any semblance of ethics behavior enters the picture. Here’s how. Some believe that a self-driving car should always strictly obey the speed limit. 

Imagine that you have just gotten into a self-driving car in the morning and it turns out that you are possibly going to be late getting to work. Your boss is a stickler and has told you that coming in late is a surefire way to get fired.   

You tell the AI via its Natural Language Processing (NLP) that the destination is your work address. 

And, you ask the AI to hit the gas, push the pedal to the metal, screech those tires, and get you to work on-time.

But it is clear cut that if the AI obeys the speed limit, there is absolutely no chance of arriving at work on-time, and since the AI is only and always going to go at or less than the speed limit, your goose is fried.   

Better luck at your next job.   

Whoa, suppose the AI driving system had an ethics tuning knob. 

Abiding strictly by the speed limit occurs when the knob is cranked up to the top numbers like say 9 and 10. 

You turn the knob down to a 5 and tell the AI that you need to rush to work, even if it means going over the speed limit, which at a score of 5 it means that the AI driving system will mildly exceed the speed limit, though not in places like school zones, and only when the traffic situation seems to allow for safely going faster than the speed limit by a smidgen.   

The AI self-driving car gets you to work on-time!   

Later that night, when heading home, you are not in as much of a rush, so you put the knob back to the 9 or 10 that it earlier was set at. 

Also, you have a child-lock on the knob, such that when your kids use the self-driving car, which they can do on their own since there isn’t a human driver needed, the knob is always set at the topmost of the scale and the children cannot alter it.   

How does that seem to you? 

Some self-driving car pundits find the concept of such a tuning knob to be repugnant. 

They point out that everyone will “cheat” and put the knob on the lower scores that will allow the AI to do the same kind of shoddy and dangerous driving that humans do today. Whatever we might have otherwise gained by having self-driving cars, such as the hoped-for reduction in car crashes, along with the reduction in associated injuries and fatalities, will be lost due to the tuning knob capability.   

Others though point out that it is ridiculous to think that people will put up with self-driving cars that are restricted drivers that never bend or break the law. 

You’ll end-up with people opting to rarely use self-driving cars and will instead drive their human-driven cars. This is because they know that they can drive more fluidly and won’t be stuck inside a self-driving car that drives like some scaredy-cat. 

As you might imagine, the ethical ramifications of an ethics tuning knob are immense. 

In this use case, there is a kind of obviousness about the impacts of what an ethics tuning knob foretells.   

Other kinds of AI systems will have their semblance of what an ethics tuning knob might portend, and though it might not be as readily apparent as the case of self-driving cars, there is potentially as much at stake in some of those other AI systems too (which, like a self-driving car, might entail life-or-death repercussions).   

For why remote piloting or operating of self-driving cars is generally eschewed, see my explanation here:   

To be wary of fake news about self-driving cars, see my tips here: 

The ethical implications of AI driving systems are significant, see my indication here:   

Be aware of the pitfalls of normalization of deviance when it comes to self-driving cars, here’s my call to arms:   


If you really want to get someone going about the ethics tuning knob topic, bring up the allied matter of the Trolley Problem.   

The Trolley Problem is a famous thought experiment involving having to make choices about saving lives and which path you might choose. This has been repeatedly brought up in the context of self-driving cars and garnered acrimonious attention along with rather diametrically opposing views on whether it is relevant or not. 

In any case, the big overarching questions are will we expect AI to have an ethics tuning knob, and if so, what will it do and how will it be used. 

Those that insist there is no cause to have any such device are apt to equally insist that we must have AI that is only and always practicing the utmost of ethical behavior. 

Is that a Utopian perspective or can it be achieved in the real world as we know it?   

Only my crystal ball can say for sure.  

Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot  

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.  

[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:] 


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Application of AI to IT Service Ops by IBM and ServiceNow Exemplifies a Trend 

By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor  The application of AI to IT service operations has the potential to automate many tasks and drive down the cost of operations.  The trend is exemplified by the recent agreement between IBM and ServiceNow to leverage IBM’s AI-powered cloud infrastructure with ServiceNow’s intelligent workflow systems, as reported in Forbes.  […]



AI combined with IT service operations is seen as having the potential to automate many tasks while improving response times and decreasing costs (Credit: Getty Images) 

By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor 

The application of AI to IT service operations has the potential to automate many tasks and drive down the cost of operations. 

The trend is exemplified by the recent agreement between IBM and ServiceNow to leverage IBM’s AI-powered cloud infrastructure with ServiceNow’s intelligent workflow systems, as reported in Forbes. 

The goal is to reduce resolution times and lower the cost of outages, which according to a recent report from Aberdeen, can cost a company $260,000 per hour.  

David Parsons, Senior Vice President of Global Alliances and Partner Ecosystem at ServiceNow

“Digital transformation is no longer optional for anyone, and AI and digital workflows are the way forward,” stated David Parsons, Senior Vice President of Global Alliances and Partner Ecosystem at ServiceNow. “The four keys to success with AI are the ability 1) to automate IT, 2) gain deeper insights, 3) reduce risks, and 4) lower costs across your business,” Parsons said.   

The two companies plan to combine their tools in customer engagement to address each of these factors. “The first phase will bring together IBM’s AIOps software and professional services with ServiceNow’s intelligent workflow capabilities to help companies meet the digital demands of this moment,” Parsons stated. 

Arvind Krishna, Chief Executive Officer of IBM stated in a press release on the announcement, “AI is one of the biggest forces driving change in the IT industry to the extent that every company is swiftly becoming an AI company.” ServiceNow’s cloud computing platform helps companies manage digital workflows for enterprise IT operations.  

By partnering with ServiceNow and their market leading Now Platform, clients will be able to use AI to quickly mitigate unforeseen IT incident costs. “Watson AIOps with ServiceNow’s Now Platform is a powerful new way for clients to use automation to transform their IT operations and mitigate unforeseen IT incident costs,” Krishna stated. 

The IT service offering squarely positions IBM at aiming for AI in business. “When we talk about AI, we mean AI for business, which is much different than consumer AI,” stated Michael Gilfix of IBM in the Forbes account. He is the Vice President of Cloud Integration and Chief Product Officer of Cloud Paks at IBM. “AI for business is all about enabling organizations to predict outcomes, optimize resources, and automate processes so humans can focus their time on things that really matter,” he stated.   

IBM Watson has handled more than 30,000 client engagements since inception in 2011, the company reports. Among the benefits of this experience is a vast natural language processing vocabulary, which can parse and understand huge amounts of unstructured data. 

Ericsson Scientists Develop AI System to Automatically Resolve Trouble Tickets 

Another experience involving AI in operations comes from two AI scientists with Ericsson, who have developed a machine learning algorithm to help application service providers manage and automatically resolve trouble tickets. 

Wenting Sun, senior data science manager, Ericsson

Wenting Sun, senior data science manager at Ericsson in San Francisco, and Alka Isac, data scientist in Ericsson’s Global AI Accelerator outside Boston, devised the system to help quickly resolve issues with the complex infrastructure of an application service provider, according to an account on the Ericsson BlogThese could be network connection response problems, infrastructure resource limitations, or software malfunctioning issues. 

The two sought to use advanced NLP algorithms to analyze text information, interpret human language and derive predictions. They also took advantage of features/weights discovered from a group of trained models. Their system uses a hybrid of an unsupervised clustering approach and supervised deep learning embedding. “Multiple optimized models are then ensembled to build the recommendation engine,” the authors state.  

The two describe current trouble ticket handling approaches as time-consuming, tedious, labor-intensive, repetitive, slow, and prone to error. Incorrect triaging often results, which can lead to a reopening of a ticket and more time to resolve, making for unhappy customers. When personnel turns over, the human knowledge gained from years of experience can be lost.  

Alka Isac, data scientist in Ericsson’s Global AI Accelerator

We can replace the tedious and time-consuming triaging process with intelligent recommendations and an AI-assisted approach,” the authors stated, with a time to resolution expected to be reduced up to 75% and avoidance of multiple ticket reopenings  

Sun leads a team of data scientists and data engineers to develop AI/ML applications in the telecommunication domain. She holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering and a PhD degree in intelligent control. She also drives Ericsson’s contributions to the AI open source platform Acumos (under Linux foundation’s Deep Learning Foundation).  

As a Data Scientist in Ericsson’s Global AI Accelerator, Isac is part of a team of Data Scientists focusing on reducing the resolution time of tickets for Ericsson’s Customer Support Team. She holds a master’s degree in Information Systems Management majoring in Data Science. 

Survey Finds AI Is Helpful to IT 

In a survey of 154 IT and business professionals at companies with at least one AI-related project in general production, AI was found to deliver impressive results to IT departments, enhancing the performance of systems and making help desks more helpful, according to a recent account in ZDNet.  

The survey was conducted by ITPro Today working with InformationWeek and Interop. 

Beyond benefits of AI for the overall business, many respondents could foresee the greatest benefits going right to the IT organization itself63% responded that they hope to achieve greater efficiencies within IT operations. Another 45% aimed for improved product support and customer experience, and another 29% sought improved cybersecurity systems.   

The top IT use case was security analytics and predictive intelligence, cited by 71% of AI leaders. Another 56% stated AI is helping with the help desk, while 54% have seen a positive impact on the productivity of their departments. “While critics say that the hype around AI-driven cybersecurity is overblown, clearly, IT departments are desperate to solve their cybersecurity problems, and, judging by this question in our survey, many of them are hoping AI will fill that need,” stated Sue Troy, author of the survey report.   

AI expertise is in short supply. More than two in three successful AI implementers, 67%, report shortages of candidates with needed machine learning and data modeling skills, while 51seek greater data engineering expertise. Another 42% reported compute infrastructure skills to be in short supply.    

Read the source articles and information in Forbes, the IBM press release on the alliance with ServiceNow, on the Ericsson Blog, in ZDNet and from ITPro Today . 


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