We recently sat down with Microsoft Central Product Management, Mixed Reality & Artificial Intelligence Engineering, Nate Yohannes, to discuss the democratization of AI products. It’s an awesome conversation for anyone interested in learning about how we can lower the barrier to entry for AI products.

Building AI products isn’t necessarily what Nate Yohannes set out to do from the start. In fact, he’s a New York licensed attorney. However, it’s now his mission to democratize AI technology and put it into the hand of millions, if not billions, of people. You can listen to the full episode of Product Talk on iTunes or Spotify.

Understand how people move through the world

Yohannes and his team understand that whether it’s a person with a disability, or a task anyone faces in everyday life, it’s important to consider how people interact with the world. That’s an important viewpoint for a great product manager to have.

“One of our lead PMs on our fixtures access team who’s helping us use facial recognition and biometrics to go through the journey of buildings and infrastructure. He actually is missing an arm. So he always articulates how holding a laptop or in a cup of coffee and looking for this key bag had been a hinder to his life because of the fact that he only has one arm. And so we think about a lens of computer vision, helping us reason through people to get to providing us access into buildings.

When I think about it from the lens of document extraction and filling in forms. There are millions and millions of forms out there that require a lot of manual labor of lift and shift from one document to another. But what if we just had object character recognition, extracting data from these documents and entering them into forms? You know, these are not the most exotic use cases around computer vision. But these are ones that we need to democratize first.”

AI Products can help us tear down the language barrier

According to Yohannes, one of the biggest challenges we face is that of a language gap.

“We can democratize and break down the barriers of language. I think that’s one of the biggest barriers that we all face is our inability to communicate across different borders across the world because of the language gap. And I inherently believe that once we break the language barrier down, it will open up net new billions or even trillions of dollars worth of commerce and cash. But all this was net new ideas for us to advance human ingenuity. So that’s one of the things I’m thinking about every single day.”

It’s important to maintain trust and privacy

Microsoft, Amazon, Google and many other businesses are building AI products. Yohannes notes that for his team at Microsoft, maintaining trust and privacy is essential.

“How do you create net new business models around this, while respecting the privacy of the end customer and their data? And at Microsoft, we run on trust and privacy. And we want to make sure that when we’re working with customers, that their data is always going to be their data unless you know there is an explicit or implied agreement. But we talked on the notion that we run on trust as well as the fact that that a lot of customers are, as they transform their businesses to an AI-first, cloud-first business, look at net new ways to drop and commercialize a software business model.”

On ethics in AI Products

For all the conspiracy theorists and real fears around AI, it’s nice to know that people like Yohannes are out there with the best intentions in mind.

“These are some of the best and brightest people, their designers as well as ethicists, whether philosophers, as well as just some of the top tier engineers that are making sure that as a company within our product groups, that we’re following our sensible pillars in regards to facial recognition ethics. That’s really keeping us on our toes in regards to making sure that we think consciously about the greater good of society and try to mitigate as many unintended consequences as possible. 

Let’s use this stuff to apply it in the most ethical manner as well. Use it to advance humans. But there are some bad actors out there that certainly will take advantage of technology not in the best way possible. And so I’m really, really, really cautious. And I want to always make sure, on the product side, that we’re not addressing a customer scenario, or we think is a big bet, based on dollars, but based on thinking about the greater good of society. It goes down to my principles. At the beginning, I think about my personal upbringing and my family as refugees and being victims of persecution and torture. I certainly don’t want to see technology apply that to other humans in a negative way possible.”

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About the Speaker
Nate Yohannes
Microsoft Director of Central Product Management, Mixed Reality & Artificial Intelligence Engineering
Nate Yohannes is the Director of Central Product Management, Mixed Reality & Artificial Intelligence Engineering. After an amazing stint on the team leading the largest AI business deals, Yohannes transitioned to Microsoft's Cloud & Artificial Intelligence engineering group. As a member of the leadership team, he leads their central efforts of product strategy and management across AI Cognitive Services and Mixed Reality: Speech, Computer Vision, Language Translation, Mix Reality Cloud.

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