Dr Vivienne Ming wears many hats. As a theoretical neuroscientist, educational technologist and serial entrepreneur – amongst other things – she builds models to study the brain and improve machine learning systems. Across all of her different roles, though, she maintains a single focus: unlock the power of human potential.
Now the Executive Chair of Socos Labs, a philanthropic think tank in Berkeley, California, Dr Ming likens the labs to the TV series ‘House’. But rather than tackling medical mysteries, Socos Labs uses Artificial Intelligence to find solutions to a vast range of global issues.
If someone comes to Socos with a problem, and Dr Ming thinks her team can make a meaningful difference, they’ll not only work towards discovering a solution – they’ll do it for free. “Somewhere along the line I forgot one of the first rules of start-up club,” Ming jokes, “which is to actually make money.”
In an era of machine learning, when the IoT is promising to re-draw the business landscape in fascinating new ways, using the right data – in the right way – is more important than ever. Data not only powers CRM platforms and enables businesses to make smarter strategic decisions; it can also help AI complete highly complex, repetitive tasks.
“Think of any expert human judgment,” Ming says. “Maybe basic contract review in law, or language analysis in documents. Machines can do it cheaper and faster, and, in many cases, better than people.”
For Dr Ming, the idea of using AI and data to re-imagine traditional workflows and get ahead of the marketplace is nothing new. In a previous position, Ming turned to AI to help her hire software engineers.
“Why wait for people to apply?” Ming asks. Her team used Artificial Intelligence to find candidates that may have been overlooked by human recruiters, including under-represented minorities and people without university degrees.
In the end, Ming’s team unleashed an AI-powered web crawler that assembled hundreds of millions of profiles from around the world. From these, they assembled an all-star team of highly skilled and driven candidates who weren’t on Silicone Valley’s radar. These were people who might have fallen through the cracks because they didn’t fit the conventional mould, or because they were victims of subconscious human bias.
But recruitment is just the tip of the data-driven iceberg. At Socos Labs, Ming’s teams have turned their AI lens on everything from helping corporations to retain women employees, and helping countries to understand why their education system isn’t meeting expectations, to helping parents figure out why their son can’t enter REM sleep.
Ming also foresees extraordinary applications for AI in the industrial and medical sectors, in supply-chain management, in combating disinformation, and even in fighting diseases such as juvenile diabetes, which her son suffers from.
“Someone alive right now will come up with a cure for Type 1 diabetes,” Dr Ming believes. “They have that potential. But they were born in a favela in Rio. Or they were born in a village outside Kinshasa. Or down the street from me here in Oakland, and they will never have the chance. They won’t receive the education, and there’s nothing in their life that tells them that someone like them can do something amazing. But I look at human potential and I want it maximised. I want that person to come up with a cure for my son’s diabetes. I want my kids to grow up in that world. It’s why I do the work I do and give it all away.”
With so many divergent problems facing us across so many various sectors, it’s impossible to be an expert on everything. Or, at least it is if you’re human. But for Dr Ming, who’s now designing a special AI system to target her son’s diabetes, machine learning is unlocking exciting new possibilities every day. And in an age where our collective sci-fi dreams have grown increasingly dystopian, actual data-driven science is painting a far more hopeful and optimistic view of our future. “I get to be a mad scientist,” Ming explains, “But for good.”
To hear more from Dr Vivienne Ming, check out the webinar. The Resilient CEO: Preparing for the next normal.