Interview With Dr. Dana Nehoran, Chief AI Officer At SKAEL
A discussion about AI Vision, Ethics and Potential
In March 2021, Dr. Nehoran joined SKAEL with a focus on heading efforts to harness the power of the latest AI technologies to deliver state-of-the-art, user-centric solutions to SKAEL's customers.
Dr. Nehoran was born in Buenos Aires and grew up in a culture and time when technology was “for boys only,” as she says. Though her father wanted her to become a CPA like him, she fell in love with computers at 13. After learning the basics of computer programming as a teen, she attended the Technion in Israel and graduated with a degree in computer science.
Dr. Nehoran and her husband -- also a Technion graduate -- raised four children who became scholars and entrepreneurs. They have taught their children the importance of living up to their full potential, which she has done herself by pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees while working full-time and raising her family.
As strong believers in equality, she and her husband always gave their daughter the same level of encouragement and support as their sons to pursue the career of her dreams. Now part of Dr. Nehoran’s mission is encouraging today’s young generation, regardless of who they are or where they come from, to dream big and maybe consider engineering and technology careers.
To get to know Dr. Nehoran better and learn more about the value she brings to SKAEL, we invited her to answer a few questions.
1) What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?
I can’t really point out the aha moment, but I know why I became passionate about data science and artificial intelligence. Throughout my career, I’ve worked for companies and organizations swamped with data, but with little capacity and ability to access this data in a timely manner for data-driven decision making. In both the companies and academic institutions where I’ve worked, data was underutilized. During my tenure at Intel back in 2004, I found myself wondering how business decisions could improve if we used predictive analytics to understand customers, their behavior and the market in a methodological way.
With each new company and team I joined, my passion for making good use of data grew, and so did my motivation to help organizations mature technologically. Humans communicate through words, sentences and paragraphs, and such information is captured in many forms and shapes, including text, voice or video. Today’s computers have the computational power to extract insights from this communication and transform the insights into decisions and actions. They are able to interact with humans and complete tasks in automated ways. This is one place where artificial intelligence comes into effect.
2) What are your vision and goals as the Chief AI Officer for SKAEL?
My vision is to make SKAEL the top player in enterprise hyperautomation by providing the most innovative AI solutions. I want to empower our customers with seamless access to data, insights and timely predictions, as well as with the power of machine-performed actions. Employees at companies powered by SKAEL will have a human-like experience when they interact with SKAEL’s digital employees, which are easy to configure and train.
To achieve that vision, I will follow the latest trends in AI and bring them to SKAEL. This will be combined with home-grown innovation by cultivating a culture of innovative thinking at all levels of the organization. It is as important to help current employees learn and adopt new AI skills as it is to attract and retain top AI talent.
AI at SKAEL combines software programs, statistics, natural language processing algorithms, and machine learning. My responsibilities include maintaining SKAEL’s AI roadmap, contributing to SKAEL’s product roadmap, and deploying AI projects accordingly.
Protecting our AI intellectual property is one way to maintain our marketplace competitiveness. The goal is not just maintaining control over the use of our own technology, but making sure we have the necessary rights to integrate the latest technologies in our products.
3) Who do you admire and why?
Isaac Asimov wrote most of his science fiction stories way before I was born, but I grew up watching my dad read his books. I consider Isaac Asimov a true inspiration when it comes to innovation. Many of today’s technological advancements were inspired by his imagination and creativity. He was a visionary who could dream beyond what was considered possible at the time and described his perception of the future in newspaper articles and stories. He predicted video calls, autonomous vehicles, robotic house cleaners, and many other technologies.
Most relevant to my role -- and to SKAEL in general -- Asimov often discussed ways in which machines would replace routine workers. I don’t believe that machines can completely replace humans, or ever will, but computers are capable of performing monotonous, boring tasks faster and more accurately than humans. Automation allows human workers to delegate repetitive tasks to computers and, instead, concentrate on those that humans perform better. These are often tasks requiring human judgement and empathy or involving human relationships -- tasks that I believe computers will never be able to perform.
If only I had Asimov beside me today, letting me know what the future of AI would be...
4) What are the top ethical concerns companies need to consider when implementing AI solutions?
When ethics and AI are mentioned together, people tend to immediately think about science-fiction-style superintelligent AI going out of control. But we have much more immediate ethical issues to contemplate.
The first major issue to consider is the way AI is integrated with our society. Even when machines can perform much of what the human workforce does, we shouldn’t eliminate the human touch and interpersonal communication in the workplace. Social interaction between humans is essential to every aspect of our health and happiness.
Inevitably, certain jobs will be taken over by AI. The day isn’t far off when clerical and call center workers, professional drivers, cashiers and some other occupations will be a thing of the past. Unemployment will likely not become a real concern here, since new jobs will emerge to develop and maintain these new technologies. Even the Industrial Revolution didn’t cause an increase in unemployment. We just need to make sure that any such transition is handled responsibly, allowing workers the opportunity to retrain.
The second major issue to consider is the human use of AI. Any powerful technology can be improperly used, and it’s everyone’s duty to help fight malicious use. Additionally, even though AI isn’t inherently biased, it may intensify human bias. So, it is important that we check ourselves and design machine learning such that it warns when bias is suspected, rather than reflect and intensify such bias.
Lastly, since machines can quickly access and process large amounts of data, irresponsible deployment of AI tools may cause significant damage. AI professionals need to emphasize privacy, control and security in order to prevent unlawful access to private information.
5) Why did you join SKAEL?
More than anything, the factors that tipped the scales for me were the people I met here and the company culture -- both SKAEL’s formal values and people’s de facto conduct. All of that made me feel “at home” right away.
Another reason I chose SKAEL was the opportunity to make a difference. First, SKAEL is open to innovation. I felt that my work would have a significant effect on the company and its business. Additionally, through SKAEL’s products, I saw a chance to help transform the way business is conducted today. I noticed the amazing work that had been done here already, and recognized SKAEL’s huge potential. I truly believe in what we’re doing here. Workforce automation through AI is the future, and I want to be part of that.
Lastly, for several years now, I’ve been working for large and well-established corporations, including Intel, Yahoo! and CSR/Qualcomm. Even the three universities where I taught were all founded in the 1850s. After all these years, I simply missed the energy and atmosphere of a young venture.
6) Why is the Chief AI Officer role important in companies today?
I can think of a number of reasons:
- Innovation culture comes from the top. Most companies adopt AI at some level, but it is the CAIO’s job to fully understand ideas pitched by innovators and translate them into business payoff terms for the rest of the executive team.
- AI is a critical component of digital transformation in the enterprise. By deeply understanding data science, AI, and business, the CAIO can combine them to maximize their value in a way that best suits the organization.
- Shaping the AI vision. As part of an executive team, a CAIO is responsible for leading the formation of an AI vision, communicating it company-wide, and soliciting innovation ideas from all levels of the organization.
- Contributing to product. When AI is also part of the product, like in our case at SKAEL, the CAIO becomes a key contributor to creating and enhancing products, and to shaping the product roadmap.
- Guiding ethical usage of AI. All too often, organizations struggle to fully leverage data and adopt AI, because they don’t fully understand ethics or fail to make ethics part of a complete AI governance strategy. The CAIO helps the company navigate this to maximize technology potential while addressing ethics concerns.
- Recruiting and upskilling. A CAIO can identify and understand the gaps in the AI skill portfolio and hire to augment the team with the right people or develop current employees accordingly.
- Ensuring a cohesive AI strategy. As companies grow, they often use AI in different parts of their organization. The CAIO ensures a unified approach to all AI initiatives, collaboration, and minimal redundancy.
- Leading a team. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a steep growth in the number of professionals in this area. For example, the number of data scientists is expected to grow 30% over the next decade. These individuals prefer a dedicated AI team under the CAIO, where they can grow professionally, work collaboratively, and use specialized tools.
7) How does your time in both the academic and business worlds shape the way you approach this position?
One of the most important parts of my role is to establish a vision, set goals, and guide individuals to help them reach these goals. Inspirational leadership and emotional intelligence are crucial skills that help me excel as a leader. As a university professor I used inspirational leadership mechanisms to encourage students to perform to the best of their abilities. Similarly, through my entire career in the industry, I used inspirational leadership to motivate my employees to contribute with innovative ideas and reinvent the future. I believe that both students and employees are capable of making the impossible possible if they are understood, motivated, challenged, and recognized for their efforts. The sky's the limit if you believe in what you do, and you receive the necessary support.
Innovation doesn’t exist without risk. Employees, as well as students, feel extremely motivated when they have the opportunity to work on groundbreaking tasks. Our role as leaders is to support them when they innovate, celebrate small successes, lend a hand when they face obstacles, and help them recover if they fail. I believe that organizations with risk tolerance and a culture of innovation are the only ones able to think out of the box and bring new ideas to life.
SKAEL combines automation and conversational AI technologies into a workforce platform that powers Digital Employees. This not only lets our customers save money and time, but more importantly lets human innovators reclaim time for purposeful work. Digital Employees let you focus on important questions, and not memorize how to do tasks in software. For more information visit www.skael.com.