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Microsoft’s Marina Arnaout: “The first step is improving communication of the landscape, and this can be said about engaging all talent in the industry — women and men”

The first step is improving communication of the landscape, and this can be said about engaging all talent in the industry — women and men. There is a need for a more general, and better quality education on the gaps that exist and how talent can fill them. It’s important to remember that you don’t need a […]


The first step is improving communication of the landscape, and this can be said about engaging all talent in the industry — women and men. There is a need for a more general, and better quality education on the gaps that exist and how talent can fill them. It’s important to remember that you don’t need a technical background to make your contributions — there are many commercial, academic, and operational areas, so never be discouraged. These days every company is a technology company, so the opportunities to make impact are enormous, and the need for doing so as our industries evolve will only increase.


As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Arnaout. Arnaout successfully helps businesses embrace innovative strategies that enhance their digital investments. She’s held the role of Customer Success Director at Marin Software, collaborating with enterprises across EMEA, and Regional Head of Digital at SAS Software, spearheading the analytics leader’s global digital strategy, which won her recognition in Marketing Magazine’s annual 30 Under 30 in 2016. Currently she is an account relationship manager at Microsoft working with top tier clients in helping develop digital strategies across Microsoft advertising properties, and is a masters candidate at London School of Economics pursing an Executive Global Masters in Management degree, focusing her research on AI and the customer journey.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

I’ve always been interested in innovation and digital, so the technology sector was a natural fit. I started my career working for a Microsoft partner, developing a go-to-market strategy for a new product, which exposed me to the fast-paced growing world of tech. Since then I’ve been helping enterprises with their digital strategies across various roles. At SAS Software, I held the role of Regional Head of Digital, where I helped lead regional and global programmes and developed customer journeys by using data analytics and customer intelligence tools. I became further exposed to the world of adtech, automation and machine learning at Marin Software, where I collaborated with clients such as The Economist. Most recently, I took on a role with Microsoft, which is leading advancements in AI globally through various initiatives. All of this has inspired me to pursue a degree in global business management and focus my academic research on the field of AI as it relates to the customer journey.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

My story is still in its beginning stages and I am still learning myself every day. But if there’s one thing that’s consistent, it’s to be curious and embrace the unknown.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

There are two things I am most excited about.

The first is my academic contributions to the field of AI. I am currently pursuing a postgraduate degree at London School of Economics’ Department of Management — the Executive Global Masters in Management — where my research focuses on how AI will impact the customer journey in financial services. Through this, I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with some of the top leaders in financial services field to find out their challenges, apply frameworks and develop solutions.

The second is being part of Microsoft. I am fortunate to work for a company that is an AI leader and enables me to be at the forefront of these developments and part of the conversations. It provides for an opportunity to combine my professional, academic and personal interests. Every day I feel I learn something new.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I find that I am constantly inspired by many people I meet and have been fortunate to work with great leaders and mentors in both business and community leadership — I can’t name just one!

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Business Intelligence & Efficiency
  2. Humanitarian Action & Disaster Response
  3. Education Enhancement
  4. Healthcare Improvement
  5. Advancing Sustainability

AI has the potential to improve life and business, and the overall opportunities for advancement are very promising. We’re at the very beginning of these developments and the exciting part is that these advancements can drastically improve not only business but also human life.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
 

1. Inherent Bias

2. Ethics Debate

3. Global Economic Impact

4.Workforce Impact

5. AI getting in the hands of evil

The unknown future is both promising and concerning due its vast potential. There is a lot that can go wrong, especially if AI lands in the wrong hands ranging from ethics to bias and to more immediate dangers with AI weapons.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

When you remove mathematics from the equation, it is all a philosophical debate.

History has shown that whenever a great invention gets into the wrong hands, evil tends to prevail. Right now we’re in the early stages of AI and currently exploring the many potential benefits of using as AI for good, with initiatives which can help prevent natural disasters, or provide greater assistance to the blind and, of course, the many forms of business intelligence. AI has potential to empower communities and businesses, and possesses many benefits.

However, it’s without a doubt advanced AI can present various downsides. It could have significant economic impact by substantially altering the workforce at a pace humans can’t keep up with, and presents many ethical challenges. More directly, AI could be programmed to destruct, or even programmed to do something beneficial but use a destructive method to achieve it.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

This is a global issue. It sits with the political and business leaders of the world, who need to partake in this equally with representation from both East and West. Global leaders from different political systems need to align to ensure there is symmetry in ethics, data protection and guidelines with full transparency to the public.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I’ve always been involved in community leadership, with different charities such as Dress for Success and UNICEF. One of my favourite initiatives to be involved in was being a committee lead with Breakfast of Champions, in support of SickKids Foundation. It was an event for young professionals and “champions” to have a breakfast together for a good cause. Some of the champions who have participated have been the Mayor of Toronto, the Managing Director for Facebook, the President of FedEx, and a Chair of RBC. Collectively, the initiative raised over $600 000 for SickKids Hospital.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

Develop your niche, find an area to make an impact, and never stop learning.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

The first step is improving communication of the landscape, and this can be said about engaging all talent in the industry — women and men. There is a need for a more general, and better quality education on the gaps that exist and how talent can fill them. It’s important to remember that you don’t need a technical background to make your contributions — there are many commercial, academic, and operational areas, so never be discouraged. These days every company is a technology company, so the opportunities to make impact are enormous, and the need for doing so as our industries evolve will only increase.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

Measure yourself only against your previous self. Growth comes from learning to enjoy feeling uncomfortable.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am just scratching the surface of success and influence! That being said, if I was to start a movement, it would be improve access to education for all. Education has the potential to lift people out of poverty and solve global problems at scale.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @Marinarn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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