Women Leading The AI Industry: “A leader should be actively involved with recruiting and put pressure on the HR and management team to hire more women.” with Stephanie Bohn and Tyler Gallagher

Be actively involved with recruiting and put pressure on your HR and management team to hire more women. If they are only seeing male candidates then tell them to look harder. As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Bohn. Bohn oversees VidMob’s marketing […]

Be actively involved with recruiting and put pressure on your HR and management team to hire more women. If they are only seeing male candidates then tell them to look harder.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Bohn. Bohn oversees VidMob’s marketing and communications as chief marketing officer. Prior to VidMob, Bohn ran feature film marketing at Netflix. Before that, Bohn spent 13 years at Warner Bros. leading marketing divisions and pioneering new technology initiatives. Among them was launching the studio’s mobile app publishing business and leading global CRM marketing. Bohn began her career in brand marketing at American Express. She holds a BBA from The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and an MBA from The Anderson School at UCLA. Bohn serves on the board of the Rett Syndrome Research Trust.

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 have spent most of my career at large companies like American Express, Warner Bros. and Netflix, always seeking out opportunities to create new products and lines of business. The idea of being an entrepreneur, or joining a startup was alluring, but I didn’t have the guts to try. In 2015, I came across VidMob. The company was very early stage, with eight employees and a small amount of seed funding. But they had a big idea, impressive technology and a mission to pay success forward to non-profits. After two years as a board advisor, I took the leap and joined full-time. I became Chief Marketing Officer and can say, without hesitation, this has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Don’t let your resume narrow your future pursuits. Look for jobs that scare you so you continue to evolve. In the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “do the things you think you cannot do.”

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

Currently, we are launching an AI-powered Creative Intelligence platform that pinpoints the details in video ads that impact performance. The creative process involves a lot of guesswork and our technology gives marketers precise answers about which choices work so ads can be iterated and improved on the fly.

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 am grateful to my mother Paula Atlas, the late CFO of Dynatech International. In the early 1980’s, she left a career in early childhood education to pursue a master’s degree in the male dominated field of accounting. In a class of 100, there were five other women and she was the only one with children. After putting my brother and I to bed, she studied late into the night for her CPA exam. She aced it and sailed into a career in public accounting while all of her friends were leaving the workforce to become homemakers. Paula rose to the C-suite, serving as CFO and the only female officer of her company. Paula was a born leader and reached the highest heights professionally but never forgot to give back. She was a teacher, a volunteer and a mentor. At the young age of 65, my mother lost her life to pancreatic cancer. At her funeral, five women approached me to tell me how Paula changed their lives by recruiting and promoting them when breaks for women were hard to come by. Well before it was popular, Paula promoted and practiced feminism. Equal opportunity, equal pay and equal rights were her guiding principles. They have now become mine.

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

1) Most people don’t consider Creativity to be positively impacted by AI, but it’s the most exciting thing happening to the advertising industry. Computer vision and deep learning tools allow brands to know, with great precision, which creative details in a video ad impact performance. Pre-AI, the only variables marketers could confidently evaluate were spend level and targeting. With AI, brands can measure the efficacy of creative choices like logo size, objects, text density, music, hairstyles and facial expressions.

2) Robots don’t take lunch breaks and they don’t ask for raises. Many low empathy jobs are at high risk of being automated. But in some cases, machine learning is creating new jobs and making us safer. As the global population explodes and land for agriculture shrinks, AI may be a viable answer to cost efficiently boost our world’s food supply. It can also be applied to make food safer. Agricultural AI company, Blue River Technology, built a robot called “See and Spray” which uses computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to precisely manage weeds. Instead of spraying an entire field, the system detects and deals with weeds one by one. This will dramatically reduce herbicides and make organic food affordable to everyone.

3) AI is going to be a game changer for oncological screening and treatment. I know from personal experience watching my mother get diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, detection can involve scores of painful tests and long waits. Intel is of many companies pioneering advancements in medical AI. They are developing one-day precision medicine for cancer patients.

4) The most mind-blowing term I learned in 2018 was “mini-brains”. System 1 is a neuro-therapeutics company in Silicon Valley that is growing cerebral organoids and using machine learning to profile complex brain disorders like autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia and testing novel therapeutics. AI applied in this way may spur a major transformation in clinical trial design which can increase safety, efficacy and speed to market for life-saving drugs.

5) Neuro-engineers are creating ways to help nonverbal people produce speech. A recent breakthrough at Columbia reveals computers that can interpret brain activity related to communication and thought. With AI-powered speech generation, nonverbal people can once again, or first the time in their lives, converse. My four-year old daughter was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome which has rendered her nonverbal. I have not heard her say a word in two years. AI can dramatically improve her life.

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

I am more excited about AI than fearful of it but fully appreciate that we need checks and balances to make sure Elon Musk’s predictions don’t come to pass.

1) The flip of my Creativity argument is that engineers try to develop AI to replace imagination. I think storytelling is a uniquely human pursuit and robots will never be a match for humans but it’s concerning that there are people who disagree.

2) A frequent topic among my colleagues is how to recognize and manage unconscious bias. Algorithms are only as good as their data inputs, which makes AI vulnerable to bad decision making. Consider AI-powered recruiting software. If hiring recommendations rely on historical data, then only white males who attended top universities will get jobs.

3) Advancements in video and audio technology are democratizing the post production process. Using AI-powered editing tools, anyone can now swap faces and engineer dialogue. We can fairly easily create a video of a real person in a place they’ve never been saying something they never said. A startup named Lyrebird now offers a service that lets you fake someone else’s voice with just a few snippets of audio.

4) I worry that AI can start to affect how humans interact with one another because opportunities will become more limited. The idea of autonomous vehicles is appealing, but do I talk to the robot driving me to the airport about the museums I plan to visit in The Netherlands? There is a restaurant in Boston called Spyce that is run almost entirely by robots, created by 4 MIT graduates. Can the robot waiter tell me about its favorite appetizers?

5) Criminal application of AI is starting to emerge which is frightening. Two friends of mine recently encountered “smart” phishing which is a type of machine learning that enables people to analyze vast amounts of stolen data, identify potential victims and craft fake but highly believable e-mails.

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?

I think the upside of AI benefits outweigh the downsides, but risks are real. We have to approach this new world with eyes wide open and create regulatory oversight and sanctions for irresponsible or malicious applications. We have to be realistic about what bad actors are capable of and have protections in place.

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?

The best way to prevent these bad outcomes is to carefully plan for all scenarios, build the right infrastructure, policy and law enforcement.

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

For the past 15 years, I have been an active board member and volunteer for a variety of health related and children’s charities like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, The Lollipop Theater Network and Kidsave International. At present, all of my free time is spent raising awareness and funds to support the Rett Syndrome Research Trust. I serve on the board of directors and am proud to say the organization has raised $50 million to fund bold research aimed at curing and reversing Rett Syndrome, a debilitating brain disorder that afflicts females almost exclusively. My daughter Sadie was diagnosed with Rett in 2014. She has lost her ability to speak, move independently and use her hands functionally. Every day is a challenge for Sadie but her future looks incredibly bright thanks to brilliant researchers around the world who are applying technologies like AI and CRISPR to modify the gene that causes Rett.

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?

1) Actively recruit more women to this field.

2) Speak at universities and even grade schools so girls and young woman can form a different perception of technology careers.

3) Make your voice heard by publishing thought leadership content

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

Be actively involved with recruiting and put pressure on your HR and management team to hire more women. If they are only seeing male candidates then tell them to look harder.

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

At the moment, I love the saying by my dear friend Jill Goldstein, “When passion burns brighter than fear, you can set the world on fire.” Whether it’s public speaking for The Rett Syndrome Research Trust or hosting Creativist, an event to celebrate badass women changing the world, I often put myself in situations that intimidate me. For me, the antidote to fear is passion for the cause. When my heart is in it, there is very little that can scare me away from an opportunity to make a difference.

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 would start a movement to make workplaces more accessible to people with disabilities and evolve the recruitment process to make hiring more inclusive. There are 1 billion people globally who have a disability and can’t find work. I am a fan of what Caroline Casey is doing with The Valuable 500 pledge, a movement to get top industry leaders to add disability inclusion in their business agendas.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @sbohn

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sbohn/

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