Women Leading The AI Industry: “ In order to succeed in this era of augmented intelligence we as humans need to be more data literate” with Elif Tutuk and Tyler Gallagher

In order to succeed in this era of augmented intelligence we as humans need to be more data literate — that is, be able to read, write, understand and analyze data. If we equip ourselves with the skills necessary to be able to be augmented by AI, we won’t have to worry about being replaced by machines. […]

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In order to succeed in this era of augmented intelligence we as humans need to be more data literate — that is, be able to read, write, understand and analyze data. If we equip ourselves with the skills necessary to be able to be augmented by AI, we won’t have to worry about being replaced by machines. Regardless of new technologies combining humans, data and algorithms, we will always be necessary to interpret insights and make decisions. More education is needed to clarify for people how AI is truly different than human intuition. Context is very important, for example, and this is where humans excel vs. where AI is best applied.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Elif Tutuk, head of the Qlik Research team at Qlik R&D. She is an experienced product person in the analytics area with a diversified background in product management, product design, development and research. In her current role, she leads a team of scientists and engineers focusing on emerging analytics and data technologies and new ideas to drive innovation at Qlik R&D. Elif is a veteran in the Big Data and analytics industries with over 15 years of experience. She is passionate about analytics, innovating with data and augmenting human intelligence with the power of analytics.

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’m came to the US from Istanbul in 2002 to pursue a Masters in Information Systems at Iowa State University. I joined Qlik nine years ago and through various roles, ranging from product management and design to technical product marketing and product development, and I now serve as the Head of Research.

What drew me to this field was my personal passion for taking on new challenges and learning new skills. For that reason, the data and analytics field is fascinating to me because it gives me the opportunity to do just that. It’s a fast-paced environment and requires you to be adaptable and willing to work on new things. That’s one of my favorite things about my current role at Qlik Research.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

It’s important to understand that everyone brings a unique perspective to every situation, shaped by factors such as where they were raised, their life experiences and their values. Recognizing this helps you see the world from a different lens. For me, this has been an invaluable lesson and it was one that came from my mom who showed me the value of positivity and how to be passionate in everything I do. Although she passed away, it’s a lesson I still keep in mind when researching and developing new products and features.

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

We are working on multiple projects, supporting our Augmented Intelligence vision for creating analytics solutions and experiences that would enable every human to be data literate. Data Literacy is our ability to read, work, analyze and argue with data. Not everyone needs to be a data scientist, or even be able to build queries or visualizations. However, everyone does need to be data literate at a baseline level, to make data-driven decisions. At Qlik Research, we are incubating new technologies that combine the unique skills of humans with the unique capabilities of a machine; creating new experiences that provides the collaboration between the human, algorithms and the data.

One of these projects is Data Swarm, which provides users with a multi-attribute analysis of data. Using algorithms, Data Swarm helps users analyze their data through a wider lens that is not limited to one measure or dimension. Instead, the algorithms create a visualization of the patterns and outliers in the data that users can interact with. Based on the patterns, users can then dig deeper into certain data and further analyze with more traditional visualizations. While this is not yet in product form, it shows how we are looking at analyzing large amounts of data in meaningful ways. 
 Additionally, with our recent CrunchBot acquisition, we are working on enhancing our Qlik Cognitive Engine with natural language capabilities — ones that are combined with visual capabilities. For example, we already have a prototype of an experience where users are able to interact with multiple visualizations, and as they do the machine learns from those interactions to comprehend the users’ context and interests.
 Finally, one of the topics I’ve been very excited about is “livewired” data — which is essentially the idea that analytics technologies should function very much like a human brain. For example: Think about how humans learn from life experiences and can adapt to certain situations vs. how baby animals are born with predefined routines and traits. The former is what I call livewired. The latter we’ll call hard-wired — and that’s how most data analytics tools unfortunately operate. At Qlik, we are building next generation technology that allows itself to be shaped by the connections that exists in the data.

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 inspired by women who are leaders and innovators, all the while knowing they may never be recognized for their accomplishments. That started with my mom. She has always been my role model and is one of the reasons I am who I am today. She inspired my creative personality and my passion. I talked earlier about the life lesson she taught me, about having a different perspective. When she passed, we had her funeral services on my birthday. It was a sad experience but looking back, maybe it was her lesson to me all along — to look at things from a different perspective.

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

1) The fast-paced and dynamic nature of the industry. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to continue to evolve with the industry. It allows me to take on new challenges and always learn new skills.

2) Potential impact on the work of every person in the future. As we evolve AI it will directly enhance the ability of humans to do more in their roles. It is a myth in my mind that AI will replace humans, and I’m excited about the great potential of augmenting the intelligence of humans through AI.

3) Artificial intelligence and machine learning is about 60 years old and has not had its great day until recently. The reason is today we have reached the scale of computing and datasets necessary to make machines smart. This really excites me; the notion that computers can find their own rules. So instead of an expert deciphering, step by step, a rule for every contingency, now the computer learns from examples and infers its own rules.

4) If you look at the history of humanity, almost everything we cherish (in terms of inventions, technology, things we’ve built) has been invented in the last 150 years. For example: our phone, modern manufacturing, and now self-driving cars, all the things we now cherish. That to me means the next 150 years will bring even more discoveries. In fact, the pace of invention has gone up, not down. I believe only one percent of the most interesting things have been invented yet. And now with AI, we have a greater chance to invent analytics solutions based on data and compute power.

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

1) One of the most concerning things is the bias in AI. We are seeing more biased results generated by AI because many AI systems are trained using biased and partial data. And the bias in the data is caused by humans. Cognitive bias is an area that we focus at Qlik Research as we build Augmented Intelligence capabilities for the platform.

2) There are 175 possible cognitive biases that can affect our decision making. As a result, this also affects the data we generate. The goal with augmented intelligence is to help users make data driven decisions without bias. I believe this requires building AI systems that can learn from all of the data by leveraging the full associations and connections in the data. This would provide AI to learn from the “full story” that the data tells.

3) Another area that concerns me is not creating user experiences that provide collaboration between humans and the AI system. Today most of the AI-aided analytics tools work as a black box where the users have no understanding why a given result is generated for them. We need to make sure that the system creates trust for the user by providing information on which data and methods were used to generate the insights. In these experiences, the user should be able to incorporate their own knowledge into the system.

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?

While some may argue about the dangers, I look at this topic from a different lens — one where humans and machines must work together. I believe that for businesses to be truly successful, it is essential for humans to be at the center of AI. 
 Let’s first take a step back to look at the broader AI landscape. We are now in a world where AI is no longer just a futuristic thought. Instead, we’re shifting the conversation to automated analytics, where data analytics is automated with machine learning. However, to get the most out of this next generation of business intelligence, it must be combined with human intuition. And while we are seeing an increase in platforms being trained to think like humans by using algorithms to analyze data from user interactions and make associated recommendations, we still need the human touch.

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?

In order to succeed in this era of augmented intelligence we as humans need to be more data literate — that is, be able to read, write, understand and analyze data. If we equip ourselves with the skills necessary to be able to be augmented by AI, we won’t have to worry about being replaced by machines. Regardless of new technologies combining humans, data and algorithms, we will always be necessary to interpret insights and make decisions.

More education is needed to clarify for people how AI is truly different than human intuition. Context is very important, for example, and this is where humans excel vs. where AI is best applied.
 Also, it is my firm belief that there are unique skills that we as humans have; like understanding complex problems, making connections between nonlinear dots and our creativity. This is essential for people to realize. AI is just a technology that helps us do repetitive things, and the progress has been entirely on the repetitive end. For example: in legal document discovery, contract drafting, screening X-rays of your chest. And these things are so specialized, so I don’t see the big threat of humanity. In fact, let’s face it — we have become superhuman by augmenting ourselves with technology. We can take a device out of our pocket and shout all the way to Australia, and in real time, have that person shouting back to us. That’s physically not possible. We’re breaking the rules of physics. With technology, we’re going to remember everything we’ve ever said and seen, we will remember every person. All of these advancements give us the opportunity to excel in what we, as humans, are good at, and have the technology augment us.

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

At Qlik, we are on a mission through data and analytics to drive positive change at the intersection of business, society, and our environment so everyone, everywhere can enjoy a healthy and prosperous future. We are proud to empower others with our data and analytics software platform to advance conservation, global health, education, humanitarian aid, and disaster relief missions. I am proud to say that we have many projects we have done with many non-profit organizations across the world to enable fact and data driven decisions. One example is the Enhancing Humanitarian Aid Effectiveness with Analytics project that we did with Medair. The power of what we do is not only about the data and analytics, but more importantly, what data does for people.

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?

Data is fueling the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But according to a recent study by Kaggle, women represent just over 16% of data scientist jobs worldwide. This is our opportunity to take the reigns and change that. My three recommendations would be:

1) Don’t stop learning. I believe that this era provides us with an opportunity to learn new skills and build new jobs that require skills which may not yet exist. Don’t ever stop being a student.

2) Be passionate and curious. Explore new opportunities, even if they may scare you. You never know what you will learn.

3) Work on creativity and design skills. This field is not just about data and analytics, but rather about thinking out of the box. Combine these skills with more practical ones and you will be set up for success.

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

I think we need to showcase the opportunities that exist. I believe it is easier to grow and develop as a female leader in the tech industry than in other more traditional sectors — largely due to the sector’s dynamic nature and pace and the need for innovation. It’s an exciting, evolving field and one that is ripe for the creativity a female brain can bring.

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

“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” In my current role as the Head of Qlik Research, it is important that I create an environment where engineers and developers feel safe to “fail.” Each research project has many unknowns at the beginning. I lead the teams where they move fast, fail fast and adapt according to learnings. It should be okay to fail to innovate. I also demonstrate curiosity and lead courageously; I look to create opportunities for team members to share opinions with clarity and conviction, despite any resistance they may anticipate for their new ideas. As you can imagine, innovation means challenging the status quo and it many times comes with resistance.

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 like to make analytics, fact-based decisions and AI accessible for all. We are at the stage where the data, compute and deep learning algorithms that are absolutely necessary to make AI a reality have all become abundant. But just like the early days of computer technology, the use of state-of-the-art AI is locked out of the reach of millions of developers. At present, even the most popular deep learning frameworks all require a great level of expertise.
 We have seen a similar trend at the early phase of developing computer software, where it initially required a deep understanding of the entire architecture of computers and operating systems. This frustrated early programmers, including the legendary developers at Bell Labs. Realizing that the abstraction was too low level, a number of experts created high level programming languages including Fortran, C, C++,etc. These languages were much easier to use than assembly languages but still required great expertise to use, hence, innovation was slow and computer programming was out of the reach of most people. 
 Years later, high level programming languages like Python, Java, .NET, PHP, JavaScript and more, made computer programming accessible to every single person and organization on the planet. Without these high-level abstractions, the digital world as we know it today, would not exist.
 Ultimately, I think we will see a similar trend for AI development, where a great deal of innovations, both with programming languages and with hardware developments, will enable anyone from average coders to expert industry professionals in various fields to integrate AI into every solution they build. I envision a Smart Future where every single application, device and system is infused with artificial intelligence and data and building these systems will be accessible to every developer.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @elif_tutuk


Tune into my posts on the Qlik blog for more AI and data-driven insights!

Thank you so much for joining us!

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