By Tracey Welson-Rossman on Jan 14, 2020, 01:25pm
Over the past year, this column has celebrated female technologists of all disciplines and from across a wide range of industries. Nearly all of them have mentioned the growing importance of Artificial Intelligence or machine learning to their work. Importantly, those same women all reinforced the need to engage more females in positions relative to AI – both to aid in its unbiased application and to optimize its use in business and society.
So, as we look ahead to the trends and technologies that will likely dominate this next year and decade, it makes sense to begin by unpacking how AI might continue its march forward and the opportunities it will create for female entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, and others.
AI and Machine Learning Dominate
From email marketing to financial services, women tech leaders expect AI and machine learning to continue augmenting businesses’ abilities to improve scale, efficiency, and – in some cases – impact.
Mailchimp VP of Global Product Marketing Darcy Kurtz told me that the company remains focused on harnessing the power of data science and machine learning to help businesses better understand their strengths and weaknesses. Specifically, she expects that in 2020 email marketer Mailchimp will “continue exploring the power of data and refining how we can use it to personalize and optimize the consumer experience without additional work or budget.”
Superhuman is another company that deals in email. But rather than using it for marketing purposes, they are focused on reimagining the inbox to better suit the needs of modern users. AI is an instrumental part of this as it tracks habits and helps inject speed and automation into a normally time intensive task.
Emuye Reynolds, the company’s Head of Mobile and Delight, believes that AI will enable email inboxes to triage themselves and handle basic tasks on their own. “Imagine waking up to [email] drafts that are ready to send, [helping you] become an order of magnitude more productive,” she proclaimed to me…via email of course.
Of course, AI and machine learning are also applicable to a wide range of other industries beyond email and email marketing. Mindy Ferguson, Managing Vice President, Commercial Digital Channels at Capital One, predicts that both will be a major focus for her team in 2020. Specifically, machine learning can be used to better customize the user experience, change how Capital One engages with customers, and even point to better business decisions.
Human resources can benefit from AI too. Executive search and leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder is exploring how it can be used to better inspire and motivate a company’s workforce. Lindsay Trout, leader of the company’s Global Digital Segment said the use of “machine learning, behavioral science, and advanced analytics to measure culture and other previously unmeasurable ‘touchy-feely’ aspects of a business” will be a major tech trend for the HR industry.
The Shift to Mobile and 5G
While it may dominate the headlines, AI is far from the only technology that will prosper in the coming decade. There are numerous other exciting trends and emerging technologies on the radar for female technologists in 2020 and beyond.
One of those is the growing supremacy of mobile platforms. This move to devices as primary digital access points has implications for a wide range of industries.
Superhuman’s Reynolds has seen a shift in email consumption on mobile devices from less than four percent (4%) a decade ago to more than half of all emails today. This obviously impacts how Superhuman approaches its email inbox design. Looking ahead, she expects the iPad to continue growing as a mainstream work device.
For marketers like Mailchimp’s Kurtz, the move to digital and mobile as the norm impacts content creation and delivery. She is closing watching trends related to podcasts, short-form video, and streaming to better understand what types of content and channels resonate best.
Of course, the increasing consumer and business preferences for mobile interactions over desktop and other screens will be powered by faster networks such as the looming transition to 5G.
At Cognizant, VP of Consulting, Communications and Media Shameka Young says the emergence of 5G and edge computing will enable consumers to perform high-computing tasks like feature-rich video games and streaming content on their mobile devices. As these ultra-fast networks and systems extend beyond the smartphone, she expects that content “anytime, anywhere” will become more central to consumers’ daily lives.
The Best of the Rest
AI and mobile or 5G were definitely the most common in the long and extensive laundry list of technologies and trends name-dropped for this column. But a few others stood out as noteworthy for the decade ahead.
Voice interface registered for a few technologists as something we’ve already seen emerge through home automation and devices.
Amplified reality was another hot topic. From Cognizant to NASA, the women I spoke with mentioned variations like extended reality (XR), alternate reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) as all being important tools to their work and the industry in general. Interesting applications for these different permutations of the technology included media, gaming, and human-centered experiences or interface.
By far, the most compelling example was shared by Kimberly Kowal Arcand, the Visualization Lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. In concert with the growth in other key technologies like multicolor 3D printing, improved hologram systems, and haptic technology, she envisions advances in VR and AR systems allowing humans to better understand the universe. Her descriptions of using this tech to walk inside a dead star or hold a 3D model of a spiral galaxy took my breath away.
And in a decidedly more terrestrial example, Superhuman’s Reynolds said she is personally interested in society’s growing embrace of non-meat products. That shift would be impossible without the powerful technology and science behind it and could signal larger changes in how we eat…a topic with implications for our planet.
Non-Tech Trends and Timeouts
Lastly, some decidedly non-technical trends bubbled up in these conversations and merit inclusion here.
The theme of “know-your-customer” was prevalent. Of course, that pursuit can certainly be aided by tech and will almost certainly uncover tech-related customer desires.
It is also telling that the pace of technology advancement has accelerated the change in consumption habits. The gap between how people of different ages and groups consume content, pay for goods, or engage with their peers is no longer separated by generations…it can sometimes be measured in a difference of decades or less.
I was also surprised to hear online marketer Kurtz of Mailchimp mention the resilience of direct mail as an important tool. She acknowledged that “creating a physical touchpoint can make the difference with some consumers” by evoking nostalgia or sparking an emotional response that makes an interaction memorable.
A number of women referenced the importance of these offline experiences to their work. Beyond product experience, the critical nature of customer support experiences was one theme. Making these interactions memorable or tangible seemed key, as reinforced by Superhuman’s Reynolds who pointed to instances of her team sending handwritten notes or delivering freshly baked cookies to customers in order to stand out.
However, Emma Schwartz, VP of Product at Meetup, provided the most visceral reminder that even amidst all this tech related talk, the outside world still matters. She is closely tracking the trend of digital detoxing or “unplugging” by taking time away from social media platforms to engage in person.
Interestingly, she observed that even among Meetup users who pursue offline experiences on a regular basis, many tend to center those engagements around technology. Leading her to speculate that what they’re really doing is “looking online for offline experiences about online technologies.”
And with that, welcome to technology in 2020.
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