SalesPal CEO Ashvin Naik, Google Cloud’s Chanchal Chatterjee, Audioburst’s Rachel Batish and T-Mobile’s Chip Reno discuss the future of artificial intelligence at the Global AI Conference in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Artificial intelligence can rev up recommendation engines and make self-driving cars safer. It can even . But what else will it be able to do? At today’s session of the , a panel of techies took a look at the state of AI applications — and glimpsed into their crystal balls to speculate about the future of artificial intelligence. The panelists included Chanchal Chatterjee, AI leader at ; Ashvin Naik, CEO of , which markets AI-enabled sales analysis tools; Rachel Batish, vice president of product for , an audio indexing service; and Chip Reno, senior advanced analytics manager at . The moderator was Shailesh Manjrekar, head of product and solutions marketing for , a multi-cloud data storage and management company. Here are five AI frontiers that came up in today’s conversations, plus a couple of caveats to keep in mind: Smarter grocery stores: AI-enabled grocery shopping was pioneered right here in Seattle at , but the trend is catching on. Today called the Intelligent Retail Lab in Levittown, N.Y. Britain’s takes a different tack: Users fill up a virtual shopping cart, then schedule a one-hour delivery slot. Google Cloud helped Ocado develop the , including a recommendation engine that figures out customers’ shifting preferences, an algorithm that handles and prioritizes customer service emails, and a as Ocado’s previous system. Energy-saving server farms: Chatterjee pointed to how Google used its DeepMind machine learning platform to . Before AI was put on the case, 10 years’ worth of efficiency measures could reduce energy usage by merely 12 percent, he said. Within six months, AI brought about a 40 percent reduction. “That was a huge difference that AI made in a very short amount of time that we could not do with 10 years of research,” Chatterjee said. Financial market prediction: Hedge fund managers and bankers are already , detect market manipulation and assess credit risks. But Chatterjee said the models are getting increasingly sophisticated. AI is being used to predict how margin trades could play out, or whether undervalued financial assets are ripe for the picking. AI models could even anticipate . “When the lock-in period expires … that’s a great time to short,” Chatterjee said. Deeper, wider AI conversations: Chatterjee predicted that our conversations with voice assistants are likely to get wider, deeper and more personal as AI assistants become smarter. Audioburst’s Batish said conversational AI could provide a wider opening for smaller-scale startups and for women in tech. “Women are very much prominent in conversational applications and businesses,” she said. Salespal’s Naik agreed with that view — but he worried about the dearth of compelling applications, based on his own company’s experience with voice-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. “They’re gathering dust. … We use them just to listen to music or set up alarms. That’s it,” he said. AI for good, or evil? Chatterjee said AI could be a powerful tool to root out fraud and corruption. AI applications could be built “to see what influence relationships have on outcomes — that tells you if there are any side deals being made,” he said. But Batish worried about the rise of , virtual and . “I’m actually afraid of what that could bring into our world,” she said. “It would be interesting to see how companies are trying to be able to monitor or identify fake situations that are being built out of very complicated AI.” Watch out for job disruption: Many studies have pointed out that automation is likely to disrupt employment sectors, especially in the service, manufacturing and transportation sectors. “Anything that is repetitive, that can be extracted from multiple sources, that doesn’t have a lot of creativity amd innovation, is at risk due to AI,” Chatterjee said. “That means that more people will have to move into other sectors.” Watch out for the hype: “I’d like to see people get away from the hype a little bit,” T-Mobile’s Reno said. “I’m on the client side, so I see all the pitches involving AI and ML or deep learning. … A lot of times, AI is not applicable to certain use cases where we’re applying it. Just good old-fashioned statistics or business intelligence is fine. So I think that the future of AI relies on getting past the hype and getting more into aligning these awesome tools and algorithms to specific business cases.”
Tech leaders Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) in leadership is often cited as a driving factor behind the broader tech industry’s gender balance issues. The theory? If more women sat on corporate boards and wrote the checks, then more women would feel comfortable entering male-dominated fields and more female entrepreneurs would get funded. But even though there is a growing body of research to show that increasing women in leadership roles makes good business sense, the market is not correcting itself, at least not very quickly. That begs the question, should regulators step in? It’s a question that was raised Thursday during an event in Seattle that brought together women venture capitalists and executives to discuss opportunities and barriers in the venture capital world. Create33, under the umbrella of Madrona Venture Group, hosted the event. Create33 Director Rebecca Lovell moderated a discussion with Lisa Hammit, vice president of data and artificial intelligence at Visa; Gillian Muessig, general partner at Outlines Venture Group; Jennifer Savage, Partner at Illuminate Ventures, and Kelly Wright, board director at Amperity, Even, and Fastly. Tech leaders Rebecca Lovell, Gillian Muessig, Kelly Wright, Lisa Hammitt, and Jennifer Savage discuss barriers and opportunities for women in venture-backed startups. Reports from and the indicate that companies with at least one woman founder yield better results for venture capital firms, though when measuring by metrics like valuations. Researchers at the discovered female-founded companies generate more revenue than startups that only have men on their founding teams. In February, the (CAE) published a study asserting that women-founded companies perform at least as well as startups founded by men. But despite this track record, women-founded companies accounted for just 16 percent of first venture capital financings between 2005-2017, according to the CAE study. This year, researchers found 63 percent of startups have no women on their board of directors and 47 percent have no women in leadership. Regulators are starting to zero in on the slow progress toward gender parity across the tech industry — from startups to big public corporations. The question of whether government should regulate diversity in tech is more than theoretical in California. In September, California enacted a landmark law that requires public companies domiciled in the state to have at least one woman director by 2019 and larger corporations will need to have three women on the board by 2021. “Given all the special privileges that corporations have enjoyed for so long, it’s high time corporate boards include people who constitute more than half of the ‘persons’ in America,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his to the California State Senate. New Jersey and Massachusetts . Legislators in Washington state, the West Coast’s other big tech hub, aren’t formally pursuing a board diversity law though that could change if the idea picks up steam. States are in a handful of European countries that require corporate boards to have women directors. A from 2016 found “evidence that firms with a larger fraction of female directors on their board have greater dividend payouts.” But the tech leaders on the Create33 panel and other female board members GeekWire interviewed have mixed feelings about regulators mandating diversity quotas. Muessig, who co-founded Moz and a venture fund that backs women-led startups, wondered if it was “thin thinking” to force this type of regulation companies. “Government does this so often,” she said. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to something that didn’t really solve the problem. I’m not against the idea … but I haven’t dug in deeply enough to say, is that really going to be the root of the problem or not?” Flying Fish Partners co-founder Heather Redman is concerned that the narrow focus on corporate boards could actually hurt efforts to increase representation of women in other tech leadership roles. “The data, so far, on how well the regulation works is kind of mixed,” she said in an interview with GeekWire. “One of the phenomenons that I’ve noticed is that we’re already seeing a lot of women retiring early from C-suite jobs instead of becoming CEO. The board path is becoming the easier path.” Redman added, “If I had to pick where I would want to see women be, I would pick CEO all day long … the board does not have its fingers on the knobs.” Several executives expressed a begrudging acceptance of the mandate’s necessity. “Frankly, I was disappointed that it had to be mandated,” said Nicole Piasecki, a Seattle executive who sits on several board seats, including Weyerhaeuser, in an interview with GeekWire. “I understand why it was mandated because progress wasn’t occurring.” California’s law will open up 692 board seats to women by 2021, . If the rest of the nation followed California’s lead, it would amount to more than 3,000 board seats available to women, nearly a 75 percent increase. During Thursday’s panel, Wright said that California’s board law is moving the needle. The former longtime Tableau executive noted that without a legal requirement, California’s big corporations were not making much progress on gender diversity among directors. She explained that California’s law actually started as a recommendation from the government, not a mandate. “Unfortunately, over time, nothing happened,” she said. “There was no change.” From Wright’s perspective, the power of California’s law — which governs some of the most powerful tech companies in the world — is the impact it’s having beyond the state’s borders. Seattle-based Amazon, for example, added to its board in February; it now has six men and five women on . “It’s at least raised the conversation to the point where now people are actually looking at the data and looking at the facts, and we are starting to see some positive progress,” Wright said.