BAI Beacon Coverage: Amazon’s Former Chief Scientist Has Questions About Data

ORLANDO, Fla.–The exponentially increasing presence of data and computing power is creating new questions for both individuals and all businesses, including financial institutions, according to Amazon’s former chief scientist.

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Andreas Weigend addreses the meeting

Indeed, observed Andreas Weigend, “I would never ask a friend the things I am asking Google. In some ways the data we create when we interact with machines is much more personal than the data we create when we interact with humans.”

Speaking to the BAI Beacon Conference here, Weigend said the 1980s were all about building computers, the 1980s about connecting computers, the 2000s about connecting pages, and the 2010s about connecting data. The 2020s will be all about connecting sensors, he said.

The ABCDE of Amazon

Speaking to what he called the “ABCDE” of Amazon, he said those letters represent algorithms, belong, curiosity, data, and experimentation, and make up the heart of its business.

“The most important thing is to ask good questions. And what is a good question?” asked Weigend, before answering, “A good question is a byproduct of constantly being curious.”

All of that has spurred Weigend, who holds a PhD from Stanford in physics and who previously worked for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, to ask lots of questions around how all of that data is being used.

For example, he pointed to a patent granted to Google earlier this year for a wristband that signals warehouse workers on the way they need to move and where to look. With every worker step being tracked, Weigend said, “There are problems with that. How far should you go with that. As banks, how far should you go in determining someone’s credit worthiness?”

The New Inalienable Rights?

Weigend outlined areas related to data in which he said all humans deserve to have rights, beginning with what he called “transparency rights.” Transparency rights, he said, should include:

  • Right to access your data
  • Right to inspect the data refineries
  • Right to know Privacy Burn Rate: “As we use and reuse data, our privacy goes down. People can figure out more about us by aggregating disparate pieces of data”
  • Right to know Return on Data. “What do I get for all the data I am giving up? I want to see a similar score for data refineries”

In addition, Weigend said individuals also have “agency rights,” which are the rights to control data. Those rights, he said, include:

  • Right to Amend Data
  • Right to Blur. “I want to be able to control certain data, such as geo-location”
  • Right to Experiment
  • Right to Port. “We should make it easy on people to take data with them”

Data Rules

Meanwhile, when it comes to using data inside any business Weigend said it’s important to “start with a question, not with the data. What really is the problem you are trying to solve?”

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Focus on the decisions and actions, urged Weigend. “It’s not about actionable insights. I run away when I hear consultants talk about actionable insights. Making decisions is easy; evaluating them is hard. At Amazon, we have this concept of ‘fitness function.’ (Amazon founder) Jeff Bezos and I probably spent 50 hours talking about all that should be baked into ‘fitness function.’ The question is from what perspective do you do that. At Amazon, it’s the customer’s perspective. So, know your customer. You have to really think of what is fair.”

Other Observations

Some of the other observations made by Weigend included:

  • Embrace transparency, both internally and externally. “How would you feel if the default inside your company was to share information, and you had to get explicit permission not to share?” he asked.
  • Respect and empower your customers. “I do not think this is the default of banks.”
  • How does Amazon’s algorithms arrive at the “recommendations” it makes to users? According to Weigend, the factors include Manual (experts); Implicit (clicks, searches); Explicit (reviews, lists); Situation (local, mobile), and Connections (social graph).
  • The hard question to ask for all business and government today, said Weigend, is who owns the data?”

Harder Questions

Who owns the data? “Actually, what is data ownership? In a blockchain world, it’s a more complex question. When everything can be measured, what is fairness? In China, every child gets his DNA sequenced. That’s pretty scary if you don’t have a benevolent government. On the other hand, what it means for precision medicine is crazy. The balance power between individuals, companies and government is being negotiated right now. Data and AI power are growing by a power of five every year. We are trying to do our part to move it in the right direction.”

Section: Standard
Word Count: 987
Copyright Holder:
Copyright Year: 2019
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