Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Series: Women in Technology

Posted on June 29, 2017 I Written By

Healthcare as a Human Right. Physician Suicide Loss Survivor. Janae writes about Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Data Analytics, Engagement and Investing in Healthcare. twitter: @coherencemed

Meeting with Lauren Hayes, the model behind Amelia, an AI cognitive agent.

What I Learned from Lauren Hayes: the Face of Artificial Intelligence.

This month I was invited to a workforce summit with companies interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI) cognitive agents in New York City. I had the opportunity to hear from great thinkers about AI, including research about workforce transformation from the McKinzie institute. I also met Lauren Hayes, the face behind Amelia, a cognitive agent for IPsoft specializing in customer experience.

Michael Chui – Partner at the McKinsey Global Institute.

One of the most impactful things for me personally was Lauren’s perspective about women in technology. Lauren has worked as a partner for a Jacaranda Ventures focusing on early stage startups, and served as an executive and communications expert, as well as being a model for Wilhelmina models. As a veteran of the technology space Lauren commented on male dominated events  “One of my past jobs as a Director of Communications & PR included hosting events that typically ended up being 90% male. The audience was comprised of our investors, partners, and C-level business development folks. It’s always sad when there’s no line for the women’s restroom.”  Her  grace in dealing with the dynamics taught me two valuable lessons: Be fiercely positive and seek out your people.

Today Lauren works in technology as a Founder at Ritual and the face of a cognitive agent that interfaces with customers for several industries, (patients for a healthcare system.) What does current customer experience look like? In my experience- not great. There is a definite need to improve the experience for patients online and many companies and healthcare systems have solutions that help improve outcomes and cost.  My personal strategy? Get on the phone and press as many buttons as I can, while hoping a real human comes on the line since I don’t remember my insurance ID number. Or my account number with the power company.

Lauren is part of the future of healthcare as AI automates repetitive tasks. A little background on the potentials and current benefits can start with the patient as a consumer. Many healthcare companies use an automated system when a patient calls with medical questions or personal patient information. They may want a copy of their records and need identity confirmation or need to know if they should make an appointment with a doctor or go to a local emergency room. These questions can be answered through digital tools and phones.

Systems can range in sophistication from a series of recordings to a chat bot to an artificial intelligence cognitive agent and a human with highly specialized training and clinical knowledge. Not to brag, but at one of my jobs the company asked me to be the voice for their system so I can relate to being the face of AI. A cognitive agent can use artificial intelligence technology and interact with a clinical framework to help patients get great care. This can be paired with the clinical bounds of a program like Health Navigator and use natural language processing to help patients get appropriate support quickly and in the context of their personal history and insurance or healthcare information. Adoption and development of these technologies will see huge positive impact on patient outcomes and security.

I interacted with Lauren on twitter before the conference to discuss working as a woman in tech. The thing that struck me meeting her was her grace. Some people have powerful positive energy and I wonder how we can teach that type of interaction to a machine learning system. We can teach a system to have an asymmetrical appearance like humans. Artificial intelligence engines are learning to identify customers by voice and appearance. The human experience in medicine is also about presence and connecting us digitally. I asked Lauren what she thought about working with Amelia, and about being a woman in Technology. Mainly I wanted to understand the way she has established expectations and boundaries.

Janae: What is it like working in technology as a woman?

Lauren: This is not specific to one of the roles I’ve held particularly, whether at IPSoft or any of my other jobs, however, I think in some of the male dominated industries, there’s a feeling as though you have to prove yourself and get over the “female hump” before a conversation with someone who expects to be talking to another man. I’ve had past jobs that bred a bit of a “bro” culture, where there are no women in high-level positions and I think that really trickles down and impacts the rest of the culture. It goes without saying that I’ve also overheard and been part of situations where sexist comments were made, or where visitors of the company assumed the first girl they saw was an assistant/office manager, etc.

Janae: What do you wish men understood about being a woman in tech?

Lauren: “That the same way racism is still rampant in the US, the same goes for sexism. Even when there’s not overt instances or actions that are clearly offensive, there are small, every day micro instances of things that are said under the breath or actions that are hard to prove clear wrongdoing that still add up and take a toll over a period of time.”

Janae: What do you love about working with Amelia?

Lauren:  “I think Amelia can potentially have such a positive impact on the workforce and ultimately world. After all, to date, she’s the most sophisticated AI in history. Throughout history we’ve changed our jobs to leverage technology. AI is going to do that too. I heard a lot of the execs presenting at the conference talking about how they are changing the structure of their teams in order to have Amelia take on a lot of the high volume repetitive queries and let their staff evolve to take on more exception cases that help them have more interesting conversations with customers. I think most of us would prefer to spend our time on tasks we find challenging and rewarding and less on repetitive chores. That idea of freeing up our day to spend more time doing things we love really appeals to me.”

Overcoming general fatigue from interactions that question credibility based on gender can be hard to grasp. Repetitive music and actions that themselves are harmless have been weaponized into torture. Constant references about appearance can be difficult. Talking to Lauren about women in technology was positive. For women, the sum is greater than it’s parts. The result for providers can be burnout or a lack of empathy for patient requests.

Artificial intelligence will restructure workforce roles and take some of the stress of repetitive tasks and recording. Building positive interactions while filtering through repetitive actions that lead to burnout can provide better support. Physician time can be used for helping and connecting on a personal level. I was grateful for the time I had discussing women in technology and the future. Establishing boundaries in workforce interactions can be like structuring the bounds of a healthcare customer service system. Creating purposeful positive interactions improves the system. Be fiercely positive to other women in technology.