A Weather Forecast for Your Life?

Miami Business School Dean John Quelch, speaker David Kenny, and Vice Dean Arun Sharma.
By Michael R. Malone

Miami Business School Dean John Quelch, speaker David Kenny, and Vice Dean Arun Sharma.

A Weather Forecast for Your Life?

By Michael R. Malone
As artificial Intelligence takes hold, tech visionary David Kenny stresses keeping human values in the mix of data and innovation to “protect humanity.”

What if you had a weather forecast for everything that happened in your life? That possibility—or, better said, that reality—propelled by machine learning was the topic of David Kenny’s talk hosted on January 16 by the University of Miami Business School as part of its 2018 Distinguished Lecturer Series.

Kenny, senior vice president of IBM Watson and Cloud Platform, entertained a full house of students, alumni, faculty and a wide spectrum from the community in the Storer Auditorium with his engaging expertise on how artificial intelligence (AI)—or machine learning—is transforming business and innovation in a range of fields.

“We’re at the start of a new wave of exponential growth of machine learning,” Kenny told the crowd. “Yet, unlike you, these machines work 24/7, they don’t sleep, don’t go on dates, don’t get distracted—they just continuously learn.”

Yet Kenny, also a director of Teach for America, a nonprofit that enlists recent grads to teach in underserved communities, urged that human values don’t get left out of the equation as these transformative technologies advance.

“It’s important this idea of values and checking, really paying attention to unintended consequences,” Kenny said, in response to a student’s question about the potential dangers of AI. “We want this machine learning in the hands of the many—diversity is always the best way to protect humanity.”

For his talk, “Artificial Intelligence for Professionals,” Kenny saluted Dean John Quelch, his former professor at the Harvard Business School, and highlighted three major “disruptions” in the past decades of technological revolution: “Moore’s Law” (1971), fitting increasingly smaller and more powerful transistors on integrated circuits—computers; “Metcalf’s Law” (1995), which revealed the power of networks; and “Watson’s Law” of today, his own company’s advances in translating bulk data into actionable intelligence.

Kenny cited the progress with weather forecasting at his former firm, The Weather Company. By inputting increasing amounts and frequency of data from around the world, the 5-day forecast accuracy improved from 75 to 90 percent as the algorithms “learned” and adjusted.

He also highlighted a range of fields already benefitting from machine learning such as H&R Block, where the tech platform “is helping 70,000 tax experts sift through the 75,000 pages of federal tax code to better assist their clients.”

Banking, law, medicine and education are other fields with a tremendous potential to benefit, he said.

Kenny urged students or professionals entering or already in these fields not to be disheartened or to fear the impact of these learning machines, but instead to focus on the importance of becoming “continuous learners” themselves.

The machines are only as trustworthy as the data that is inputted, he cautioned.

“The best way to trick AI,” Kenny said, “is to put in fake [or erroneous] data.”

Next Miami Business School, 2018 Distinguished Lecturer: Mauricio Ortiz, president LATAM at Boston Scientific Corporation, on Jan. 29, 2018.