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Becoming Informed - The Future Decoded

James Proctor gives an insight into life as a Graduate Associate at Informed Solutions – attending Microsoft’s major European conference to gain valuable insights on areas such as the application and ethics of artificial intelligence, digital accessibility and the keys to ensuring the success of digital transformation programmes.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s Future Decoded conference with Lauren Workman, a fellow graduate associate. Being able to take time away from our project focused work in order to benefit from wider learning and innovation across the industry is incredibly interesting and useful, and something that the company actively encourages and funds. 

At this year’s conference we were particular eager to gain insight from some of the other industry experts in artificial intelligence and digital transformation. Despite Informed Solutions being a technology agnostic practice, we were keen to understand how well Microsoft’s continually evolving suite of solutions could meet the needs of our current and future clients in both public and private sector markets.

The three main themes within the sessions we attended: AI for good, digital accessibility and digital transformation.

The keynote session focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and how it can be leveraged in an ethical way to promote inclusivity and creates cultural value – something that sits at the heart of what we do and why we do it. As AI transitions from theoretical to integral, these ideas are critical not only to those who are implementing AI, but also to those designing, leveraging and engaging with it too.

The term “AI for good” can mean different things to different people, but the focus of speakers such as Christopher Bishop, Microsoft Technical Fellow and Director of the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, UK, was on understanding the bias that can be introduced with AI systems due to data availability, and how this can be accounted for while implementing the change that AI brings.

Several digital accessibility innovations were showcased that could be used both internally at Informed Solutions and for the systems we design and build for clients:  While presenting, captions of the speakers’ content were generated with 99% precision and displayed on-screen so that those with hearing difficulties could fully consume and engage with the content being presented. Text-to-speech could be used to capture messages as an easier-to-use alternative to an on-screen keyboard, and during video calls, background imagery could be blurred out to minimise distraction to participants.

Digital transformation discussions focused on the importance of fail-fast (or learn-fast as we call it at Informed) culture as a key part of transformative success. If major time and resource is sunk into projects that simply do not solve the problem they are aiming to solve, then there will be future resistance to further transformation.  At Informed Solutions, we believe that one of the major focusses of any transformation project needs to be the end users – If we’re not making life easier, better, safer, more inclusive or productive, then what it the point of a transformation?

Failures of a traditional ‘communication and training’ approach can be avoided or overcome by introducing ideas and processes that ensure executive sponsorship, resistance management, the injection of true collaboration and the celebration of success.

It is vital to appreciate that the marriage of technological innovation and a focus on cultural sensitivity can amplify the benefits that come with well-delivered digital transformation.

As a bit of fun for the day, our exploration of AI in the real world extended far beyond business implementation and ethics; we took full advantage of the AI juice bar, where delegates waited in turn to sample a juice specially mixed for them based on facial recognition of their mood, captured as they watched a short video.

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