Leader’s Voice: Kalpana Balasubramanian

Kalpana Balasubramanian

Our conversation with Kalpana Balasubramanian where she gives us amazing insights on artificial intelligence, data literacy and entrepreneurship.

SDD: Firstly, it was truly inspiring to read about the wealth of experience you attained in one of the Big Fours, leading Robotics and Cognitive Automation along with Innovation and Investment. 

Can you tell us a bit about how you got interested in the field of AI and robotics and your journey so far?

Kalpana: I am a professionally qualified chartered and cost accountant and was working in the big four and had an opportunity in 2015 to study AMP in Harvard Business School.  It gave me an opportunity to revisit what impact I wanted to create and in which area and I realized that I needed to relearn with technology and got interested in emerging technologies – primarily intelligent automation in the process automation space.

SDD: In our community, we have had discussions on the scope of AI and what it means for humans. We have had both strong positive responses and strong negative ones as well.

What are your thoughts on the future of AI?

Kalpana: I have written several thought papers and also shared my views on blogs.  The human race is per se always seeking advancement and at every stage, the advancement poses both opportunities and threats.  I would think AI is no different. My personal view is that for the proliferation of AI, digital natives who would re-imagine our life would be necessary.  If you look at current demographics we have the third generation as digital natives and when they become a larger constituent the wave of adoption would increase.  I urge you to remember the movie Terminator 2 where AI is a friend of Humans and not the enemy who would wipe out. We need a diverse group to determine the future of AI and I would ask you to read on Japan Society 5.0 where they have included various imminent scholars and also a monk to determine the impact.  Over a period in time technology has aided many but the power in the hands of few always historically ended in disaster. There are many an initiative and policy being thought through – my request is don’t be a bystander; participate and voice your thought! Women are genetically stronger species to continue to the race and mentally as well manage change better.  We need to humbly lead the topic of AI and understand the veracity of its applications on our children and grandchildren. Overall my conclusion is AI is good, but it’s also humans who design AI and innately there are some bad elements possible and so we need to propitiate transparent AI that is available to all

SDD: There are many women in our community, both freshers and working women who want to get into learning AI. 

What advice would you give them? What are some of the core skills they must focus on developing to excel in this field?

Kalpana: I would encourage them to take their learning and reskilling very seriously.  I would suggest that they enlist in Coursera on Machine learning and AI for all and understand that there is a high degree of logic and maths that are going to be needed for them to excel.  There are three topics apart from actual learning of concepts that they need to be adept at:

  • Embracing diversity – ability to listen to varied views since a single source of information can spell doomsday – so don’t be buried behind a computer or dwell on models – Attend PTA, children’s matches, meet people whenever you can and diverse thoughts and trends would help you shape a success path;
  • Improving learnability index – Earlier we used to learn something and that stood by us throughout our working lives literally for some.  In order for us to reinvent and adapt to technology, learnability is key
  • Focus on core expertise and an ability to mix technology and function since in my view in the future years they may not remain discrete

SDD: In the past few years, there have been several AI-based startups in our country along with several enterprises are adopting it. 

What is your advice for organizations on the adoption of AI?

Kalpana: Start with a business problem you are trying to solve instead of just adopting AI for a Fad. Some used cases are now fairly stable and some not.  For those that are not, it would be an uphill climb and success may not be immediate so the ability to fund a longer-term vision is key. Also, look under the hood when someone uses AI to sell their product which may not have AI actually in the product.  Its become a marketing gimmick sadly.

SDD: In our community, there are several members who work for large organizations that but are not in tech or data teams. They are very much keen to gain more data literacy and bring about changes in their work using data.

How would you suggest organizations build data literacy across teams?

Kalpana: I would suggest that the organization focus on customers and then realign teams accordingly.  Customers are looking for convenience or customization and both of these extremes have varying data requirements.  Secondly, incorporate millennial-minded mentoring and coaching – this would help them identify where they need to use data and where they don’t.  I believe that learning is a very personal act and no one from outside can force anyone – however having KPIs or work objectives that warrant each of the individuals to provide data to support the hypothesis, decision and action would be a good method.  In summary, I would say the leadership of any organization has to be focused and be role models if they want the organization to adopt data. This is not dissimilar to telling your teenager to restrict screen time when you are more than three hours on screens.

SDD: This year you have founded a platform venture on consulting that promotes Gig Working. 

What inspired you to start this company and can you tell us a bit about it?

Kalpana: We have just really started – our concept promotes gig type working so for example if someone wants to work only four hours a day they could or they want to work only half a year they could.  We are building this since we believe gig type of working would become a norm in the future for all industries including consulting. We are incorporating widgets and features that would allow a human to achieve more with machines in the field of consulting and also provide access to a larger customer base for smaller firms.

SDD: What inspires you every day?

Kalpana: My children inspire me every day.  I want to make sure that when they turn adults we are able to leave a world that is better or at least the same as what our parents gave.  They also inspire me with their ability to learn to think questions with curiosity and have an open mind. I learn from them every day how we each have a child in us willing to explore, learn, share, laugh and love and that inspires me the most.

You can also read this interview on the SHEROES app here. While you are there, don’t forget to drop us a hello at the She Drives Data community on SHEROES! We would love to hear from you ❤️️