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Between Worlds

Author: Mike Walsh

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Between Worlds is a technology podcast that takes you over the horizon and beyond borders, to bring you the global thinkers, innovators and troublemakers whose ideas challenge the world as we know it. From a courtyard cafe in Paris, to a busy sidewalk in Tokyo - each week futurist and global nomad, Mike Walsh, will share his personal conversations with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, recorded live in the field.
169 Episodes
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Workplace transformation has never been more important than now, in this time of crisis. So what does it take to build and sustain a culture that is not only innovative and creative, but capable handling constant reinvention? Is the fact that it is difficult and uncomfortable, the very reason we should do it anyway? Dr Adam Fraser is a human performance researcher and consultant who studies how organizations adopt a high performance culture to thrive in this challenging and evolving business landscape. He is the author of Strive: Embracing the gift of struggle and The Third Space: Using Life's Little Transitions to find Balance and Happiness.
Austin Grossman is one of my favorite authors. His books (including my personal recommendation, ‘Crooked’) typically reveal an alternate version of the reality you thought you were living in. Given that, his side gig as a design consultant to the video games and mixed reality industry makes total sense. Most recently, he also served as Director of Interactive Design at Magic Leap. We spoke about the emergence of XR (or extended reality), and the challenges of creating content and telling stories in multiple dimensions. According to Grossman, at Magic Leap, they often spoke of preparing for a future world ‘without screens’. So, just how far are we from that world of augmented experiences, and what will it mean for brands and storytellers when we get there?
While for many of us ‘working from home’ has been a new and unexpected challenge, for some companies, remote is how they were designed from the beginning. Zapier, a leading software automation platform, is one such of these. However, what makes Zapier a fascinating case study is not just their lack of physical offices, but the systems, workflows and practices that they have evolved to make their distributed organization function effectively. In this interview, I chat with Zapier’s CEO and co-founder, Wade Foster. Prior to Zapier, Wade worked as a customer development lead for The Idea Works, Inc. in Missouri. He is an alumni of Y Combinator and has degrees in industrial engineering and business administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Our experience of reality is about to change. XR, which incorporates augmented and virtual reality, has shifted from a niche technology to consumer prime time. Now the question is how do we start to design compelling experiences, commercial partnerships and digital ecosystems to unlock the potential of this new medium. XR will change everything from the way we build digital retail stores to how a meeting planner might envision the space for a live event. My guest, Raffaella Camera, is working closely with a number of global brands and organizations to bring some of these ideas to life. A trained concert pianist and award-winning content creator, Raffaella Camera is the Global Head of Innovation & Strategy at the Accenture Extended Reality (XR) practice.
Mars, Incorporated was already well advanced in their plans for digital transformation before the crisis hit. However, when I spoke to Sandeep Dadlani, the company’s Chief Digital Officer, he explained that the pandemic led Mars to embrace a new internal clock speed. Sandeep Dadlani joined Mars, Incorporated as Global Chief Digital Officer in September 2017, and has responsibility for working with Mars' global business segments to drive its digital transformation agenda, while delivering effectiveness and efficiency to existing business and technology platforms. In the last two years, he has driven a new wave of consumer and user centricity, unleashed the power of data, analytics, AI, and automation while driving new agile digital behaviors across the enterprise.
Now that the pandemic has plunged us into the world's largest remote work experiment, what are we learning about the kind of culture that supports distributed organizations? And how do leaders build a cultural operating system for a time of crisis and change? To answer this question, and to also understand how data is changing our understanding of performance and transformation - I spoke with Didier Elzinga, the CEO and co-founder of Culture Amp – one of the world’s fastest growing technology startups and has helped companies around the world harness the power of employee feedback to drive positive change. If you enjoyed this episode and Didier's perspectives, please take a moment to read my article on this topic in the Harvard Business Review.
Regardless of your profession, one of the most important steps to becoming a better decision maker is knowing how to quantify uncertainty. That applies if you are a scientist, a poker player or a business leader. And while it is not unusual to apply probabilistic approaches to applications like robots or environmental monitoring - what is more challenging and potentially revolutionary is using similar strategies to more effectively fight crime or prevent bushfires. One of the leading thinkers in this field is Dr Roman Marchant, a lecturer and researcher in machine learning at the University of Sydney. I spoke with Marchant about his current research into developing new data science techniques to answer complex social questions such using AI for predictive policing and the implications for bias and discrimination.
If freezing your severed head is part of your plan to live forever, then Danila Medvedev is one of the few people on the planet who may be able to help you. In 2005, he founded KrioRus, a cryonics company, and has also worked as Vice-President of the Science for Life Extension Foundation, based in Moscow. Bringing back the deceased, or as Medvedev prefers to call them, ‘the temporarily dead’ is only one of many things the founder of the Russian Transhumanist Movement is passionate about. Aside from life extension, we had a fascinating chat about Douglas Engelbart’s unfulfilled vision for interfaces, the Incan system of multidimensional record keeping, the Russian Cosmism movement and what went wrong with the nanotech revolution.
Flynn Coleman has led a fascinating life. An author, international human rights attorney, professor, social justice activist and a former competitive athlete she has spoken and written on a wide range of issues from war crimes to behavioral economics. Her wonderful new book, A Human Algorithm (2019), makes the urgent case for why we need ethically designed AI. In our conversation we talked about the co-evolution of tools and people, non-human forms of intelligence and the dangers of automating inequality.
Dr Enass Abo-Hamed is working on one of the most challenging and intriguing energy problems today: efficiently and safely storing clean energy. While on a trip to Africa when studying for her PhD, Enass realised how much of a luxury electricity was, with some hospitals only receiving power for part of the day, and people rushing to do all their cooking and reading at home while the electricity was still on. So, at the age of just 28, she co-founded a business, H2GO, to develop a hydrogen battery that would be able to store clean and renewable energy in countries without an electrical grid. We caught up at her lab in London to talk about the future of energy, and why science and not guilt is the true path through the climate change crisis.
If you were to start a law firm today, leveraging all available technology and new ways of thinking - how would you do it? That, among other questions, is what I asked Piotr Spaczyński, managing partner of SSW, the only independent law firm from Poland, and one just shortlisted in the prestigious Innovative Lawyers ranking organised by the Financial Times. The legal industry - conservative, slow-moving and based on precedent - is a fascinating case study for the disruptive impact of AI and automation. Piotr and I discussed what the legal AI stack of the future might look like, from the use of algorithms to analyze contracts to predicting the outcome of litigation under particular judges. So when the legal system becomes increasingly standardized, contracts more automated and legislation akin to computer code - will the best lawyers of the future be less like Harvey Specter and more like Bill Gates?
So finally some good news: according to Cognizant’s Jobs of the Future index, since early 2017, the index's jobs of the future have been growing faster than all jobs. I strongly believe that the Algorithmic Age will create as many interesting jobs as it destroys, and so was fascinated to catch up with Ben Pring, who co-founded and leads Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work. Ben is a co-author of the best-selling and award winning books, What To Do When Machines Do Everything (2017) and Code Halos; How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business (2014). We spoke about why the jobs of the future will those that incorporate the qualities of coaching, caring and connecting - and what ultimately this means for leaders as they start to think about reimagining their organizations for the 21st century.
When people ask me what our best insurance is against being made irrelevant by AI, I always reply: rethink education. On this week’s show, I spoke to someone doing just that. Richard Culatta is the CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and prior to which, was the chief innovation officer for the state of Rhode Island and the director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education. For Richard, the future of education is more than just digital textbooks or electronic whiteboards - the real challenge is whether we can leverage disruptive technology to fundamentally reimagine the experience of learning. Duplicating existing education processes are doomed for failure, as is any approach that treats all students the same. We chatted about the real potential of personalized learning, whether AI will replace traditional teachers, and what companies like GM are doing to help reboot the education system to prepare kids for the Algorithmic Age.
I met Simon in the late nineties in Sydney when he had just started Australian Fashion Week. After the huge success of that event, he sold the business to IMG International, and went on to found Ordre, a business-to-business online wholesale marketplace for luxury designers, which has recently taken on Alibaba Group as a strategic investor. Catching up at his office in London, we had a fascinating chat about the use of AR/VR by global fashion buyers, the challenges of serving dynamic global consumer markets, the emergence of algorithmic fashion design and how AI will change the future of retail.
Christine is one of the most talented and thoughtful technology leaders around today. Currently CIO at Questrade, she was recognized in 2017 as a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner. We met at a Gartner event where I was presenting on an early version of my 'Algorithmic Leader' idea, and as someone that exemplified many of those values, I was keen to continue our discussion about what she had learned from leading successful digital transformations. In particular, I was curious about the results of their ‘Spotify-style’ agile transformation at Questrade, the impact of automation on their organization design and why the most valued people in her team were ’T-shaped’ rather than ‘I-shaped’.
Will AI-assisted IVF be the new normal when it comes to having smarter and healthier children? This, and other provocative questions are at the heart of Jamie Metzl’s brilliant new book, ‘Hacking Darwin’, which argues that we are at the dawn of a new genetics revolution. In Jamie’s view, our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. What will this mean for humanity as we start to reengineer our own genetic code and radically change our lifespan and capabilities?
As AI moves out of research labs and into the real world of commercial applications, we will increasingly see the rise of AI products. Whether it be detecting fraud in financial transactions or optimizing supply chains, while you won’t need a detailed knowledge of machine learning models to take advantage of the next generation of AI tools, you may well require an appreciation for confidence intervals and a new approach to making decisions. On a trip to Toronto, I caught up with Karthik Ramakrishnan, Head of Industry Solutions & Advisory at Element AI. We spoke about the near-term challenges of embedding AI decision-making in organizations, and why just as important as getting algorithmic products to work with people, will be getting the products to work with each other to make complex, synthesized decisions across the company of the future.
I met Jason in Las Vegas while speaking at the National Automatic Merchandising Association show. The vending industry is uniquely placed to be a testing ground for the intersection of data, consumer behavior and autonomous retail solutions. Jason, who is the CEO of AI startup Hivery was originally selected as part of an innovation accelerator organized by the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. Tasked to take Coke assets and create a new business model, they came up with an AI platform designed to transform retail decision making. Catching up backstage in Vegas, we spoke about the future of machine learning, and what it might take to build a complete retail AI technology stack.
Robotic process automation is a tempting proposition for many leaders: who wouldn’t want the ability to replace your processes with cheap algorithms that can run 24/7? However, the real benefit of automation is not efficiency or cost-savings, but the opportunity to rethink your entire operating model. I spoke recently with some of EY’s automation clients in New York, and one of the most interesting chats I had was with George Kaczmarskyj, a principal within EY’s Financial Services advisory practice, who leads Robotics and Intelligent Automation for Americas Financial Services. In this episode about the future of automation, we spoke about the similarities with the early days of electricity when companies also struggled to reinvent their paradigm and business models.
Rob Tercek is a fascinating thinker and futurist. His most recent book, VAPORIZED: Solid Strategies for Success In A Dematerialized World, was selected as a winner for the 2016 International Book of the Year by GetAbstract. I met Rob a number of years ago at the METal networking events in LA. As a pioneering executive for MTV, Sony and OWN, as well as an entrepreneur in disruptive startup ventures, Rob has long been at the forefront of critical thinking about the digital world. Meeting up at LACMA, we discussed a wide range of topics from placeless innovation to the challenge of tech-driven inequality, the myth of perpetual growth to algorithmic management, smart contracts to the economic fallout from a data-driven future.
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