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Ramy Nassar on the Need for Empathy in AI

Two attendees of Big Data and AI Toronto checking out new tech
Two attendees of Big Data and AI Toronto checking out new tech
Photo courtesy of Big Data and AI Toronto.
Ramy Nassar

Ramy Nassar

Author & International speaker

Ramy Nassar, Founder of 1000 Days Out, is author of the upcoming AI Product Design Handbook, which focuses on bringing human-centred design into the worlds of artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and analytics. He also speaks at international events like Big Data & AI Toronto. We asked for his thoughts on the value of ensuring organizations create products, services, and platforms that meet the needs of end-users, rather than deploying tech simply for the sake of tech.

Why is empathy important when designing solutions that actually work for people?

Put simply, it’s to avoid building solutions that no one wants. If you’re building a platform for lawyers, your first month should involve sitting down in a lawyer’s office and seeing how they spend their time and what their challenges are. A big part of empathy is the notion of immersing yourself with your customer and understanding their true pain points. When you understand those pains, then you can build solutions that create value. If you read a research report and assume you know what a lawyer does for a living, you’re bound to create a negative user experience — most likely something that no one will adopt.

What central aspect of AI adoption should organizations be aware of?

I encourage people who are looking at AI as a solution to understand that AI can do only three things: increase revenue, decrease costs, or improve efficiency. If it doesn’t do one of these three things, then it’s just tech for the sake of tech. Unfortunately, this is a lot of what’s out there! I think the big transition that needs to happen is things like AI, Internet of Things, augmented reality, virtual reality, and blockchain all need to stop being the why and the what and just become the how. Customers don’t really care if something uses AI or not. They care if the tool solves their pain.

What’s holding back the wider adoption of human-centred AI?

Most business executives are scared to take any risks whatsoever and are very hesitant to adopt any kind of disruptive technology at scale. It’s called “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” If you look at Clay Christensen, a known thought leader, he would argue that good managers of organizations are, by their very nature, risk-averse. If you keep doing things the way they are, you won’t get fired. Why take a risk? And that’s why you see some companies leapfrogging others: they’re willing to take a chance and to place strategic bets.

What key piece of advice do you have for tech leaders who want to begin with design thinking?

Design thinking above all else is about empathy. My advice would be to go and talk to your customers — I know it sounds easy. It’s unbelievable what customers will tell you when you just try to truly understand their challenges and pains. I’ve seen countless executives be so surprised upon making a discovery about client pain points — and almost disappointed they didn’t think to ask earlier.

This interview was conducted by Olha Matsyshyn, Marketing Coordinator at Corp Agency, the organizer of Big Data & AI Toronto.

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