This is how Alexa Gorman is shepherding in the AI revolution

19 Jun 2018

Alexa Gorman, global VP at SAP.iO Fund and Foundry. Image: SAP

Alexa Gorman heads up the incubation of AI and machine-learning start-ups through her work at SAP’s Berlin foundries. She’s hoping that this new technology can bring about a happier and more equal world of work.

Alexa Gorman’s career development and German multinational SAP have tended to be inextricably linked.

After concluding her studies in business administration almost 19 years ago in her native Germany (she was born to an Irish father and German mother), she joined the company and cut her teeth in business development.

Gorman hopped from New York to Paris and then eventually returned to Berlin, where she now is the global VP of SAP.iO Fund and Foundry.

In these foundries, SAP incubates early-stage start-ups that can potentially add additional value to its customers. In turn, these start-ups get to avail of hands-on mentoring, webinars and conference speaking opportunities, all of which lead to rapid scaling – 18 months of work can be condensed into a mere 13-week period.

As well as this, and perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of the programme to fledgling SMEs, entrepreneurs get privileged access to SAP’s 350,000 customers, who trust SAP’s judgement implicitly.

“[The customers] are very open to meeting these start-ups because they are heavily vetted by us. [Only] 2-10pc of start-ups get into the programme.”

Interest in AI

Gorman’s work has led her towards a particular focus on AI and machine-learning start-ups, an area she (and SAP as a whole) think is bubbling over with promise.

“The more I dive into details, or the more examples I can see of the value [AI and machine learning] technology can bring, the more exciting it is,” Gorman explained.

“We’re just scratching the surface in terms of the possibilities; it does sometimes feel like the next industrial revolution.”

Her enthusiasm is one shared by her company, an enthusiasm that manifests best in SAP’s ambitious project, Leonardo. “We recognise the immense efficiencies that AI will bring to different parts of every business. I think there’s a lot of potential for artificial intelligence, especially machine learning, to automate repetitive tasks so that people get the chance to work on more interesting or more challenging things.”

Everything from customer relationship management to the more insipid aspects of a company’s financial activities (such as sending invoices) can be addressed using AI technology. While there are mounting concerns about AIs replacing humans, potentially leading to mass unemployment, Gorman maintains that all AI will do is do away with more stressful, monotonous and repetitive tasks, freeing people up for more advanced and even creative activities. AIs could even, so she says, help you get your job in the future.

“It can even be in the human resources area where artificial intelligence can look at bias within jobs postings … or even applications.”

AI and diversity

AI’s particular potential to allay issues with diversity in the tech industry and beyond is something that is of particular interest to Gorman. It is a subject she intends to dive into when she takes the Inspirefest stage at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin later this week.

One of the start-ups that has come through SAP, RefineAI (the CEO of which, Bharat Krish, will also address conference attendees this year), could potentially be instrumental in allowing companies to eradicate bias.

RefineAI uses AI technology to track a person’s emotions while they’re watching a video or clip. It helps brands or advertising agencies to carry out early testing on ads to determine how emotionally engaging they are and how customers may respond to them. “That kind of revolutionises the whole way that ads have been tested,” Gorman said, citing that this solution is quicker and less resource-intensive.

The company became alerted pretty quickly to one of the realities of AI that could scupper the possibilities it offers: while the technology itself is politically agnostic, it can quickly end up inheriting the biases of whoever is programming it.

RefineAI is hoping that its machine-vision tool could be leveraged to ‘audit’ AIs to try and detect whether bias has slipped through the cracks during the construction process.

The SAP approach is, Gorman explained, a two-pronged one. SAP does its own work with companies analysing the language used in job adverts to make sure they aren’t gendered or otherwise subtly exclusionary. Then, on the other side, these kinds of AI technologies can “identify bias and reduce it with the tools”.

Alexa Gorman will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic