A.I. in the working world

How will A.I. affect your everyday person? We find out from the founders of Mimetic.AI, the human parents of the AI email assistant, Evie.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

How will A.I. affect your everyday person? We find out from the founders of Mimetic.AI, the human parents of the AI email assistant, Evie.

Praveen Velu & Lee Jin Hian, Co-founders, Mimetic.AI
Praveen Velu & Lee Jin Hian, Co-founders, Mimetic.AI

“It doesn’t really matter if it’s A.I. or some other kind of system. It always comes back to what problem you are solving in this world.”

What’s the biggest challenge Mimetic faces with implementing Evie?

Jin: We think about the human expectations - sometimes, people copy Evie in and they don’t even say what they want it to do - you’re suppose to guess. Evie needs to follow the conversation, go three or four e-mails down, and then when it’s confirmed, the expectation is the AI does the right thing by jumping in when appropriate. That’s an incredibly difficult task to do - it not only has to understand the language, it then has to follow along the model of the conversation and interaction between humans before knowing the right time to step in.

Praveen: That’s the technological challenge. There’s also the cultural challenge. If you look at people today, the majority of the workforce has always done administrative tasks themselves. They feel there’s an expectation that they must do these things themselves, so most people don’t even realize how much time they waste on things like scheduling. We need to educate people on how machines have come to a point where they can take off this load from you.

What other possible A.I. approaches is Mimetic taking besides running a scheduling assistant?

Praveen: I think we want to be reticent about this. There’s a lot of mania around A.I. right now, and these cultural representations both help and hurt. On one hand, it makes something new and accessible in popular consciousness, on the other hand it creates unreasonable expectations. It’s a very hard problem to solve.

Today, scheduling a meeting, trying to understand what people are saying in that context, trying to juggle different sets of preferences, to find an optimal time and place to meet is a very hard problem to solve. You get that right, then it’s easy to extrapolate what comes after - conceivably, travel and accommodation. 

Can A.I. ever truly replace entire jobs and roles in a modern workplace?

Praveen: In general, technologies tend to replace jobs. But, historically, we’ve created more jobs than we’ve destroyed. One problem is that when we look at jobs reports, it’s always reported as gross numbers, never net numbers. It turns out there’s a surplus of jobs that have been created as well. Jobs will be made obsolete, but new jobs will come on top of that.

What would you say to other A.I. developers?

Praveen: Fundamentally if you’re building a company, you need to be solving a real problem, otherwise you’re just scratching your own itch. Two things must come together - one, you must be solving a real problem, and you must really care enough about this problem to go through the trouble of starting a company and fundraising and hiring and running an organization for the long haul, which is what it takes to solve this problem in a meaningful way.


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