In Data Science, ML and AI, Words Matter

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Imagine you want to use data to really understand something about your product, users, market or the world. Along comes the infinitely re-programmable sales droid, promising that their tool or service will solve all your problems.

Whatever that silver bullet solution is probably uses a unique combination of cloud computing and cutting edge artificial intelligence algorithms in a neural network designed to stop you from losing ground against the competition.

Or is that just BS?

Chances are, the answer is yes.

The unfortunate reality of the modern technology industry is that the goal of many companies is no longer to provide great products and services to their clients. The goal has become to get bought out by the likes of Google or Facebook. Some founders are no longer interested in building a sustainable business. They’re looking for the modern day equivalent to a get-rich-quick scheme.

It seems that many in the industry will latch on to trends that happen organically and then do all they can to milk them dry. Take “big data” for instance; it was once the driving force behind a whole slew of product pitches, but no one seems to be talking about it today. Why is that?

People realised big data was just, well, data. And that companies were over-promising and under-delivering on the technologies and solutions they were pitching. Many companies found that the software they paid for was harder to use than they were ready for, which meant the results of early projects were often poor. The cloud giants, lead by AWS, also helped kill off the idea of big data. They turned previously complex setups into click-to-deploy solutions reducing much of the initial implementation friction.

The market forces behind the rise and demise of the big data pitch are relentless though. The man behind the curtain has been exposed and the saleability of big data solutions diminished. But don’t worry, the Emerald City has a new wizard and his name is AI and deep learning. He is coming to pitch his silver bullet now:

“We’re doing AI.”

“Our product uses deep learning.”

“We have an AI first strategy.”

The hype machine behind this coordinated campaign is well financed and seemingly omnipresent as the various players, small and large, jostle for your attention and your budgets.

So, what do words have to do with this?

Words matter. The way those of us within the data space choose to represent our work and our field with those outside the industry is important. We must be careful not to contribute to the unrealistic expectations that surround the field and permeate the industry.

Words matter. Technology and services buyers need to read between the lines. They need to be sceptical and ask challenging questions of would-be suppliers. Is this business offering to solve all your problems with a solution you barely understand? Unpick the options and try to get a handle on the pre-requisites. AI might be the new hot trend, but you’ll get nowhere with garbage data and an underprepared workforce.

Words matter. If you’re in a position where you’re trying to draw buyers to your product or service, consider telling a different story. Cut the BS and try telling it like it is. It’ll be difficult at first but your customers will appreciate it in the long run and you’ll build better, more trusting relationships as a result.