OC ACM – A.I. & Big Data with Peter Coffee, VP of Strategic Research at Salesforce

Past Tides
January 25, 2017 By Livia Sponseller

On January 11, 2017, OC ACM held a chapter meeting featuring guest speaker Peter Coffee, VP of Strategic Research at Salesforce. ACM has over 100,000 members worldwide which represent various disciplines of science. The Orange County chapter of ACM was established in 2014. At the event, Coffee identified major trends in business that are redefining everyday practices, curricula and disciplines that organizations need to reevaluate. Coffee set the tone of his presentation by citing Peter Drucker, “there is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.” Coffee admitted that it is challenging to recognize when, “something has become so wrong that doing it better has a negative value.” He further detailed three megatrends: connection, collaboration, and increasing machine intelligence, that redefine what doing the ‘Right Thing’ means from a business perspective.

Exploring an ideal of where artificial intelligence (AI) could go, Coffee cited an example from the Iron Man movie where the voice of Jarvis inquires, “Good Evening Mr. Start would you like an omelette or a new Iron Man suit?” Coffee explains that to achieve this level of AI, “we need to identify what we are doing ineffectively.” He further explained that there are things that we are, “very good at doing that we need to stop treating as the default way of getting [things] done.” He identified these as mistakes in assuming, bridging, coding, debugging, estimating and extrapolating. Rather than assuming and optimizing, Coffee encouraged focusing on assessing and adapting.

According to Coffee, statistical significance is often misunderstood and misused in organizations, although it’s an essential concept for managers to understand as more companies are relying on data to make management decisions. On bridging, Coffee explained that data continuity and coherence should be intrinsic, serving as a counterpoint to building castles of data and trying to connect them afterward.

Coffee also presented an opinion that coding will not be a sought after position in the near future. He shared that writing new code is both costly and risky due to the potential for errors. Coffee illustrated that, “coding is a necessary way of thinking but it’s not a skill that [people] will be paid to employ 10-15 years from now.” Rather than coding, efforts should instead focus on composing interfaces that are already known to work.

Regarding debugging, Coffee stated the current security model is static instead of dynamic. Coffee proposed Game theory as a way to gain resiliency, rather than debugging brittleness. Lastly, Coffee recommended that estimation and exploration should replace measuring and modeling, as, “existing market research spends too much to (mis)learn too little”. Concluding on the topic of skills that will be sought after in the future, Coffee declared that social intelligence, sensemaking, computational thinking, and transdisciplinarity will be key.