Women Leading the Ai Industry: “Stop the voice that limits you”
Women Leading the AI Industry: “Stop the voice that limits you”, with Nancy Hornberger, EVP at ElectrifAi
by: Tyler Gallagher
Dec 22, 2019
Our nature as women, right or wrong, is to limit ourselves. We have a voice in our heads that second guesses us — like a crow sitting on our shoulder. My advice is to shoot that crow and stop the voice that limits you. Women are capable!
Aspart of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Hornberger. Nancy is the Executive Vice President of Healthcare for ElectrifAi, a leading practical artificial intelligence and machine learning company that provides Ai solutions to organizations across a range of industries. At ElectrifAi, Nancy is in charge of facilitating strategic relationships and providing analytical solutions within the company’s healthcare department. Nancy has over 30 years of experience developing and carrying out complex strategies that drive businesses’ growth, and she has strong expertise in the healthcare industry, including previous roles at IBM, Texas Instruments, and BACHMAN Information Systems. An expert in the industry, she knows the ins and outs of Ai in the healthcare industry and is working alongside ElectrifAi to eliminate the inefficiencies of healthcare systems and to streamline the work of providers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Nancy! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
Mydad was an influential force in my upbringing and played a major role in encouraging me to pursue this field. He was a mechanical engineer and worked building air conditioning and heating systems for industrial and commercial buildings. I have always had a talent for math in school, and when I was growing up, my dad nurtured and encouraged this talent. Sales was a large portion of his job, and he’d always tell me that “working in sales is the best job in the world, because no two days are the same.” His constant encouragement drove me toward my first job in technology, which was consumer-facing and similar to a sales position in many ways. I loved that job because, like my dad, I realized jobs that rely on interpersonal communications are never boring. It was then that I realized my aptitude for the intersection of technology, innovation and teamwork, which eventually constructed the career path I continued down.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
I think people should pursue what they enjoy, without letting fears hold them back. As a math scholar, being in a customer-facing role terrified me, but it wasn’t until I took a leap of faith and listened to the advice of those close to me that I realized I had an aptitude for talking to people. Since then, I’ve realized the importance of tackling your fears before they tackle you.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
At ElectrifAi we work on a number of interesting projects — it’s tough to pick just one! I’m most intrigued by the practical applications of machine learning, specifically ones that use our technologies for good. Right now, we are very involved in the animal welfare and medical advancement spaces. In the medical field, our technologies like computer vision are being used to help detect concussions and depression. We’ve seen an incredibly positive outcome, specifically in our veteran and police officer communities where the advanced detection of depression allows for professional intervention and suicide prevention. These types of initiatives are most interesting to me and seeing the translation of business initiatives into a positive impact in the community has been incredibly rewarding.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Two people come to mind when I think of professional mentors. First is Pamela Hillings-Tegtmeyer, President of Hillings Enterprises and former President of the Junior League of Pasadena. It was through her mentorship and philanthropic involvement that I learned the quintessential leadership skills I have carried throughout my career. She taught me to never delegate up, and instead manage situations from across or below. I’ve lived by this advice and passed it along to many people, including the President of Texas Instruments Software, Bob McLendon, who once asked me where I learned to run such an effective meeting.
Another mentor of mine is Keenie McDonald, Vice President and General Manager at IBM. During my time at IBM, she taught me an incredible amount about being client-focused and how to best listen to and understand client needs. I learned that once you understand their needs, you can become their advocate and solve their problems better than anyone else.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
- Continuing to see career growth and extraordinary evolutions in AI. We are at the beginning of the Ai industry’s timeline, and those of us laying the groundwork in this field should be proud to be considered the early disruptors.
- Clarifying the fears and misunderstandings that cloud people’s perceptions of Ai. There is a lot of fear about Ai stealing jobs, but I want people to understand that this is the furthest thing from the truth. It will change the work people do but will also give people new career paths based on things only machine learning mechanisms can provide.
- Eliminating the tedious tasks from our everyday lives. AI has incredible capabilities to assist people in the office and take care of the mundane tasks that prevent people from making the most out of their workday. When this is normalized, I look forward to seeing a leap in human insights and analyses across many industries.
- Medical imaging and computer vision technologies. We are seeing drastic advancements in AI’s use in the medical field — specifically in the detection of depression and concussions. The prospect of using AI to potentially improve the mental health of millions of people is very exciting.
- The unknown! AI allows us to do things we never thought possible, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.
What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
- The current lack of governance around the usage of AI. In any emerging industry, there is bound to be growth before the regulators catch up. However, I’m concerned about the lack of regulation and the potential for people to misuse this technology.
- Misconceptions about job elimination. Ai won’t steal your job — it will only create new ones, or simply make yours easier. Jobs change, but the need for human insight does not.
- Potential for bias in AI models. AI is a sector of technology that has so much promise, but it is not immune to bias. Biased AI models can lead to flawed or even potentially harmful outcomes, which is something that no one wants to see. A large portion of ElectrifAi’s work is identifying and reducing biases in our technology, both through our processes and the diversity of our team, and I hope other Ai/ML companies follow suit to prioritize bias-elimination.
- Fear of AI that inhibits the industry’s growth. Misconception can greatly hold back developments in our field, and I believe it is our responsibility to educate the public about what AI really is and the good it can bring to the world.
- Anything can be used for good or for bad, and it’s more important than ever to be diligent at ensuring Ai doesn’t get in the hands of people who intend to misuse it. When hiring in the field, I think integrity should be a key character trait that is taken into account.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
I think this an interesting debate. It gets back to the principle of ensuring there are strong ethical business practices in the field of AI, and governance on how it impacts our world. The dichotomy between Elon and Mark is particularly fascinating. Elon is a leader in self-driving cars and heavily leverages AI in his business developments and personal identification as a “futurist”. Yet he is publicly fearful of the “dehumanization” that AI is often said to bring. Mark has a more realistic perception and has mastered the use of simplistic applications of AI in his businesses.
The capacity of our brains is still so far beyond our understanding, and I think that Elon’s perception of AI as dehumanizing is oxymoronic. As we continually make advancement, the human brain is continually one-upping the last thing we achieved. AI will provide the next frontier of human intelligence and help define what we as a species will accomplish.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
I think that human insights will serve to eliminate some of the misconceptions around AI, and this comes back to taking the mystery out of AI applications and processes. I like to see these applications and processes as just math. Complex math, but math nonetheless. As an industry, we have to work on better explaining how this math is being processed to produce the great outcomes we see. Simply put, it’s just a computers’ ability to process complex algorithms that are originally connected by humans.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
My long involvement with The Junior League instilled in me a strong sense of philanthropy that I will value for the rest of my life. Although I’ve always been involved in various philanthropic works, I recently became the President of my local chapter of the National Charity League. There, I work with young women and their mothers to develop leadership skills and encourage older women to empower young women, giving them the confidence to know that the sky is the limit. My involvement there has been beyond rewarding for me, and I look forward to the day when women understand that there is nothing they cannot pursue.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
- Our nature as women, right or wrong, is to limit ourselves. We have a voice in our heads that second guesses us — like a crow sitting on our shoulder. My advice is to shoot that crow and stop the voice that limits you. Women are capable!
- Be bold. Remind yourself that tech and AI are gender blind. If women enjoy it, there is no reason not to pursue it. People like Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, helped paved the way for the next generation of women in AI.
- No matter your passion, AI will eventually impact your field of work — embrace it, get in on the business that will impact your life!
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
No matter where you start your career, AI will be part of it. I have a math degree, and when I began my career at IBM, a technology company, I worked with lots of women with non-technical degrees (English, communications, etc.). That said, no matter your aptitude, you should never shy away from your capability. If something interests you, pursue it. The demand for women in technology roles will be high for a long time, and it’s never too late to redefine yourself.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
I like to live by The Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. At the heart of this rule is personal responsibility and understanding how your decisions affect others. Keeping respect and integrity as my core principles help me strive for excellence. Although we’re not invincible to failure, I think that living this way helps people achieve more together.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would start a movement for people to stay active and help others stay active. With aging parents and seeing illnesses make people more homebound, I am passionate about helping others take care of themselves. Preventative measures are the best treatments, and I would encourage everyone to take small steps toward staying sharp, healthy, and happy in order to live the best life they can.
I’ve worked in the healthcare industry my entire career, and a key new area that these companies are hoping to classify as a new condition is loneliness in the elderly. Studies have validated that we as people need community, we need each other. Mindfulness, exercise and community are incredibly important to a person’s happiness.