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Valeria Sadovykh, an expert in technology consultancy, talks about the impact of Emerging Technology on Decision-Making

Valeria Sadovykh is an emerging technology leader, speaker, and scholar. Valeria’s expertise on the utilization of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP), Intelligent Automation (IA) and digital transformation has shaped the business decisions of various multinational corporations across a range of industries. Currently, Valeria works for PwC and based in New York City, where she leads strategic IT development projects involving emerging technology, Industry 4.0, digital transformation, intelligent automation, and mass customization. With over 10 years’ worth of experience in the technology consulting industry, Valeria has been channeling her efforts into assisting big companies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and now the US.

Valeria was able to take some time away from her work and answer several questions we had about her career, research and impact of innovation on decision-making as for individuals and organizations.

Valeria, what motivated you to pursue this career choice, and when did you make this decision? 

My career is a combination of academic and professional services (aka Pracademic: 50% Practitioner and 50% Academic). In the professional world, I am busy with running global consulting programs on the implementation of emerging technology. In my academic sphere, online decision making, decision intelligence, human biases, disruption, and adoption of AI and ML are the focal points of my research

By nature, I have been fascinated by humans and their behavior, specifically how people and organizations solve problems and make decisions, whether by themselves or in a group setting, and what factors influencing their decision-making process. 

I love observing and understanding people’s cognitive process. I was born at a time when we had to adapt to new technology and when I started seeing the impact of technology on basic human functions such as the development of new habits, communication, and then dependency on information search, geolocation, self-diagnosing, and personal life I knew I would be in this area. This unknown chemistry of technology addiction fascinates me. 

Nowadays, we are in a continuous rush to adopt as much tech as we can with the assumption that it will help us stay competitive and improve the possibilities of simplifying our life, but we do not understand the consequences and side effects the tech has made to our emotional and physical environments. We think we understand the consequences but, we don’t, and we do not have the choice anymore to not follow the tech advances. 

Only recently, we started using terms like Responsible AI and ethical use of AI, especially after Elon Musk called it the “biggest existential threat,” comparing it to “summoning the demon.” We became more curious about the potential consequences, but still, the danger and complexity did not settle in clearly for the majority of the population.

 And my purpose, whether through academia or consulting services, is to open more dialogues and educate society on the pros and cons of more innovation entering our daily life. 

Where did get your degree, and in your opinion, how important is getting a tertiary education to your line of work? 

I got my Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I am a strong believer in education, however, all my postgraduate degrees (Masters and Ph.D.) were obtained while I was working full-time and building my professional career. I always knew that just having a good degree from a good university would not be enough to strive in this world. 

But it is important to acknowledge that my qualifications did not only set me apart from others during job interviews, networking, and daily integration with society, but it brought me a different way of thinking. I learned to combine my academic and business approaches to achieve the best-fit outcome for various types of stakeholders. And vice versa. This, multi-disciplinary problem-solving approach helped my academic research be more practically relevant. 

What brought you to explore the idea of decision-making? Why did you get interested in it?

The desire to read people’s minds and understand their actions without judgment. I am an introvert by nature and when I was a child, I could spend hours just observing people, how they talk, what they do, their mimics, and how they change during the day. School bored me a lot (might be weird to hear it from a person who loves research and thinks about going back to pursue another degree), so I would just observe my classmates and teachers in detail and make stories in my head about their lives, thoughts, and their futures. I wanted to predict their behavior and actions, and explain why they behave like they do. I started seeing trends and dynamics, characters of leaders, the ones who were popular and not so much, but mostly I tried to feel their emotions. 

My research was always aligned with my personal interests and personal decision-making. In my early 20’s when I was doing my Master’s, my mother was undergoing cancer treatment, and I spent hours online understanding diagnosis, prognosis and figuring out what is next for me and my family. My online healthcare journey covered the topics that somehow related to my decisions in life, from cancer to depression, grief, weight loss & fitness, allergies, and many other topics that I had a point of interest in that was applicable to my life. 

But then I realized that what I was going through and the mechanisms I was using, other hundreds and millions of people experience and use the same tools. I don’t know what I was looking for, either for confirmation of my feelings or that I was not alone or maybe emotional support, but I knew how online health networks influenced some of my actions/decisions and those were not necessarily positive ones, or ones that were beneficial to me.

Then in my mid 20’s, when I was pursuing a Ph.D. and working full time, I had a fear of having no financial stability in life. I researched the hell out of the internet again on investing strategies, online investing platforms, robo-advisors, budgeting tools, bank rates, insurance packages, and how online manipulate financial markets. From those experiences, I could not believe that the most important decisions are getting outsourced to the wisdom of crowds, to random people who we know nothing about, but we blindly trust. 

Now, I am curious about the concept of “artificial love” and people’s usage of online dating apps. We as intelligent human beings outsource our most personal decisions to the random ML algorithms that were built by unknown (maybe “smart”) individuals, but still… why do those biased artificial mechanisms, making selection criteria /decisions for us that are based on a few pieces of information… For sure there are massive pros to those mechanisms, but there are many hidden cons that we still do not know. We don’t even think about how it might influence our generation’s concept of love, relationships, and even worse, our personal communication. The term IRL (in real life) is becoming common, people do not talk to strangers or meet people in IRL. We fear the real-life and real emotions and avoid things that happen to us! 

All those personal discoveries, questions, challenges and observations brought me to work on a series of research artifacts, conference proceedings, presentations, and academic papers on topics such as:

  • Decision Making in Online Social Networks, Decision Making in Health/Finance Social Networks
  • Knowledge Sharing using Online Social Networks
  • Social Shopping: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  • Promises and Perils of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: Disruption, Adoption, Dehumanisation, Governance, Risk and Compliance
  • Sustainable Transformations

What exactly does industry 4.0 mean and what does it apply to? 

I think we are on the edge of Industry 4.0 and entering Industry 5.0. It is where cooperation between man and machine becomes blurry and the priorities are on the utilization of an efficient workforce of machines and people. 

It is also where the virtual environment becomes a real one and machines do the work for us, but we still own the creativity. Unfortunately, it is a fact already. So, we are moving from Digitalization (Industry 4.0) to Personalization (Industry 5.0). It is not only allowing customers to get what they want, but it is also customizing their life and changing their normal standards. It will be a synergy between man and machine, as human intelligence works in harmony with cognitive computing. By putting humans back into industrial production with collaborative robots, workers will be upskilled to provide value-added tasks in production, leading to mass customization and personalization for customers; in finance, it is an example of tokenization and digitalization of funds per investor needs and requirements. 

In retail, it is even more needed due to consumers’ high-demand for individualization in the products they buy, meaning they prefer a degree of “hands-on” personalization and customization with their products. Industries will start creating higher-value jobs than before because the freedom of design responsibility will go back to the human. Besides, we should not be scared to lose our jobs, quite opposite, as more intellect will be required, new skills will be necessary (yes, massive upskilling at all fronts will be required), but the collaborative workplace between humans and machine will be beneficial for all in the long term. All we need to do is keep an open mind.

What would be the most challenging aspect of your work and why? 

People, not even technology, constant travel, hectic timetable and different time zones, and perfectionism – so old school thinking that most people suffer from. 

I have lived and worked on more than 5 continents and I am used to moving around. People are captivating but extremely difficult creatures to understand. Everyone requires a personal touch. Technology did not make it easier, it made us more complex, more closed off, and harder to connect with. We are not expressing emotions, we judge by emails, text messages, we don’t look at each other’s eyes when we speak. We evaluate each other by LinkedIn profiles rather than a reference check or word of mouth. Sometimes it is maddening with all the changes and movements around you. Be human, be passionate, and keep your values. Never betray or cheat on your values and believe in the goodwill of people. This is the hardest part in the current competitive environment. 

From a technical perspective, the challenge is to change a client or a reader’s mind and show them a different path to success which might not be what they expect. With this continuous rush, we must think not 5 steps in advance but 100 steps in advance. That said, investing in tech is not a solution if you don’t have an easily-defined adjustable process and an intelligent flexible workforce that has their heart in what they do. 

There are still 3 things that are drivers to success for any organization: people, process, and technology. We can’t afford to invest in one and neglect another. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that simple model.. 

You work across a wide range of topics and functions, which emerging technology do you find the most exciting? 

To me, it’s always those technologies that impact human life, specifically now that tech is at a level to be fully utilized for social good. The term used in the industry is AI for social impact. 

The emerging tech that addresses poverty, hunger, crisis response, education, climate change, sustainability, national disasters, and others in correspondence to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is the most exciting. Those are the most critical societal challenges that should be foremost tackled by individuals and organizations. Working for those initiatives is a privilege as you as an individual can see the positive impact of your work on society and individuals and overall help make a better future for our generation and generations to come.   

I am also fascinated by AI that interacts & manipulates our brain functions. This tech is built by genius scientists in some sort of lab and is referred to as computational science. Those that are bridging the gap between human intellect (generations of hard work by brain cells) and AI. It is a complex process of an AI learning of the human brain’s behavior. With more understanding of the human brain, the smarter deep learning models become. Those give the power to AI to influence and impact the brain’s functions, including vision, motion, sensory control, memory, and decision making. We already experienced the advances in speech and facial recognition, we can only imagine what is next. 

There is a thin line of whether those technologies bring us benefits or ruin our humanity, but it is fascinating what we can do now with the human mind and how easy it is to manipulate.

I also think there will be a time when it will be possible to reproduce our memories/ predictions of our future in 3D and that’s where the line between present/past and future is blurry.. Imagine that a person who is no longer with us can be replicated in 3D with the same mannerisms and captured memory. It is when humans transcend biology (and it is not futuristic, it is happening now) And the concept of technological singularity is already here. Exciting and scary!

What do you think will be the biggest change to international business relations over the next 10 years? 

For someone who is globally diverse and has a few citizenships, international business used to be a theoretical concept, there were no geographical boundaries for me and many of my affiliates. However, based on the recent global changes, we might be going backwards, even after so much of hard work to remove geographical/political boundaries and advances in technologies and hyper-connectivity, the physical borders are getting shut down, even the virtual ones with some countries. 

The recent examples of the worldwide crisis and the spread of disease show that air, sea, and land transportation is kind of on pause. Countries are fighting for survival and becoming self-sustainable, which can hurt international business.

I see a few important trends that must be taken into consideration by global organizations, small firms, and citizens:  

  • Political disruption – Unfortunately, in the last few years we entered another cold war without “labeling” it as a cold war. But it is much more complex now, it is not simply west and east against each other. The level of uncertainty is beyond normal, US elections, UK’s post Brexit negotiations, conflicts in the Middle East, China trade negotiations. All of those things impact organizations and their decision making. The traditional way of running an international business is disturbed. Even though extreme digitalization and connectivity entered our world, the cause of the uncertainty certainly didn’t go away. 
  • Political disruption impacts workforce and immigration – If we go back to the discussion on Industry 5.0, the new workforce is on the rise and new skills need to be learned, shared, and discovered. With closed borders and limited immigration, humanity limits its advances and progress. Developing and even some developed countries are not prepared for the workforce upskilling and talent migration needed and required for any innovation. Without a flow of new skills and the ability to reduce manual labor, it means we can’t increase the intellectual abilities of our workforce. Once again, international business will struggle to sustain, upskill, and transform the workforce. 
  • Lastly, and this might be difficult to connect with the first two points, but it is social responsibility – Organizations will start to (some already do) pay more attention to the world around us. The environment, society, and social causes. If actions are not taken, the entire concept of internalization will not make sense, as there will be no future for our generations (an example of pandemic and its effect on international business). The ethical questions are being questioned and demanded by both society and investors. Learning to navigate the ethical issues will be crucial for any business in the next few years.

Thank you Valeria for your time!
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