The rate at which technology is impacting business is accelerating. And the breadth of that impact is expanding as well.

But when you are in the thick of developing your team, growing your marketshare and strengthening your brand – evaluating and preparing for trends on the horizon may not make it onto your daily agenda.

This is precisely why we invited our business owner clients and our colleagues who serve them to an event focused specifically on the technology trends that are impacting the business landscape, both nationally, and here in Western Pennsylvania.

Our evening featured two industry experts who each shared TED style presentations focused on the trends they are seeing in the marketplace, how they are impacting business leaders and how they are impacting the workforce leading us into the future.

Our first speaker was Andrew Brzezinski, Vice President of Fidelity Institutional and Fidelity Trading Ventures. Andrew’s work focuses on the exploration and adoption of artificial intelligence, quantitative analysis, data science, trading algorithm design, financial modeling, and market forecasting.

Andrew painted a crisp picture of the current landscape, including the many commercial applications of artificial intelligence (AI) which are in the marketplace now, as well as a broader view of the role of AI is playing and where it’s heading. As a starting point, Andrew provided a functional explanation of what AI is currently – the optimized amalgamation of data, with the end goal of predictive analysis and deep learning about human behavior. AI is actively being developed by entities like Google, Amazon and Uber to drive autonomous vehicles, cloud, big data, gaming and virtually every activity on the internet. So, beyond scraping through your browsing history to suggest the most appropriate interstitial ad to interrupt the article you are reading, AI is also being developed to help your work force focus its activities and thinking on those areas he described as their “best roles” – those distinctly human capabilities which require emotional analysis, intuition, creativity and empathy. Andrew also addressed the common concern that as AI improves, human responsibilities will increasingly be taken over by automation, explaining that the ideal role for AI is to assume those functions which can be more efficiently executed by machine learning, allowing team members to focus their energy on leveraging emotional understanding and insights to drive critical thinking and decision making.

Our second speaker was Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council and co-host of TechVibe Radio on KDKA 1020 AM. Audrey has been working with local businesses here in Pittsburgh for over 38 years and reminded our audience that while we are green and leading the country in robotics now,  Pittsburgh used to be described as “hell with the lid blown off” during the industrial and heavy manufacturing period. Around the time this tapered off, in the mid 1980s, Carnegie Mellon University began its rise to prominence as the country’s leading innovator and incubator for robotics and automation technology. Audrey discussed how the workforce in Pittsburgh has grown to be one of the most educated in the country, particularly at the post graduate level, and how this has led to a wealth of talent as well as a disruption for employers. She likened interconnected smart appliances to our highly educated workforce. Much like an internet connected refrigerator can track how much turkey you have and automatically order more from amazon, in demand employees are demanding similar levels of transparency from the companies they work for. They want to know how their service or product is impacting their customers, in real time, and the agency to adjust what they are working on. The resulting fluidity of the employment relationship is leading to shorter engagements and more flexibility. She brought up the Affordable Care Act as a real world example of this evolving paradigm, explaining that while the ACA did not deliver its full promise of quality, affordable healthcare offered through online exchanges, it did introduce the concept of moving health care away from the employee-employer engagement and onto an independent provider framework. Such a shift will allow employees more freedom to pursue opportunities which are better aligned with their unique human abilities, rather than forcing them to remain stuck in static, long-term employment relationships which may no longer be fulfilling or even efficient.

Interwoven throughout the evening was a high-end tequila tasting, moderated by Catador, Peter Katz, Division Director with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Guests were walked through the harvesting and distillation process, as well as traditional quality control and production techniques as they enjoyed a hand selected tasting menu of blancos, reposados and ultra anejos. From tending to 7-foot agave plants, to slow steaming pinas in a stone horna to grinding the cooked agave under a tahona wheel – each step is guided artfully by an experienced Maestro. Such care and artful execution illustrates the irreplaceable value of the human touch necessary to produce the world’s highest quality tequilas.

And much like the distillation process is aided by technology that improves the accuracy of temperature and acidity readings, businesses in our evolving landscape benefit from innovations like regression analysis that provide insight and modeling that might otherwise remain uncovered and untapped. The true value of technology, it seems, is to replace inefficiently allocated man-hours with automation, where appropriate, freeing up time for irreplaceable and invaluable human cognition and creativity.



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