Executive Spotlight: Interview with Melvin Greer, Intel’s Chief Data Scientist

ExecutiveBiz - Executive Spotlight: Interview with Melvin Greer, Intel's Chief Data Scientist
Melvin Greer

Melvin Greer is Chief Data Scientist, Public Sector Americas, at Intel Corporation. He is responsible for building Intel's data science platform through artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing. His systems and software engineering experience has resulted in patented inventions in cloud computing, synthetic biology, and IoT bio-sensors for edge analytics. He has received the 2017 BDPA Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2012 BEYA Technologist of the Year Award.

ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see disruptive technologies impacting the federal marketplace?

Melvin Greer: Technologies that impact and disrupt government and  empower citizens are increasing transparency in government, and improved delivery of citizen services. Government agencies are also disrupting themselves as they strive towards increased operational efficiency.

Without question mobile and social media technologies are having a disruptive effect  in government, and are creating new delivery models for citizen services.

The disruptive technology area  that I focus on is data science and analytics, machine learning, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence. Government is experiencing positive disruption in  health and life sciences, energy and transportation. Data science and analytics are creating a personalized experience and improving government's ability to harness the power of data.

ExecutiveBiz: What are the challenges that you see in incorporating artificial intelligence into federal missions?

Melvin Greer:  Some of the most significant challenges are associated with workforce and talent. We have approximately 2 million open job opportunities for data scientists, data analysts and artificial intelligence programmers in the United States today. That presents a significant gap in our ability to deliver on  the promise that artificial intelligence offers.

A focus on ethics is also a challenge, as we want to avoid some of the unintended consequences associated with the outsourcing of human cognition to intelligent systems.

In spite of the challenges, there's increased focus from government and industry to increase the number of people and diversify the on-ramps for AI workforce and talent opportunities. Industry and federal government agencies are working to ensure that data scientists have deep understanding of the ethical, societal and legal implications associated with the deployment of artificial intelligence.

ExecutiveBiz: What specifically do you see as the main challenge right now for the ethics component that you mentioned?

Melvin Greer: Professor Cathy O'Neil, has written a book called Weapons of Math Destruction, wherein she describes a number of key ethical dilemmas associated with the outsourcing of human cognition to artificial intelligence or machine learning constructs.

Examples are cited associated with repeat offenders and the judicial system, where there is a desire to understand how many people may return to the criminal justice system after they had been released. These automated intelligent systems have a profound impact on the kinds of programs and the support people get when they get out of prison and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

In education, we see where machine learning and cognitive systems are being used in identifying so-called gifted students, or students that may require supplemental attention, with the goal of providing a personalized education experience.  But when labeling sticks with students for an extended period of time it can present some challenges.

These are a number of important  topics that are highlighted in the National Artificial Intelligence R&D Strategic Plan  published by the U.S. Federal government in November 2016. That document encourages the data scientists writing the algorithms to understand and identify the ethical impacts associated with the deployment of AI.

ExecutiveBiz: One of your research areas is gamification. Could you tell us more about what that term means and how it can transform federal agencies?

Melvin Greer: Gamification is the ability to use game theory to solve really hard problems.

In the last five years there has been significant focus on how to take and harness the power of game theories to solve problems like energy, water and food resource scarcity.

Several years ago the federal government formed the Federal Games Guild which was designed to harness the power of gamification and apply energy that focused on playing games to some real federal agency problems.

Gamification is being used to solve health and life science, workforce safety, cyber intelligence and sustainable energy problems. It is accelerating the ability to apply emerging technologies to these problems in ways that drive better outcomes to citizens.

ExecutiveBiz: In your book 21st Century Leadership you talk about how ambidextrous leadership drives innovation. Could you tell us about that?

Melvin Greer: Ambidextrous leadership is a key theme in the book. I designed the book to describe 21st century leadership and its differences from other leadership styles. It has a key focus on using technology to innovate. Innovation is defined as the monetization of good ideas. The book details  a number of challenges to this drive to innovation, and also documents six case studies of organizations that have successfully adopted the 21st century leadership model.

In studying leadership styles, we found some leaders  focused on operational excellence to the detriment of the ability to innovate. Some leaders were focused on innovation without being able to achieve operational excellence.

Ambidextrous leadership is the ability to do both things very well at the exact same time. 21st century leaders are extremely focused on operational excellence, flawlessly executing core mission and business objectives. But they also spend significant time developing and testing new and exciting disruptive capabilities and technologies that will help their organizations innovate.

Ambidextrous leadership allows organizations, companies, and government agencies to ensure that their core missions don't suffer and that innovations that drive growth continue to be investigated and implemented. That's the key tenet.

This doesn't require all leaders to be engineers or scientists. Great leaders want  to have the technological literacy that allows them to have a basic understanding of how technologies work so they can harness power from them.

Senior executives are now being asked to make strategic decisions about their company's or agency's ability to transform based on the adoption of technology.

Leadership requires  scientific literacy so that leaders can detect things that are reasonable and accurate and things that are not.

This goes to the very heart of the core missions of our government: immigration, transportation, energy, weather and climate – these types of missions in the federal government don't require leaders to be completely capable of doing a quantum physics equation; but we want our leaders to be scientifically  literate enough so that they can discern and make sound decisions based on information presented to them.

ExecutiveBiz: How can companies get better at seeing the ways technology will impact their business strategy?

Melvin Greer: Organizations are moving to create incubators,  tech challenges and many  are creating hackathons – these are the kinds of initiatives that allow agencies and organizations to rapidly investigate, prototype, test and evaluate a number of different kinds of technologies from a very diverse community.

Almost every federal agency and most companies are using  an ideation framework that allows for rapid investigation, prototyping and limited scale implementations so that technology can be evaluated faster.

Industry is working  to collaborate and provide better insight to government agencies so that the implementation  of new technologies will have a rapid and positive impact on mission capability.

This collaboration between government, industry and academia – this triad, is allowing for the acceleration and infusion of technology that supports rapid adoption.

Lastly, we are seeing the number of folks who are ambidextrous in their leadership style increasing.

Organizations are able to continue to innovate without having their operational environments suffer. Organizations and government are developing new business models and acquisition strategies — that facilitate rapid  prototyping and investigation of emerging technologies. Ambidextrous leadership is the 21st century leadership model used by innovative leaders to understand the behavioral, economic and social shifts that new technology is creating.

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