To Hypergiant’s new VP of ethics and diversity in AI, ethical AI is good for business

by Brian Nordli
July 18, 2019
Griffin photo
Photo via hypergiant

Will Griffin wants business leaders to be talking more about ethics and diversity in AI.

In his new role as VP of ethics and diversity in AI at Hypergiant Industries, he aims to make a case for why placing diversity and ethics at the core of AI development isn’t just good for society, but what’s best for business. That mindset stems from his experience both as an entrepreneur, where he helped launch Hip Hop OnDemand, and as a diversity and inclusivity advocate who has won the NAACP Image Award.

As the AI industry wrestles with ethical AI and diversity issues, Griffin hopes to work both internally and with other companies to solve those challenges at the AI products and solutions company. 

Hypergiant Industries, which is based in Austin, announced the addition of Griffin to its leadership team on Thursday. We caught up with him to learn what he’ll be working on.


What brought you to Hypergiant Industries?

Founder Ben Lamm had a broad vision for Hypergiant, and a conviction that ethical AI and diversity in AI is vital. He wasn’t thinking about it in terms of a functionary role: that ethics and diversity were a box that you check, or something that you run by compliance. He had a conviction that ethics in AI should be in the soul of the company, and I was attracted to that. 


What will your role involve? 

It will involve creating frameworks that ensure ethics and diversity is part of the culture and the soul of the company, from development to deployment. We’re not just doing it to go through the motions. We actually believe that diversity increases the level of innovation within companies and increases the culture and the ability to deliver for customers.

Most Fortune 500 companies have diversity scorecards, with figures linked to the profit and loss statements of each of their individual business units. AI solves the tech problem, and if ethics and diversity are at the soul of the solution, it also helps them solve their diversity ROI issues as well. 

We actually believe that diversity increases the level of innovation within companies and increases the culture and the ability to deliver for customers.”

What impact can ethical AI have on a company? 

AI is the topic of the moment. CEOs are asking CTOs and CIOs, “What are we doing in AI?” And they are scrambling to come up with solutions. So they’re calling Hypergiant with a bunch of different products, without having a full grasp of the power and potential of AI. 

Our goal is to partner with the winners. Some people figure out that diversity is crucial. The Harvard Business Review did a study that showed that there are two or three companies in every industry that generate outsized returns and ROI because they implemented diversity first and in the most appropriate ways. Our mission is to help find, develop and grow these companies, as well as make Hypergiant one of them. 


What’s a real-world example of what that impact could look like?

A large company might have a customer service AI tool that serves different regions of the world. If their AI can’t recognize certain accents, it’s possible for them to wrongly categorize them as low-potential customers based on their voice. Ethics should tell you from the start that everybody should be treated with respect and as a potential customer. And from a business perspective, failing to do so creates a lost opportunity for you, your clients and customers, for no good reason.


Your background is in entrepreneurship and investment banking. How does that influence the way you approach ethics and diversity? 

Most of the people who are running diversity initiatives come from a social justice point of view or an equity point of view or an HR point of view. But it’s rare that you get somebody who comes from an entrepreneurial point of view, which I think is important. 

People have their own attitudes about privacy or some other ethical subject, but that attitude can wane and devolve into platitudes. That’s not the case with entrepreneurs. As Yoda says, “We either do, or we do not. There is no try.” If we’re not successful, the lights turn off. We’re focused on actually getting results, and I think our entrepreneurial approach to diversity and ethics in AI will create a new voice and a new way forward for the industry as a whole. 


What dangers does the industry risk in not addressing the ethics and diversity in building AI?

We’re seeing it play out in the real world and social media with privacy. Policy makers don’t understand the power of the technology, and consumers don’t understand the sheer, vast amounts of information they’re putting out there and how it can be used. They’re handing it all over to the social media companies, who now have more power than probably any company in the history of the world. AI compounds that power on an order of magnitude that we can’t envision yet.

It’s important we have ethics-based AI and diversity baked into the soul of the people and companies who control that information. Ultimately consumers, policy makers and all the stakeholders are relying on us and trusting us with this information. 

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