Dr. Lisa Michaud speaks to us about her passion for Natural Language Processing and shares her thoughts on Women in Tech East Coast, taking place October 24-25 2019
Dr. Lisa Michaud is a Senior Product Manager at Interactions, where she works with the Intelligent Virtual Assistant platform. With more than 20 years of experience in the field of Natural Language Processing, she has established herself as a thought leader in conversational AI technology and best practices.
She holds a PhD in Computer Science and has been published in multiple international journals, workshops, and conferences in the fields of user-adaptive interaction and Computational Linguistics.
Lisa will be sharing her knowledge at Women in Tech East Coast, taking place October 24-25 2019.
My path has taken a few interesting turns, because I started college as a Literature major, intending to double major in English and French. I wanted to be a writer. Then, my friend convinced me to take a Computer Science course with her and I discovered a whole second side of myself – I had a passion for problem-solving and coding.
I wound up with a double major in Computer Science and English Literature, and in my senior year I found out that there was this field called Natural Language Processing, in which I could combine my love of coding and human languages. After my PhD, I taught Computer Science for 13 years, and then transitioned into an industry position helping lead NLP work.
What excites you about Natural Language Processing?
Early computers required their operators to learn and use arcane sequences of 0s and 1s to communicate with them. Every step along their development has moved the burden of the communication away from the human and onto the machine. It’s a terrific challenge – how do we create technology that can understand and respond to human language? It brings together my twin passions for coding the machine and for understanding the nuances of human words.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
As a Product Manager, I sit at the nexus of all the different groups involved in making this technology come alive. Most of my day is spent meeting with these different groups in order to coordinate their efforts. I work with the research scientists looking to push the AI innovation forward, with the developers writing the latest innovations into the code, with the ops people who get that code out there into the world, and with customers and analysts so we can share what we’re doing and get people excited about working with us.
In this age of digital transformation, how can emerging technologies improve and change our working and daily lives?
Conversational interfaces to technology are becoming ubiquitous. In our daily lives, many of us do quick searches and tasks with a voice assistant every day, freeing up our hands and helping us multi-task in our lives. In addition, my company’s technology is helping to revolutionize customer service; everyone hates having to call up a company just to wait in a queue for someone to be able to help us.
With Conversational AI, we can divert lots of those calls, chats, and texts to an automated agent who can get your task done quickly with no wait, freeing up the human agents to focus on the complicated tasks that require more complex interaction.
Why have you decided to get involved with Women in Tech East Coast?
As a woman in tech, I’m very accustomed to being the only female at a meeting or the only woman on a conference call. I’ve had my technical competence questioned both explicitly and implicitly, and that can be tiring. Women in technology and engineering often need to spend time connecting with each other to remember that they’re not alone, in a space where they don’t have to prove to anyone that they have a right to be there.
What are you speaking about at the conference?
I’m going to talk about NLP from the perspective of demystifying what it can actually do with today’s technology, and what some of the real challenges still are out there. I want specifically to address this from a business perspective, in terms of how everyone wants to have AI but without a realistic understanding of the strengths and limitations of the technology, which can lead to a poor experience for both the company and its customers.
What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in STEM?
Don’t listen to the voices that say you don’t fit, whether that comes from others or from inside your own head. You’re the only one who gets to define whether you have something to bring to the table, and we need as many different perspectives as we can get.
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