One of the biggest challenges of my work is communicating it. Both at MAPC and Code for Boston we do a lot of things that people do not have foundational knowledge about. When I meet people outside the technology industry for the first time and describe what I do, they need to have some kind of foundation in about thirty-seconds or they are going to get lost and confused quickly. They need the elevator pitch.
The interesting thing about the elevator pitch is first getting the reaction of someone to it. Did I land it with my description? What is their first thought or question? A lot of times they do not even know what question to ask. Often it takes me giving an example or two of one of the projects that I have worked on until they understand my work.
Once I explain I work with algorithms people often see their interest peaked. Artificial intelligence and algorithms are two topics from technology that have permeated mainstream culture, but people are still struggling to figure them out. Are they really going to kill us? Will they take all the jobs? There is definitely a sense of caution and fear. The dry and mechanical attitude I see at data science conferences is quite different from the attitudes I see when I talk to lawyers and others studying them. Algorithms and artificial intelligence are going to greatly impact what machines can do, but industry is doing a poor job of communicating what the impact really will be.
Talking to a group of folk that are not inside the tech industry last night gave me a chance to evaluate how I talk about algorithms and AI. I like to talk about how we built our Youth Match algorithm with young people to help them. I am sad I did not think to explain to my fellow law school alumni that lawyers will be the ones buying algorithms and other technologies for local government. They are going to need to understand these things because they are going to impact the citizens they work for. Hopefully I do a better job of remembering that part of the story at my next event.