Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn takes on AI, machine learning, AR and VR

Facebook must be the most famous startup story yet, if not one of the most successful. Having worked at Facebook since 2013, Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s EMEA VP, is the social network’s single most senior employee outside of the US. Nicola has been described as the most successful British woman of all time in the tech sector and we are therefore honoured to be welcoming her to the 4YFN stage.

Nicola will be joining us to talk about all the amazing emerging technologies that Facebook is employing and the pace of constant change at the tech giant. Here she gives us some initial insight into all the cool things happening at Facebook.

What are you talking about at the conference?

The pace of digital innovation has been incredible in recent years, with new tech like AI, machine learning and VR leading to really exciting and creative new ways for brands to tell their story to audiences all around the world. Like National Geographic, which promoted a new series on Messenger by offering people the chance to chat to Picasso and receive a unique digital Picasso-style portrait of themselves. Every question answered and every picture taken resulted in a different portrait. A fun and simple user experience, backed by intense machine learning and AI that was continually optimised at remarkable speed. And, with more people than ever both using mobile and following the brands and causes that matter to them online, the opportunities to offer these personal experiences have never been greater.

I’ll also be talking about the need to ensure everyone, no matter who they are or where they’ve come from, is able to benefit from the opportunities new tech and disruption bring.

What are you passionate about?

Giving everyone the chance to benefit from new digital innovations, which have levelled the playing field so that anyone with a great idea and self-belief can build thriving communities. It’s why I launched Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme in 2016, to bring women together to help them develop the digital skills and confidence they need to bring their business ideas to life. So far, we’ve trained over 50,000 women across seven countries in EMEA. These women now act as role models and inspiration for the next generation.

What is the future of your field?

In the past, the uptake and impact of disruptive technologies played out over decades; the television took over 10 years to reach 50 million people, for example. Today it’s different. The fourth industrial revolution is being driven by connectivity, mobile and digitisation, leading to much more immediate changes in how people and brands communicate. Stories, for instance, were launched on Instagram in 2016. Just three years later, more than a billion Stories are now shared every day across our platforms. We’ve moved from text, to image, to video, to AR, so it’s exciting to think about what’s next.

Why is it so important?

Because advanced technologies like VR and AR are generating new ways to tell your brand story, reach consumers and do business, and businesses ignore them at their peril. That’s why disruption is no longer just a buzzword. How a business responds to it has a real impact on whether it will succeed or fail.

Helping businesses big and small have access to, and make best use of, these disruptive technologies is vital to their chances of success. At Facebook, we want to play a part in helping them do that, whether it’s by running programmes like Community Boost Europe, through which we’ve committed to train one million people and businesses in digital skills by 2020; our SME client councils, where we listen to what’s on the mind of small businesses and what we can do better to meet their needs; or our Creative Shop team, who help our existing partners leverage tools on Facebook and Instagram to connect with people in new and engaging ways.

What are your favourite sayings (they can be your own)? Words to live by?

G.K. Chesterton was a marvellous journalist, philosopher and writer. He’s often quoted as he had such a skill for making complex things sound very simple. He once wrote that “the chief object of education is not to learn things, but to unlearn things.” I’ve always believed that it’s important not to held back by the status quo or be limited by what’s been done in the past, so I love the idea that the more you know, the more you can challenge.

What does the world look like in 50-100 years?

Given how fast the world is moving this is a hard one, but I believe that AI can have transformational positive effects for people all over the world. We’re already using it to do things like find and remove terrorist content and hate speech before it’s even posted on our platforms, and to help blind people understand what’s in photos to help them feel connected. There are so many opportunities to use AI for good, but like any new technology we have to work together with governments and other tech companies all over the world to make sure it’s designed and used in the way that’s fair and puts people first.


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