Katie King, Leading AI Strategist, Author, & International Keynote Speaker

Katie King is a published Author, Keynote Speaker & Consultant on AI. Voted the ‘Leading AI Strategist’ and ‘Top 10 influencer in AI’ in 2023, Katie has over 30 years of consulting experience. Katie has delivered two TEDx talks and is a regular speaker worldwide. Her second book was published by Kogan Page in January 2022: AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing: Connecting marketing, sales and customer experience. Katie is a member of the UK Government All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) task force for the adoption of AI.  She is also an Editorial Board Member for the AI and Ethics Journal.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Katie shared her professional trajectory, challenges encountered by her in her career, the five things required to create a highly successful career in the AI industry, personal sources of inspiration, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Katie, can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue a career path in AI?

I’ve spent the past 30 years in the creative industries, primarily doing Marketing and PR for some of the world’s biggest brands. I started my own digital marketing firm Zoodikers Consulting, which I still operate to this day. However, around 2015, I felt a bit too settled and started looking for a new challenge. I am the type of person who always likes to keep learning, growing and evolving, and while I still loved marketing I began to wonder “What’s next?” I had heard about AI, but did not know much about it as not many people were talking about or adopting it widely at that point. I started doing my own research and the more I learned, the more potential I could see for how this would impact marketing, PR and various other business functions. I started talking to others about it, and then one thing led to another and another and has not stopped since.

Once I’d published my first book in early 2019, I started having a lot of people reaching out to me either to speak about it publicly at their event or to coach their team privately. At the time, I’d only been running Zoodikers, and it felt a bit odd marketing myself as an AI thought leader through my boutique digital marketing firm. Through Zoodikers, a lot of people already knew me as a PR, marketing, and social expert rather than an AI person. I decided to create AI in Business as a standalone to help establish myself firmly as a top thought leader in the space and to create a destination for those people who wanted to know more. I wanted to be able to guide businesses through these changes and also make a difference through AI-focused CSR initiatives such as my Leaders of Tomorrow programme. AI in Business has allowed me to do all I set out to, and has given me many opportunities to continue exploring my passion for this technology. That includes speaking with many experts and innovators in this space, which then enabled me to publish a second book in 2022 featuring some really salient interviews and case studies from those experts.

How can a company identify realistic use cases that really benefit them? Is AI useful for every company at all? What typical mistakes do companies make when implementing AI?

AI is not a one-size-fits-all technology, and one of the biggest mistakes we see companies making is treating it as such. They’ll see a new tool trending and think they need to get onboard with the hype or see another business trying something and feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses. But when adopting any technology, not just AI, there needs to be a clear need. What are you looking to achieve? What problems are you trying to solve? What specific pain point are you addressing? You may come to find that AI is the fix, or you may find that there is a better solution. Businesses cannot afford to embark on vanity AI projects just for the sake of it. I cannot sit here and say that every business should embed AI into a few specific use cases, because that will serve some businesses well but not all. There has to be a clear need and a problem to solve, and that will in turn guide how and where AI is applied. Not taking the time to get clear on that need is where most businesses falter. There’s so much to be gained in terms of productivity, business impact, CX, employee satisfaction, and more that makes investing worthwhile.

Can you please share the major takeaways from your recent book, ‘AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing: Connecting Marketing, Sales and Customer Experience’ published by Kogan Page in March 2022?

Every chapter of the book ends with its own 10 key takeaway lessons, but I think the general takeaway from the book is that AI, when implemented strategically, can truly transform a business. There is so much to be gained in terms of productivity, business effectiveness, CX, revenue, and so on from using AI as a tactical tool, but this tactic needs to be driven by a solid plan of action. But the book doesn’t just give examples of why AI is great. There are some real challenges presented and serious ethical issues discussed that should not be overlooked when considering adopting this technology. I wanted to make that a major focus of this book because it needs to be a major focus of all AI conversations. It’s not just plug and play. There are layers to successful AI adoption and when executed well, the payoff is great. But if executed poorly, there are consequences.

As with any career path, the AI industry comes with its own set of challenges. Could you elaborate on some of the significant challenges you faced in your AI career and how you managed to overcome them?

I will be the first to admit that I am not a technologist, and I have never claimed to be. My background is in marketing and business leadership, not in software development, coding, programming, or anything of that sort. I’ve stuck to my lane pretty well, but there have been certain times in a training session or keynote Q&A where some questions are more technical than I can answer. But I overcome this by never misrepresenting who I am and what I know. I do my best to redirect that person towards resources or individuals who may better help answer their questions, but I stick to what I know which is business impact, company culture, change management, and the like.

What are the 3 things that most excite you about the AI industry now? Why?

What I have always found most fascinating about AI is its seemingly limitless possibility. What drew me to AI and continues to keep me interested to this day is how much can be done with it. This isn’t just a technology that can only benefit one singular industry or job function. AI looks different in just about every different use case it has, and we’re seeing both businesses and AI developers getting really creative. It feels like there’s always something exciting happening, a new tool making waves, or something new to learn.

Additionally, I am excited to see how many minds are changing about AI. Pre-pandemic, AI was still this far-off concept, and most people weren’t paying much attention to it. Today, it’s like you cannot escape it. More and more people are getting interested in it and trying it for themselves thanks to the free tools in the market. I love going into a session with someone who might be a cynic about AI or completely new to this technology, and by the end of it they’re excited about its potential and wanting to learn more. I see that as an absolute win and it happens at least once every keynote, workshop, webinar, or training session I deliver. There is always at least one conversion from naysayer to AI fan.

I’m also excited about the progress we are making in the areas of ethics and regulation. It’s great to see so many countries, including the UK, taking major strides towards establishing governance. We seem to be close to our first real regulations with the EU’s AI Act should that come into force, and a few other nations are in the early stages of setting their own guidelines. I think AI regulation will be a great global knowledge-sharing opportunity as different countries lean on each other and draw inspiration from one another.

Can you please share the “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The AI Industry”?

  1. AI is a family of technologies spanning machine learning, Natural Language Programming and other areas of technology. For skilled data scientists, it’s therefore a great industry that’s in huge demand.
  2. Startup companies can use AI to disrupt traditional industries/business functions such as marketing. So, entrepreneurs can really take advantage of AI
  3. To thrive in the world of AI, you need agility and innovation, and you need to have a solution to a need in the wider market.
  4. You need to have the right mindset for change to take advantage of AI as it is evolving at an unprecedented pace.
  5. You need to be on a journey of continuous learning and be very aware of the evolving world of ethics and privacy.

As you know, there are not that many women in the AI industry. Can you advise what is needed to engage more women in the AI industry?

There is certainly a gap as tech in general has struggled with representation for many years now. However, I will say that the women I do know in the AI industry are absolutely fantastic and so knowledgeable. Women like Maria Axente, Rose Luckin, Dame Wendy Hall, and Caroline Gorski are all blazing a trail not just for women, but for AI regulation, ethics, education, and policy. I think the key to having more female minds like theirs in the industry is making it clear that that is an option for women and young girls. So many women are told from a young age that they can’t pursue something for some reason or other, and a lot of them will unfortunately end up internalising that. I mean, I know very well what it’s like to work hard for a seat at the table only to look around and find you’re surrounded by people who look nothing like you. I imagine the experience is even worse for women of colour. We need to intercept girls young and encourage them to pursue their passions, equip them with the skills and capabilities they need to succeed, and don’t you dare tell them they cannot do something.

Encouraging young female talent to chase their dreams and providing training opportunities to give them the skills and understanding they’ll need for the future is key. My desire to be able to do that was one of the driving factors behind my developing and launching the Leaders of Tomorrow AI Schools Programme. So far, we’ve had three successful cohorts, including one international iteration of the programme in South Africa, and the feedback from the students has been wonderful. I look forward to future cohorts and continuing to play my part in helping shape the talent of the future.

What are some of the industries that AI will most impact over the next decade?

I can’t think of a single industry that AI won’t impact in the next decade. However, I think AI will have a major impact on industries that directly relate to how we live our daily lives, such as healthcare and education. AI will have a major hand in reshaping how we learn, take care of ourselves and others, and so on. We’re already seeing some amazing things. For example, I recently read about a study where AI proved 98% effective in diagnosing autism in toddlers. Imagine how life-changing it will be for so many people to have various conditions diagnosed early and effectively. Treatment interventions can happen quicker and can be more accurately targeted. It will be absolutely life changing. In education, we’ve had singular curriculums for so long and just expected every student to learn the same material in the same way. Actually, this has created unnecessary challenges for people with different abilities and learning styles, leading to a less effective educational experience for them. AI is changing that, and making it possible to tailor lessons to individual skills, abilities, and learning styles. Imagine the impact that will have on our population down the road. So yes, AI will impact industries like retail, manufacturing, and so on, but those impacts will really be to businesses’ bottom lines. I’m much more excited on the tech for good cases that will arise from use in industries that directly impact our population.

Who is your modern-day hero and why?

I genuinely have no heroes.  I admire Nobel peace prize winners and some of the incredible work carried out by medical professionals worldwide.

What advice do you have for those looking to grow their careers in AI?

I would say be passionate and be human. There are a lot of opportunities out there, which is exciting. If this is where your interest lies and you’re passionate about driving major change, then I think you’ll be really happy here. But at the same time, in an increasingly tech-driven world it’s really valuable to remember what you have that technology doesn’t. We humans have emotional intelligence, contextual understanding, judgement, and reason that AI lacks. It’s an amazing technology, but should not be left to its own devices. We need humans in the loop to work alongside AI, not work for it. Don’t underestimate the value of your ability to be creative, strategic, and rational. We need those qualities as we become more technologically focused.

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