FirstEval-Melissa Kovacs


2017’s Most Notable – Marketing Analytics, Mentoring, Ethics in AI, and More!

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Because Top-Eight lists are so much more fun than Top-Ten lists, I offer my Top-Eight (plus one!) notable things that caught my attention this year.  In no particular order…


Ethics in Data and AI

I am sure this has been going on prior to 2017, but 2017 seemed to be the year I started really noticing the outcry for a code of ethics in the fields of data and AI.  If nothing else, Cathy O’Neil’s TED talk on ethics in data is a must-see.  If you have more than 13 minutes, do yourself a favor and take this edX course, “Data Science Ethics.”  For a primer on ethics in AI, Matthew Biggins nails the issues in his series on Medium.



Since… well, ever, marketing agencies and departments have been trying to prove their worth – how effective is advertising when it comes to sales?  How can the marketing department show that their efforts pay off in sales?  Proof has done what our marketing analytic brains have been craving – calculating in the time lag between advertising and sales.  Proof uses your historical data to report correlations between business metrics and shows the strength and length of such correlations in an easily-digestible dashboard.



This year, the American Statistical Association met to discuss whether the clear-cut “less than .05” p-value rule for null hypothesis statistical testing needed re-thinking.  I wrote about my experience at the meeting here.  Essentially, big data (i.e. big sample sizes) mean p-value tests can lose their sensitivity.  One outcome of these discussions was a need to increase awareness towards finding meaning in data beyond statistical testing.


Girls in Tech

This year, some amazing women in Phoenix founded the local chapter of Girls in Tech.  Rebecca Clyde and Melissa Drake (with help from other rockstars) have started the chapter off with a bang, hosting events for girls, young professionals, and mentorships – a true asset for Phoenix.


Women Also Know Stuff

I got to hear the amazing Samara Klar speak this fall at Arizona State University about how her site, Women Also Know Stuff, was started.  Born of frustration in seeing all-male panels at conferences and on TV, here she lists over 1,200 female political science experts to help us decipher our political landscape.


I’m lumping open data and open AI into one category here.  First, I’m proud to have seen the evolution of my hometown, Scottsdale, AZ’s, commitment to launching open city data.  Their open data portal allows for transparent organization of local government data in numerous areas, including Parks, Art, & Culture.  Leslie Knope would be proud.  For other cities’ progress, see this great compilation of municipal open data portals.

Leslie Knope would be proud of open data portals.

Second, OpenAI is the aptly-named leader in researching safe artificial general intelligence, with an impressive group of individuals and organizations supporting their mission.

So… why “open”?  If we are to keep ourselves human, complete with morality-based decision-making, open data and open AI research are the only paths to take.  Whether citizens can see empirical consequences of their government’s decisions through open data portals, or AI researchers will infuse their progress with ethics and view their work through a moral lens, open and transparent are the bedrock of a fair society.  These authors in Scientific American articulate the urgency of this much better than I can.


Women-Owned Businesses

Here in Arizona, we’ve been collaborating about, thinking on, and discussing women-owned businesses through Empowered PhXX for a couple years now.  I recently completed a survey of women business owners in Arizona, and we’ll unveil the final results in the Spring of 2018.  What is clear from the preliminary results is that women business owners are significant contributors to the Arizona economy – as taxpayers, employers, and users of local vendors.  Nationally, women business owners are fueling economic growth, and the same is true in Arizona.


Opioid-Related Deaths

The sheer number of people dying from opioid overdose is increasing exponentially – over 33,000 died in in 2015, and a conservative estimate of 2016 deaths puts this number at over 64,000.  County-level data analysis by the New York Times shows an increase in heroin-related deaths in almost every county in the nation.  This is truly the definition of an epidemic.

One book – the best book I read this year – explains this – Dreamland, by Sam Quinones.  Quinones artfully describes the perfect storm of pharmaceutical company advertising, cultural changes in prescribing among physicians, economic blight and job loss, and the business-school envious techniques of the Xalisco boys’ marketing and distribution systems of heroin throughout the U.S.


Big Brothers Big Sisters

I was fortunate this year to become a Big through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  Thankfully, my Little and I share the same taste in cheesy movies and big smoothies.  Her life has been radically impacted by opioid addiction (see entry above), yet her spirit inspires me.


Much more caught my eye in 2017, but here’s to looking ahead, and cheers to an amazing 2018!

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