Katherine grew up in Plymouth, Michigan, a place she describes as “halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor, in every way from demographics to economics. Katherine’s passion for radio began with involvement at her high school radio station and developed further while apprenticing at NPR’s affiliate station in Ann Arbor during her college years. She went on to work for WYPR in Baltimore and WBUR in Boston as part of NPR’s Here and Now team. Radio proved a vehicle for Katherine to explore her fascination with science. She has just wrapped her fourth season as host of the podcast Talking Machines, which focuses on “human conversations about machine learning.”
How did you come to host a podcast on Machine Learning?
The idea emerged out of conversations my friend, Ryan Adams, who was at the time a professor at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. We were both interested in bridging the information gap between the scientific research community and the public, particularly around machine learning. We spent a year designing the show, Talking Machines, with the goal of highlighting scientific research while keeping the conversation human and accessible. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, because of their complexity, can seem almost magical to the uninitiated. But once you grasp the foundational concepts you can quickly see the profound impact they have on our lives.
How did your involvement with Collective Next come about?
I love getting specialized information out in a way that is accessible and actionable for a broader community. Collective Next recognized the potential for using podcasting within organizations to do just that. Additionally, CN understood the importance of enhancing their own expertise around artificial intelligence and machine learning because of how they are reshaping the business landscape. My work with CN is a continuation of prior work in that I am helping people to think about how to identify what information is crucial in their community, how to tell their story and how to take action.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The immediacy of these mediums makes them really impactful in terms of generating dialogue, understanding and broad inclusion. I love helping groups of people cross gaps in understanding so that they can feel empowered. At CN we are continually engaging communities in ways that facilitate their ability to create what is next.
What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?
We recently incorporated podcasting into one of our client’s leadership development programs. The goal was to help the participants, all of whom were early in their careers, formulate their own understanding of the business and engage in dialogue with the broader organizational community. One of the central projects in the program was to create a podcast. Collective Next provided the necessary technical support, but more importantly we coached them on the listening and storytelling skills essential to podcast production. Through this project they activated their understanding of the organization, identified opportunities for improvement, and felt empowered to contribute towards positive change.
I’m proud of the impact of our work with “listening booths,” small pop-up recording booths which offer the opportunity for a community to listen in on itself. For one of our clients, we set up listening booths at their all-hands meeting and invited people to come inside and respond to a variety of questions about the organization’s current strategy and culture. People were really drawn to the booth and the unique opportunity to tell their story—they took lots of selfies. The booths create a sense of intimacy that allows people to feel comfortable opening up and sharing. It is powerful for people to realize that their voice is valued and the organization’s leadership gained tremendous insight by listening to the recordings.
What role do you see podcasting playing in organizations in the future?
Podcasts are a fantastic solution for unifying communities that find them themselves highly distributed geographically and linguistically. They also create a sense of shared community and culture across a diverse group of associates all of whom work in specialized business areas. Like a local radio station, an organizational podcast, is an accessible and engaging way to bring people into a shared experience. And as we all know, podcasts are easy to consume. Where whitepapers or corporate videos may feel impersonal, podcasts create the experience of listening in on a cocktail conversation with organizational leaders, industry experts, or fellow-employees. Because of the low overhead and ease of production, you can turn podcasts around rapidly, which means that the conversation can evolve in response to the business environment and needs of the community.
What is an area of Machine Learning that you have your eye on right now?
As companies seek to harness the predictive powers of artificial intelligence and machine learning, they want transparency around how these tools work. Machine learning allows us to analyze enormous quantities of information, and the result is that it can expose latent connections that can be revelatory and sometimes disturbing, revealing things like racial bias. Machines learn based on the data sets we give them, raising questions such as, “how do we program for fairness?” We need to consider whether we want to codify the world that we have or program for the world that we want.