Techopia Live: Artificial intelligence predictions from Ottawa’s Shopify

Techopia Live brings Ottawa’s hottest startups and coolest tech execs to your screen every week. The live tech show airs at 12:15 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays on Techopia's Facebook and Twitter channels. If you miss it, videos and recaps will always be available on http://www.obj.ca/techopia.

At Shopify, a machine learning algorithm takes 40 minutes to perform a task what previously took humans more than 730 hours.

Several years ago, the e-commerce firm saw an opportunity to help the entrepreneurs using its platform sell more goods online. Shopify Capital is a program that gives merchants a cash advance, allowing them to purchase more inventory, grow faster and sell even more stuff through Shopify.

But first, some basic questions had to be answered, recalled David Lennie, the company’s senior vice-president of data and analytics. Who should be eligible? How much money should be offered?

Initially, Shopify staff crunched the numbers to understand how the process worked. The company subsequently switched to machine learning and saw first-hand the impact of the emerging technology.

“We would need a staff of 25 to 30 people doing nothing but that once a week,” Lennie said on Techopia Live. “We can do that in 40 minutes with our algorithm … (and) get faster at identifying an entrepreneur who needs that extra boost.”

Other successful applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence at Shopify include giving merchants more powerful “risk guidance” to avoid fraudulent orders.

Lennie, a former data science and engineering director at Netflix, was also asked for his predictions on how AI will reshape our lives in the coming years.

Vocal user interfaces are at the top of his list.

“People still spend a lot of time typing (even though) we’re very good at talking,” he says.

More broadly, Lennie prefers to think about “augmented intelligence” over “artificial intelligence.”

He sees the technology taking over repetitive, rules-based tasks and freeing humans for more creative and thoughtful work.

“The technology can do the heavy lifting, which liberates (humans) to focus on things that only humans can uniquely focus on,” Lennie says.

Watch the video above to hear more about how Shopify is using artificial intelligence as well as Lennie’s tech predictions.

Spoiler alert: AI-powered killer robots likely won’t be taking over the world in the near future.