Kesha Williams: Pioneering the Innovations of the Future
Kesha Williams is an award-winning software engineer, TED Speaker & International Keynote, Java Author & Instructor. She has been in IT for 23 years, with the last 13 spent at Chick-fil-A where she now serves as a software engineering manager. In this role, she is responsible for working with junior level developers, mentoring them, and defining the onboarding curriculum for new hires. She also leads Innovation Teams, where she gets to research things like machine learning, facial recognition technology, IoT, Alexa and other cutting-edge technologies.
In addition to those responsibilities, Kesha is also an active evangelist for Chick-fil-A that speaks at technical conferences where she shares many of the learnings from her work, as well as the exciting things that the company is doing.
What is the Role of Technology in Chick-fil-A?
“We believe that IT is meant to power the promise of the brand, and deliver innovative capabilities and solutions to help move the business forward,” Kesha noted, in response to the query above. “In our culture, we have a huge focus on innovation.”
She went on to note that the company focuses on two major innovation centers.
1. The Internal Innovation Lab: This is located in the corporate headquarters and has a bunch of fun gadgets and toys, 3D printers, Alexa, Pepper the robot, Microsoft hololens, etc etc. Once a quarter they have an innovation day where they step outside of normal day to day activities, and think about challenges faced by the business, and brainstorm ways to use tech to solve those challenges.
2. The Innovation Center in Midtown Atlanta: This is a recently opened location that has been developed in partnership with Georgia Tech and Kennesaw University. Its intent is to provide a place, year-round, where “innovators” can work with emerging technologies to create prototypes that solve business challenges.
Facial Recognition and the WWCode We Rise Tech Conference
Kesha held a fascinating workshop on facial recognition during the WWCode We RISE Tech Conference. This started off with her defining computer vision and facial recognition and then discussing some industry use cases in airlines, casinos, hotels, and other businesses. After that, she went into a deep dive on the capabilities of AWS and their recognition service, and comp vision service.
She also discussed some of her work in this field at Chick-fil-A where she led up an innovation team to build a facial recognition prototype that could prove the value of the technology. She was successful at that task, and designed and built a system that takes a photo of a person when they step up, and then outputs a custom message based on who they are recognized to be.
What’s the Next Really Cool Thing in Facial Recognition?
“Facial Recognition is a form of computer vision. It is already being used today in so many different places. In the future I see it being used more in the hospitality industry to provide the next level of customer service. I can also see a future where you’re able to walk into a restaurant and pay with your face. No credit card needed. That’s a whole new level of convenience.” Kesha went on to say, “It will also be used more in the hospitality industry. Things like, you’ll be walking through Macy’s and in a bad mood, and they’ll be able to do a sentiment analysis to figure that out and send you a coupon in their mobile app for a 25% discount.”
What are Some Areas of Interest to you in Emerging Tech
"Machine Learning is the next wave of transformative technology that’s going to change life in ways we can't even anticipate yet," Kesha said. “There are Creative Predicting Policing Algorithms, which combine computer vision and machine learning. I've created a machine named SAM (Suspicious Activity Monitor) that works like Minority Report. That’s really machine learning. It can study past crime records and find trends in data to make predictions about the future. The idea is that anyone can interact with SAM, send a picture or tweet to it, and the machine will be able to cross reference the image with attributes, age, gender, location, time of day, and use machine learning to make a prediction about a possible crime that is about to occur.”
She went on to mention some caveats about this technology as well. “Our use and reliance on AI means that there is a strong need for diversity in technology. Google’s AI program had problems classifying or even seeing African Americans. That speaks to the lack of diversity in these developing areas and highlights the need for greater diversity in technology, so we don’t build systems that are biased.”