IVOW AI Co-Founder, Juanisa McCoy, shares her journey from art to AI
On the occasion of Women’s History Month, we honor Nisa McCoy, our co-founder and head of product. Nisa believes that design can bridge the gap between cultures and that diverse data input methods will lead to a more humanistic engagement with AI. She has built end-to-end interactions for NASA, Oracle, ViaSat, and Cox Communications.
- Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia but I have lived in a lot of places in Virginia and then NYC, Northeastern Ohio, San Diego, and Silicon Valley. My family is military so I am used to the nomadic and diverse lifestyle. Currently, I live in Columbus, Ohio. It’s been almost four years. Columbus is an exciting place because it is part of the DOT “Future City of America” and will have autonomous highways and a speed train soon. Just thinking about the speed train to another city like Chicago or Pittsburgh makes me so excited.
The pandemic has made it hard for me to meet other people, collaborate, and learn about other cultures like I would like and I had to think outside of the box on how to keep connected. I believe it has helped me think about how IVOW could help in this capacity as well. Like a comfort chatbot for people who are lonely. Loneliness is worse than smoking these days. Things like that have been on my mind lately.
Even though I’m an introvert I believe as a creative being I still need that energy of movement and camaraderie, especially when there is great food around. Oh, you have to have great food or at least great coffee. Haha. I’m a foodie and I love art, music, culture, travel, books, and stories. Art and culture have always been a part of me.
2) How did you get into the UI/UX and user-centric design space?
After school, I started in graphic and multimedia design building educational interactive lessons and media for entertainment but then The Great Recession came. It was the worst. Design was low on the list in the new economy and it was considered not necessary. The problem was that a lot of women were designers while the majority of developers were men at that time. I had to evolve while being forced to work in a technical customer-focused space at Cox Communications. I remember at the time I just wanted to design and create stories.
My ambition was not happy with having to be in another space that wasn’t directly focused on design and innovation. Most of my tasks were helping customers with their technical needs over the phone, chat, and email. But after a year, I was put on special assignments about how to make the IVR, the support, and marketing sites, and customer reps apps more user-friendly and productive. User experience came into play. I was able to design again but in a different way and I even started learning how to code.
I always had the user interface and visual part from being an artist. I was able to combine my analytical and psychological knowledge, design, and technical problem-solving skills and apply it to not just visual interfaces but to voice and immersive as well. Today, in tech we talk about soft skills and understanding that everyone is a customer and I’m glad to have had an unfortunate event turn into something that has shaped me today. From there, I continued to focus on the user and how to improve on inputs and processes for people, especially in communication and data.
3) What has it been like for you collaborating on AI and culture research and projects at IVOW?
It has been a rewarding experience. Our team is such passionate, brilliant, and wholesome creative people. We are rare to find in tech. I believe our mission is a great way to look at how culture, stories, and our past truly shape our future. The team is always open to engage and learn as this technology evolves and we have had some great partners to work with that believe that cultural AI is important.
4) What are you excited about for the future of voice and conversational AI?
(With glee). I’m excited about the many avenues that voice and conversational AI can improve experiences for people in education, enterprise, mental health, community awareness, and positive activism. Through this pandemic, we’ve noticed that connection is more important than ever and we believe the future is voice and keeping that connection with AI.
5) Why should an investor consider us?
An investor should consider us because we have a team that has been focusing on things that other AI and voice/chat companies are now starting to realize they are without. AI is a reflection of who builds and trains it. Since we are a team of mostly women, POC, and diverse backgrounds, we looked around and saw there is a lack of voices…especially…our voices in the space. The conversation keeps coming up about how AI and voice content is biased and how it is exclusive but no one talks about how to solve it.
At IVOW, we have been focused on underrepresented voices and those datasets that may be missing from the top to bottom of AI tech. We could supply our data and our knowledge to other companies to reach a larger…global..in fact…customer base that understands a spectrum of people and is sensitive and aware of their cultural and sociological needs but also help the companies and educational/cultural institutions build better products with inclusive voice and chat. Investors should be able to see us as a light at the end of the tunnel and the solution that can help make AI and chatbot technology more resourceful and reliable.
6) What new tools excite you most? Chatbot technology, ways to apply AI?
Oh wow. The tools that excite me the most. That’s a long list. Let’s see. Haha. I think the integration of AI with other technologies or inputs like immersive experience, robotics/mechanics, or autonomous assistance (voice and ML/AI helping someone with a disability or used as an assistant to an instructor) explored in ways that we collectively have not gone before really excites me the most. The focus of AI augmenting human life and not trying to replace existence is key.
At IVOW, we are building AI’s that will help journalists, students, teachers, museums, and writers formulate articles, reports, and curated experiences. Join us as we create HypatiaStories, crowdsourced narrative stories about amazing women in the fields of data and AI. An AI voice storyteller that can be readily utilized by modern day technology.
IVOW stands for Intelligent Voices of Wisdom. As a multidisciplinary team, led by women, we bring a unique perspective to AI, and have achieved recognition as trailblazers in cultural artificial intelligence.