Exploring AI as a Lifelong Learner and Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneurship consultant, educator, and serial entrepreneur, I am constantly seeking new ways to stay ahead of the curve and empower those around me. 

My journey has been a winding journey full of twists and turns, with many different stops along the way. 

I’m an MIT-trained chemical engineer and biologist, who has founded and/or worked as an executive in companies spanning real estate, B2B SaaS, sports excitement analytics, fintech, and consulting. Through consulting, I’ve worked in e-commerce, cloud computing, entertainment, health and wellness, retail, edtech, and more. I’ve advised venture capital firms and become a recognized thought leader in the future of work.

My curiosity has led me to study neuroscience, toxicology and environmental health, positive psychology, social sector leadership, East Asian studies, finance, world religions, management, negotiation, conflict resolution, and peace building. I’m even a certified yoga instructor. Many years ago, after I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I went deep into food, nutrition, and vegetable gardening. But my passion has always been mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders. I’ve taught app building, robotics, creative coding, entrepreneurship, and more. 

The latest twist in my journey has been an exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) through graduate-level coursework, hands-on projects, and leading AI workshops and training sessions for adults (and AI-lessons for students grades 4-12).

But why would someone like me, deeply embedded in entrepreneurship, bother diving into the technical aspects of AI? Why not just use and collaborate with generative AI and stop at that? Since these questions keep coming up, I thought I’d write this up to share my why. 

Never Stop Learning

If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be coding GANs, VAEs, RNNs, and LSTM networks, I’d have said you were crazy. Actually, I’d have said I have no idea what those acronyms mean. But yet, here I am learning to code AI and ML (machine learning) projects in Python. 

My curiosity is my competitive advantage. Equipped with deep knowledge across many domains, I can make connections more quickly and see pathways to innovation. Do I remember 100% of everything I’ve studied — of course not. But drinking from the firehose that is MIT (and surviving with not 1 but 2 degrees) taught me how to learn any discipline rapidly and retain just enough knowledge to relearn anything on demand. Learning the technical skills behind AI is just the latest tool I’m adding into my brain’s library. 

Staying Ahead in a World of Accelerated Change

In the fast-paced world of entrepreneurship, innovation is a necessity. By learning the technical aspects of AI, I am staying abreast of the latest technological advancements and trends shaping the entrepreneurial landscape. This enables me to better prepare my students for the future by integrating AI concepts into our curriculum. And with a deeper understanding for custom AI projects, I’m better able to serve my clients in exploring the potential applications of AI for their ventures.

Broadening Horizons and Building Versatility

Entrepreneurship is about adaptability and thinking outside the box. Engaging in AI development projects has not only expanded my technical skill set but also cultivates adaptability and interdisciplinary thinking. And seeing augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) (together, extended reality or XR) all over several countries in Asia last summer, I’m eager to learn more about XR as well. Through hands-on experimentation and exploration, I am continuing to build on my creativity and critical thinking skills. These are just a few of the skills essential for success in a world that is changing faster than ever. 

Understanding the Impact and Ethical Implications

AI comes with a whole host of ethical issues, particularly in education and in entrepreneurship. By studying AI, I am gaining insights into the ethical implications of AI technologies and their potential impact on various industries. Bias, privacy, and data security are just a few of the ethical issues with AI. This understanding allows me to guide my students and clients in navigating ethical dilemmas to develop responsible AI-driven business models.

Equity and Inclusion

Early reports of AI use indicate that men are using AI much more than women. In addition, more than 80% of leaders in AI companies are white men. And as we’ve seen with many tech products, it’s clear that including more women and minorities in technology leads to improved products that are better for everyone. Diversity of thought helps discover problems that aren’t visible in monocultures. 

One of my favorite examples is forms that only accept last names with 3 or more characters. If there had been even a few Asian people on those teams (who are more likely to be familiar with a few of the very common last names of Wu, Yi, and Li), those decisions would never have been made. Another example is the AI-driven deep fake apps that are disproportionately used to nudify women and children. Those products would never have been released with women on the team. 

I’m investing my time into learning AI to help make sure women and minorities aren’t left behind in the economic benefits that are sure to follow with the advancements in AI. And to reduce the negative impacts on women that we are already seeing. 

Identifying Opportunities and Challenges

Through AI coursework and projects, I am gaining new insights into emerging business opportunities and challenges. From understanding the potential of AI to disrupt traditional industries to recognizing the need for ethical implementation, I feel better equipped to advise my students and clients on identifying entrepreneurial opportunities and developing strategies for success in an AI-driven world.

Empowering Entrepreneurs for the Future

Incorporating AI into entrepreneurship education, and all education, has benefits for students and educators alike. By embracing AI, we can better prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, and citizens to thrive in an increasingly AI-driven world. We’ve been using generative AI to teach students how to create their own careers or ventures. We’ve also been working with students to understand how to use AI responsibly and ethically as a copilot — instead of on autopilot. Through exploration, experimentation, and education, we empower tomorrow’s leaders to harness the potential of AI for innovation and positive impact.

My journey into AI may have started as a curiosity, but it has become a vital part of my mission to empower and mentor entrepreneurs for success in the 21st century and beyond. As I continue working at the intersections of AI, entrepreneurship, and education, I am excited to see the transformative impact it will have on the future of work and innovation. 

How are you diving into artificial intelligence and why? 

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Yolanda is also a Founding Board Member of the Hawai’i Center for AI (HCAI), a non-profit organization. HCAI envisions a future in which all of Hawaiʻi’s residents have access to AI technology that effectively and safely serves their individual and collective well-being. Hawai’i Center for AI promotes the beneficial use of AI to empower individuals, communities, and industries throughout Hawai’i. We are committed to understanding the ways AI will help grow the state’s economy, help our institutions evolve, and transform our society. Through collaboration, education, and service, we drive research, innovation, and community partnerships to build a sustainable, prosperous, and policy-driven future for Hawai’i.

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