University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Season 5, Episode 15: Leading Ethical AI in Organizations With Ty Smith

May 05, 2022  |  By Cindy Moehring

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In this week’s episode, Cindy Moehring sits down with Ty Smith, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, and founder and CEO of CommSafe AI, a tech company that disrupts emerging threats of unethical behavior 24/7 using AI. They discuss CommSafe’s involvement in workplace communications and the effect of culture on workplace safety. To finish out their discussion, Smith shares his insights on how he is a successful leader and CEO despite his lack of technology background.


Resources From the Episode

Episode Transcript

Cindy Moehring  0:03  
Hi, everyone. I'm Cindy Moehring, the founder and Executive Chair of the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and this is TheBIS, The Business Integrity School podcast. Here we talk about applying ethics, integrity and courageous leadership in business, education, and most importantly, your life today. I've had nearly 30 years of real world experience as a senior executive. So if you're looking for practical tips from a business pro who's been there, then this is the podcast for you. Welcome. Let's get started. 

Hi, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of TheBIS, the Business Integrity School. I'm Cindy Moehring, the founder and executive chair and I have with us today, an incredible human being. Let me introduce you to him, Ty Smith. Hi, Ty.

Ty Smith  0:55  
Hi, thanks for having me.

Cindy Moehring  0:57  
Absolutely. Let me tell you guys about his incredible background and what he's on the verge of doing now, which is just fascinating. So Ty Smith is a very highly decorated retired US Navy SEAL close to my heart, because I have two sons who are officers in the Navy as well, right now. He had, though multiple deployments in the Middle East. And after 20 years of service to our country, he founded and became an entrepreneur by founding CommSafe AI. And that's a company, it's a tech company that specializes in disrupting emerging threats of unethical behavior, conflict, violence, basically 24/7 by using AI. And they do that in a B2B model, so business to business, for some very large enterprises. So in addition to that, Ty also serves on some boards, one of them being University of Arizona Global Campus. Although Yes, I'm rooted here at the University of Arkansas, Arizona, is still close to my heart, given my husband and his family there. So Ty, welcome. It's so great to see you. And it's wonderful to have you as a guest.

Ty Smith  2:05  
Thank you so much for having me, I'm really excited to be here. I'm humbled that you would have me on the show. And I just really appreciate the time that I have to communicate with you. I'm looking forward to it.

Cindy Moehring  2:16  
Well, so are we, this entire season is all about responsible and ethical use of technology and AI in particular. And I think talking with you is going to be so instructive for the audience, because you're actually on the cutting edge of building and deploying products that do exactly that, use tech in a very responsible and ethical way that can help companies actually improve their culture. So before we get too far into that, though, Ty, I just have to ask if you might share a little bit about your personal journey from a incredibly decorated career in the Navy, to now being an entrepreneur after 20 years of military service. How did you come to that?

Ty Smith  3:01  
Sure, I have to start by saying first and foremost, my career in the military was an absolute dream. It was everything that I would dream, I dreamed it would be. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL starting at the age of 12. And so when I graduated high school at 18, I left home, East St. Louis, Illinois, with the clothes on my back and a dream in my back pocket. And I had no idea that that dream would actually come true in the fullest, you know, expression of the phrase. And so over a couple of decades of being in the military during war time for that entire time, I learned a tremendous amount about human beings, I learned a tremendous amount about grief, as you can imagine. I learned a tremendous amount about emotional intelligence and empathy and what it takes to be a leader, a real leader of other human beings, not just someone that's in charge of people, okay, there's a difference but a real leader of human beings, a fisherman of men and women, and that's who I am inherently, I like to help other people grow. I like to know that I had a hand or a say in someone being successful, and being able to look back and tell the story as to how they got from A to B and why they're so happy to be there. And really, that is the talent that I took from my military career into the private sectors, the military taught me how to be a strong leader. The military taught me how to be a team builder how to build really high paced, high functioning teams of high caliber human beings that come together and build amazing things that no matter how awesome they are, individually, they could never do it on their own. 

Cindy Moehring  4:57  

Ty Smith  4:57  
And so when I was planning to To retire from the military in 2016. I was originally going to go over to the FBI and I ultimately turned that role down. I was in graduate school at the University of Southern California completing an MBA at Marshall Business School, I did the the MBB program, the Master of Business for Veterans, which was awesome in itself. But while I was there, we experienced the Inland Regional Center shooting in San Bernardino. And that was, it was just it was catastrophic. You know, 14 people killed, I believe, another 22 injured. And after that happened, probably a couple of weeks after, I started receiving calls from friends of mine in the medical community, people that knew my wife And knew me through my wife And knew what my background was. And all of these calls were very similar people saying, Ty, we're scared this hospital or this clinic isn't providing us with any training. We don't know what to do. If someone comes in here and tries to hurt us or the patient. You're literally the only person that we know, that understands this kind of madness. Will you come and talk to us about it? How do we stay safe? How do we protect our patients? What should policy around these types of things look like? And after helping three or four organizations, over a 30 day period of time, as you can imagine, I could hear my entrepreneurship professors in the back of my head, talking to me. And so ultimately, I turned down the role with the FBI. And I decided that this is a problem that I can help solve. And I have access to a tremendous amount of really smart and experienced people that I think can help me to solve this problem. And so that's what started me down that entrepreneurial path.

Cindy Moehring  6:46  
That is an incredible story. And I love it, because I think it shows that, you know, you go where life's journey takes you, and where problems need to be solved, and you think you've got the skills to do it. That's where people can really make a difference. And a lot of students at the University of Arkansas in particular, have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and focus as well and will love hearing your story. I mean, we've got, you know, entrepreneurs here who started JB Hunt, and who started Tyson and Walmart. And there's a real ecosystem now here that is focused on continuing that entrepreneurial spirit with tech. So let's talk more specifically about CommSafe AI, and your company, your product. And using tech, like we talked about in a responsible and ethical way, training people how to look for things that could be dangerous, is what is all the rage right now, because tech has become so predominant, that people are starting to see from some pretty public stumbles, how it can be used in the wrong way. So tell us a little bit about how CommSafe AI and the product you've developed, tell us about it, and then how it kind of helps in that journey of using it responsibly and ethically.

Ty Smith  8:09  
Sure. So CommSafe AI is an AI driven communication safety analysis software that alerts organizational decision makers in near real time when there are instances of toxic communication that are happening on the virtual communication services that the enterprise is using. So company email, and chat services. So even if the company is using Slack or Microsoft Teams for employees to communicate, our solution can integrate with it via an open API. And 24/7, this solution works automatically and autonomously looking for instances of toxic communication, toxic behavior instances like sexual harassment, bullying, racial discrimination, even threats of self harm if an employee is having mental health issues at at that time. And CommSafe, does this on its own 24/7. So that it illuminates these hidden liabilities that that hide within the communication services of the organization. It sends real time alerts to those decision makers more than likely in HR and legal. And it lets them know, it's time to inject a human being in this situation before it grows, you know, and that's really, really important to us. And it's one of the reasons why we built this solution is because we found over the last five, six years of really delving into the research around conflict and violence in the workplace and why it's become such a massive problem that's costing US businesses more than $528 billion every single year and that's just in the US alone and,

Cindy Moehring  9:49  
Wait, wait, wait! 528 billion per year?

Ty Smith  9:54  
Yes ma'am. In lost expenses and revenue, that adds up fast. Think about, think about it. In the wake of a workplace assault, you have possible legal damages that you have to be on the hook for, you have damages that are related to mental health, who witnessed that person be assaulted, and how did it affect them? Do we also need to get counseling for that person? 

Cindy Moehring  10:19  
Right, right. 

Ty Smith  10:21  
Who's suing us now with their damage to property, plant and equipment? I mean, gosh, these numbers add up so fast. And these instances happen every single day. In fact, according to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Managers, one in seven employees experience workplace violence, and the larger the organization, the higher the risk. The more human beings we put in to an organization, the higher the risk, where CommSafe really helps organizations to solve this problem is by illuminating those hidden liabilities. For example, we look we look at a recent example, involving, and this is public information now, look at the Las Vegas Raiders and the, the the situation around, you know, Coach Jon Gruden, and why he was recently terminated from the organization. You know, he allegedly sent racist emails that started 10 years ago, 

Cindy Moehring  11:22  
10 years!

Ty Smith  11:23  
10 years ago! The  original email was 10 years ago, and they're just now finding that this behavior was taking place. So for 10 years, these liabilities were being hidden throughout the organization. And they could have gone nuclear at any time, and they just baked and baked and baked. And now it turned out to be this huge explosion of information that damages the brand and reputation of the organization. And what does that do, it damages the bottom line that the organization is paying so much attention to. And so that's where a CommSafe AI comes into play. Because this solution again, on its own without the need for human beings to sit and go, "I'm going to look for keywords and phrases." We don't need to do that anymore. We have AI to do that for us. And that's what CommSafe AI does 24/7. And one of the differentiators that we built into this solution is that it can look backwards, it can look at data retroactively towards an organization. Right, if an organization is concerned about did that person really say that to that person eight months ago over email? The solution can look backwards and tell the organization what instances of toxic communication took place within that time?

Cindy Moehring  12:46  
Yeah, yeah, that's, I mean, there's so many benefits to that. I mean, it's to your point, it's real time. It uncovers problems early kind of helps companies like see around the corner, so that they can maintain trust with their employees and with their suppliers and with their customers. And, you know, potentially avoid like huge risks. I mean, it's like finding and dealing with, you know, the pebble in your shoe before you're not able to like walk anymore, right? I mean, everybody wants to find those pebbles as soon as possible and get them out. I mean, you're talking about grains of sand, basically. I mean, that. That is sounds like it could just be a real benefit. Do you have any examples of let's say, during the pandemic, which we're obviously still in at the moment, unfortunately, and it's been going on for I think, a lot longer than any of us expected at the time. I would imagine there were also a fair amount of violent threats during that time and people were sequestered in their in their homes. And we know anger is building up. Do you have any examples of of pandemic era CommSafe, CommSafe AI, you know, success stories or anything? 

Ty Smith  13:55  
Sure. So when we breach this particular topic, I think it's important that we actually highlight what some of the evolving instances of production conflict that are results of the pandemic. And we have to consider the fact that since the start of the pandemic, we've seen a rise in gun sales in the United States like record breaking gun sales, we've seen a rise in the sale of ghost gun parts, which means that there are individuals out there piecemealing together firearms that are totally untraceable by the United States government and law enforcement. And where that scares me is that my brain immediately goes to the siege on our nation's capitol in December and it makes me wonder how many of those individuals were carrying these unregistered firearms. We've also seen a massive spike in child abuse, domestic violence, cyber stalking, fiber, sexual harassment, homegrown terror, all of the above, not to mention the increased racial tension that has grown in this country over the last couple of years, the increased political tension, the tension between, you know, law enforcement in our minority communities. These are all situations and conversations that are going to make their way back into the workplace, whether organizational leadership acknowledges it or not, as we look forward to reopening the workplace, we have to consider at least a possibility of some of these threats accompanying our employees back into the workplace. For example, I've had companies, big companies, I'm talking more than 100,000 employee companies reach out to me personally, for my leadership guidance regarding, Ty, how do we even tackle this conversation? You know, how do we even open this conversation amongst a diverse group of employees so that we, because make no mistake, we have to have the conversation. But how do we do it across a diverse group of people in a way that, you know, we understand there's going to be conflict, but we want there to be growth on the other side of that conflict. This has to be healthy conflict, because this is a really important and realistic conversation. Because make no mistake, some of these students are going to make their way back into the workplace. And one of the powerful results of having the CommSafe AI solution is having access to data that allows you to know when and where these conversations are taking place across the organization? How often are these conversations taking place across the organization? Because one of the things that we found is that often times, Cindy, workplace safety is directly impacted by workplace culture.

Cindy Moehring  16:55  
Yes, agreed.

Ty Smith  16:57  
And a lot of times, the organization has a vision of what their culture should be. And it isn't aligned with the actual culture of the organization, and leadership,

Cindy Moehring  17:13  
And it takes too long to bubble up for,

Ty Smith  17:16  

Cindy Moehring  17:16  
folks to find so, yeah. 

Ty Smith  17:19  
And by the time they do find it, then we're also dealing with cultures across the organization. You know, this department thinks differently from this department. And the beauty of CommSafe AI is, again, it gives leadership access to data that can inform them of what's happening across my organization. How do employees feel? Is there anyone that needs help, for God's sake? And that was one of the reasons why we built this solution, keeping in mind the changes that we were seeing to the future of work, according to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Cindy Moehring  17:52  
Yeah. And it will help inform I would think companies as to, they know they need to have these conversations, like you were saying. They're going to be difficult conversations, people could get angry, but we want growth on the other side of it. Early indications as to whether or not they're having positive results on the other side of it, or if there are early warning signs, right, like you said, so, you know, and then being able to kind of jump on that so important. So you know, Ty, AI, obviously, it's what you use, it's what your product is built on. And it's often miss trusted. There's been like we talked about at the beginning, a lot of examples of how AI has been misused either, facial recognition and identification, does it recognize women and people of color as well as white men, in the hiring process, and the promotion process, a lot of AI tools have gotten it wrong. And they exacerbate that human bias as well, potentially. Two things that I think are super important, that I've talked about with some of my other guests is the understanding that the AI needs to be both explainable and transparent, to help with adoption, essentially, get us past this point of mistrust. Can you share with us how you think about those two concepts in relation to CommSafe AI in your product?

Ty Smith  19:20  
Yeah, that's a fascinating question. And I love it. So when I, I think it's really important to start this answer by saying that I am not the smartest person in the world. I get a lot of people that that, you know, go "Oh, my God, you're the CEO of a tech company, and it's an AI company, you must be so smart." And it's like, let me stop you right there. That's not the case. I'm just smart enough to know to surround myself with really smart people and then I listen to them. So when I think about AI, because I am not a technologist, again, I'm a leader of people. I think about it in a very simple manner. And this is gonna sound funny. But I think about artificial, artificial intelligence, the way I think about my dogs or any dog. In that, I hate it when people discriminate against certain breeds of dogs, because they're completely skipping past the fact that that animal was trained by a human being, or that animals behavior is the result of learning from human beings. And so I look at AI the same way. Without training data, we can't build artificial intelligence, so that AI is learning whatever is being trained into that AI by technologists that are human beings. And so when we consider explainability, I think that we have to keep it really, really simple. Listen, we used X type of data, to train our algorithms to look for Y type of behavior, this is where we got the data, these are the people that trained the data, these are the people that cleaned it, tagged it, there's diversity across all of those people, you don't have an individual that's actually training these algorithms, no way, because there's too much room for bias. And in our organization, thankfully, we are a diverse organization. And the style of leadership that I learned coming out of 20 years in the military is that every person should have a voice. And so when we train our algorithms, every person has a voice. It's not just our technologists, that are tagging and structuring this data. It's the tech team, including our CTO, including our principal data scientist, it's myself, bringing that military culture and that that global leadership experience into training these algorithms, it's my co founder, we have male employees, female employees, you know, white people, black people, Asian people, Latino people that are all training this, you know, these models in order to understand when some type of behavior or communication is toxic, and when it's not. And that's really special for me, because, you know, I really get to sit back and go, Wow, these models are learning from all of us. And I think that that's really, really important. And so it's important to keep this simple. On the other side of that, that transparency. Again, I look at it very simply, we have to be very honest about what we are doing and how we are doing it. And organizations have to be honest, as well with their employees. So we believe in being very public about our stance on privacy, how we're storing data, how we're protecting our customers data. And again, be very public about it, where people start to worry about, hey, what are they doing is when they have no idea what you're doing, you know. So be public, tell people what you're doing, again, how you're doing it, who's involved, and even go so far as to, hey, your stance on privacy and security, consider putting it on your website. Again, where people get worried is when they feel like you're hiding something. So be, you know, lean more toward transparency and honesty in order to avoid that. And that's again, because I'm not the smartest person in a room, I think about these things in a very linear fashion. And that's how we're building this company.

Cindy Moehring  19:21  
Yeah, and I would imagine for a product like yours, making sure you have diversity of thought, in terms of building it so that it can identify places of workplace potential violence or security or or culture, that's got to be almost, you know, like mission critical. Number one, you know, right at the top. So, 

Ty Smith  23:52  
Yes ma'am. And that's why my team, every person has a voice. And our algorithms are learning from every one of those voices, it's very important.

Cindy Moehring  24:02  
Yeah. Well, so a couple of the things you said that I think are really important for the audience to understand. AI is a tool, and it learns from the data, right, that is said by humans. And, and so it all really does start with the data and where the data comes from. But as it evolves so quickly, right now, there have been some predictions by you know, some of the big consulting companies about what are some of the, you know, big things that are going to happen in this tech space in 2022. And one of those predictions by PwC was that we were going to be seeing companies, we're going to be seeing a convergence of three things that I think sometimes people think about separately and stovepipes, convergence of data, with AI, and in the cloud, which if you don't understand each of those really well on their own. The convergence of it, I think might just really cause some people to say "No way not ready for that can't get there, you know, uh uh." But it seems to me that CommSafe AI is almost already there, right? I mean, you're using data, you're using the AI and I know you have the cloud based technology. Ty, do you think that part of the issue with mistrust of data being used to train AI and it being in the cloud has to do with like some business people just not understanding it? And so as opposed to embracing the unknown, there's this human factor of just shutting down? What are your thoughts on that kind of from a leadership perspective? And how do you get over it?

Ty Smith  25:41  
No, I think that that has a lot to do with it. Human beings, we don't like change. I know, I don't like change, I'll admit it. It's uncomfortable, you know, because it's going into the unknown. And all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that we've done enough to experience growth on the other side of that change, right? But when you combine that with the fact that enterprise leaders have a tremendous amount of responsibility to their stakeholders, and we're talking about bleeding edge technology, technology is just advancing so fast these days, so cool, to sit back and see it. But these business leaders, you know, they're focused on things that they should be focused on. For example, if we're talking about the CEO of a 30,000 employee company, that person's responsibilities, are vision and strategy, fundraising and selling, hiring a good team. Not understanding artificial intelligence, and how it's going to affect the organization. They bring in people to help do that for them. So those leaders are more concerned with how do I protect the stakeholders of my business. And when you talk about injecting, bleeding edge technology that those organizational leaders don't understand, of course, they're going to be hesitant to actually, you know, incorporate that type of technology, because they're not sure of the outcome, they're interested and intrigued because they understand that this could actually increase my bottom line, this could help me to run my business better. But if they don't know how, and if they, they don't understand how to put that ROI on paper. So that it can be a discussion, it makes me very hesitant to do that. So I think it's really important that organizational leaders, be open to the idea of bringing in, you know, consultants, advisors that are technologists to have this conversation with your leadership about this is what we're seeing on the horizon. This is where technology is going. This is where artificial intelligence is going. This is how we think it can help businesses as a whole, this is how we think it could help businesses in your particular space. And now let's delve into your business and how we can how we think it can help your business. And then also, businesses shouldn't be afraid to bring in people like AI Ephesus. I know, that's what we're doing. Because even though we have diversity across how we're training our models, and across our staff, again, I come from a community where two is one and one is none. And I rather have and that need that need and not have. So although we have diversity going into training our algorithms, hey, who's double checking us? And I don't have enough pride to where I'm going to say we don't need that double check. So organizations should also consider bringing in people like AI Ephesus, that can help to educate them on whether you like it or not, ultimately, AI is going to be in your business. And this is how it's going to affect your business. And it's how you protect the business as it advances.

Cindy Moehring  29:00  
Right. So so let's ask the right questions. Let's you know, make sure that we have the right people around the table to answer it, I mean, Salesforce is a perfect example of a company that's hired, you know, it has a whole organization that's focused on tech ethics, and you know, the ethical use of AI. And I completely agree with you, it has to do with asking the right questions, getting the right people around the table, the governance setup for it, and, you know, testing the models, checking the models, and then and then accepting that the long term future is going to be a little scary, and you got to get comfortable being uncomfortable. But that shouldn't prevent you from going, going there right then hiring the right kind of people.

Ty Smith  29:40  
Right. And since you mentioned Salesforce, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention our partner ServiceNow. So we actually recently integrated this solution across the entire ServiceNow platform. 

Cindy Moehring  29:54  
Oh, that's amazing. 

Ty Smith  29:55  
We've already received the the certification the Compliance Certification back from  ServiceNow so our solution is going to be live in the ServiceNow store over the next several weeks. And we're really, really excited to have a go-to-market partner like ServiceNow.

Cindy Moehring  30:10  
That is amazing. Congratulations on that. 

Ty Smith  30:14  
Thank you.

Cindy Moehring  30:14  
I'm excited to hear about that partnership. That is that's wonderful. 

Ty Smith  30:18  
Really appreciate it. 

Cindy Moehring  30:19  
You bet. Well Ty this has been a great conversation. In part, I think what's interesting is one of the points you made is you're not a technologist, right? You're a leader of people, but yet you're leading a tech company. I hope that that actually encourages others out there who are listening to this to understand that they too, can do the same thing. And that it this this effort that we have to use tech responsibly and ethically. And to have it advance our world isn't up just to the software engineers, and isn't just up to the data scientists, it really takes all facets of personnel to do that, including those in leadership positions who aren't necessarily technologists. 

Ty Smith  31:02  
Yes, ma'am. 

Cindy Moehring  31:03  
So with that, let me ask you, where do you, I always like to leave the audience with some additional resources, where they can go to dig a little deeper into a topic. So do you have any good recommendations of places you go? Either books or podcast series, or, I don't know, what good documentary maybe you've seen?

Ty Smith  31:23  
Sure. So I want to start by saying, I've learned since transitioning out of a two decade career in the military that first and foremost, there is is nothing wrong with admitting what you don't know and asking for help. And that is literally all I do on a daily basis at this point in my entrepreneurial journey, is asking people for help. I talked to people like you. And I go, "Hey, Cindy, I have no idea what I'm talking about right here, will you lend me your perspective, so that I have more information to make, to base my decisions off of." And so I talked to mentors, other tech, I talked to other business leaders, I talked to very high level technologist, CTOs, chief data scientists all the time. Just to get their perspective. I literally talked to three of them yesterday, just to get their perspective to help me make decisions because I'm not a technologist. And so I think it's really important that, that that I say that especially considering the audience and some of those students at the University of Arkansas, Arkansas that are considering going into entrepreneurship. Just because you're the CEO of the company doesn't mean you have to know everything. I will readily admit that I don't know anything, but I'm surrounded by people that know a whole lot. And I just go to them and ask for help. And they help me make decisions. And then the other side of that is I read voraciously. I read as much as I possibly can as much as my, my time and my wife, my two year old, allow me. 

Cindy Moehring  33:01  
You're busy. 

Ty Smith  33:03  
Yeah, I'm pretty busy. And I actually read a book over the last month that was super fascinating. And it's called Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, by Bill Hanson. H-a-n-s-o-n. 

Cindy Moehring  33:17  

Ty Smith  33:18  
It's a, it's a big read. But if you're interested in understanding AI, if you're interested in understanding how data science feeds into the creation of artificial intelligence, and delving into that conversation around, you know, potential biases in artificial intelligence. It's a great read.

Cindy Moehring  33:41  
That's a great recommendation, Artificial Intelligence and Data Science Bill Hanson, we'll put that in the show notes and make sure everybody has access to that. This has been fabulous. Ty, thank you very, very much for your time, sharing a little bit about your journey, and how you are applying your expertise to solve a problem that definitely needs to be solved. So thank you. Appreciate it very much.

Ty Smith  34:06  
Thank you. I really, really appreciate it.

Cindy Moehring  34:09  
All right, bye bye.

Ty Smith  34:10  

Cindy Moehring  34:16  
Thanks for listening to today's episode of TheBIS, The Business Integrity School. You can find us on YouTube, Google, SoundCloud, iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us and you can find us by searching TheBIS. That's one word T-H-E-B-I-S which stands for The Business Integrity School. Tune in next time for more practical tips from a pro.

Matt WallerCindy Moehring is the founder and executive chair of the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. She recently retired from Walmart after 20 years, where she served as senior vice president, Global Chief Ethics Officer, and senior vice president, U.S. Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.

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