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Leading with CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker

Conversations @ Annenberg: Newsmakers, thought leaders and change agents on leadership and the issues they care most about

Artificial Intelligence: For better or worse? This is clearly the critical question of our time as we enter into a frenzied global push to develop and deploy artificial intelligence. (See Big Idea #7 — “AI will be in every industry and every job” — in LinkedIn’s 50 Big Ideas for 2019.) As I read this thoughtful piece by Chiara Corazza, Managing Director for the Women's Forum for the Economy & Society, I thought back to my October conversation on the topic of AI at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit with Swami Sivasubramanian, V.P. of machine learning for Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Caryn Seidman-Becker, chairman and CEO of CLEAR.

I was struck by the ways in which Seidman-Becker described how CLEAR is harnessing the power of AI to enhance the customer experience, and how she is wrestling with some of the critical questions Chiara Corazza surfaced in her own piece. (Full disclosure: I am a CLEAR user — I enrolled after walking by people using it at airport security and wishing I had been using it, too!)

First, Caryn Seidman-Becker offered a bit of background on CLEAR, a company she bought out of bankruptcy nearly nine years ago. CLEAR creates an encrypted code from a user’s biometrics — eyes and fingertips — and stores it in a cloud-based system, creating a unique user ID.

Caryn Seidman-Becker: CLEAR is a biometric identity company making consumer experiences safer and easier. And we're obsessed with the customer experience... We’re replacing the wallet. AI is used, it’s a tool that's used in several parts of our customer journey. We're mapping out the customer journey, looking at every single increment and trying to make it better. Perpetual optimization.

On the future of biometrics and new applications for CLEAR’s technology:

CSB: If you look at your wallet, you look at your driver’s license, your credit card, your health care insurance card, your building access card, your frequent flyer card, why are you carrying around those things? They're to say that you are you. And so we're in airports.

When you enroll, you are your driver's license, your age, your address, your credit card, so it’s one-stop shopping... We have this view of a platform and of the power of the network effect, and the more places you can use it, the more excited you are. We hear from CLEAR members, “I was in line at the theater, why aren't you here yet?” People are finding more and more use cases where security and safety matter but they want frictionless experiences, and so the whole concept of the platform is enroll once, use it everywhere.

Seidman-Becker’s comments on using AI as a force for good reminded me of what Corazza writes in her piece: “As AI amplifies progress around the globe, we must curb the discrepancies in how AI is constructed and used. With great power comes great responsibility.”

Noting the need for women in the development of the algorithms that power AI, Corazza insists: “We must not reproduce the biases of the existing world but bridge humanity for an inclusive world grounded in diversity and women’s perspectives. We need more women where they can make change happen.”

While Seidman-Becker isn’t creating algorithms, she is thinking deeply and purposefully about how to deploy algorithms and utilize AI ethically and responsibly for the benefit of her customers.

On AI as a tool:

CSB: I think that there's a view that AI is 10-foot robots running across the plains, taking over the world. And I think that it is a tool... to make processes better, faster, stronger. I do think it’s really important that it's a force for good, I just think that it’s not a fad any more than chips are, or computing, or the cloud. It’s enabling automation to enable better processes — to do more with less.

CLEAR can’t be downed, you can't get to the airport and be like, “Oh it’s not working right now.” So we need redundancy, we need strength, we need scalability, we’re growing so quickly. And so when you’re adding millions of members, you’ve got to be able to support them. The cloud, AI, enable that. If you start with the customer at the center and you start with your own culture, I think it’s just really powerful.

On the systems, processes, and culture CLEAR has put in place to assure customers that their data is safe:

CSB: We bought a bankrupt company eight and a half years ago. You don’t start lower than bankruptcy. And so rebuilding the integrity of the brand meant it was in our DNA, protecting privacy and protecting security from day one. We’re also in a regulated area where there’s qualified anti-terrorism technology by the Department of Homeland Security, so we started in this place of trust, integrity, process, and oversight. And that is the culture of our company. That is our DNA. And I put my name on the website early on with my email, and I heard from people. But the whole point is transparency and trust. We sell experiences, so we will not sell or share data, protecting that data is job one.

On the need for government regulation or other protections for consumer data:

CSB: It’s going to be a long conversation. I think the problem is the law of unintended consequences... there’s so much coming down the road, from drones, to autonomous vehicles... and ultimately you meet this sort of regulatory obstacle. We have oversight into how we store data, our connectivity, our cybersecurity, that’s a good place for us to be. And so I do think having some oversight and insight and agreement on what it looks like is important.

On how trust has become both a consumer issue and an employee issue:

Willow Bay: The big tech companies, are facing what is an unprecedented public outcry from their employees. Whether it’s drones or the use of technology supplied to ICE, or in your case, the facial recognition technology. Employees are saying, “Hey, we don't want our work deployed this way.” How do you manage employee trust?

CSB: I think the current focus and outcry is a good thing. I think oversight, I think being responsible, being transparent, being a force for good, I think the conversation is really important right now. And I think it’ll yield better outcomes.

Conversations @ Annenberg is a series in which newsmakers, thought leaders and change agents discuss leadership and the issues they care most about. Click here to read more conversations with people like HBO CEO Richard Plepler, Goop founder and CEO Gwyneth Paltrow and Annenberg Inclusion Initiative founder and Associate Professor at USC Annenberg Stacy Smith.