Jan 10, 2024 - News

Q&A: Massachusetts' Yvonne Hao on using AI to make work fun again

Photo illustration of Yvonne Hao with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Steph Solis/Axios.

The next six months will be crucial for Massachusetts' quest to become the nation's premiere AI hub as private sector leaders consider the state's strategy.

Catch up fast: The state is convening public and private sector leaders to map out the state's AI game plan, including how to support AI adoption in biotech, government contracting and other areas.

Yvonne Hao, the state's economic development secretary, spoke with Axios Boston about how to approach the technology.

  • Hao is a former executive for investment firm Cove Hill Partners and at PillPack, an online pharmacy acquired by Amazon in 2018.
  • The questions and answers have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Have you seen this level of fear and speculation about technology elsewhere in your career?

The analogy I often give people is that when ATMs first came out, there was a lot of concern — this was a long time ago, in the '90s — that bank tellers were going to go extinct.

  • Now we have more retail branches than ever before.
  • There's more tellers than ever, but their jobs are more interesting and more convenient to consumers.

You've spoken publicly about how AI prompted questions about PillPack's company strategy roughly six years ago. What were some of the initial concerns when you were there?

We couldn't hire people fast enough and train them fast enough…and there were certain jobs, or certain parts of the job, that were very monotonous and very routine.

  • We had lots of conversations about, as we scale, whether there were parts that we can automate with AI and software.

Who can give the AI task force feedback once it convenes?

The AI task force will be similar to the economic development planning council, which did regional sessions and pulled in people from the community.

  • It won't be huge, but the goal is to do subcommittee meetings on different topics and go around the state.

I understand there's a difference in strategy, but some states have already passed or are considering legislation.

We have looked at other states. Many of them are passing legislation to control and regulate and put more guardrails around AI.

  • I think those are important to look at. I don't know that we want to replicate that.

Of course we want to be careful with it, and we don't want to have it be the Wild West, but I think we want to play more offense than defense here.

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