Six Babson College Students lined up, arms around one another, at the AI World Conference & Exhibition Center.
Babson College students, left to right, Angan Kumar Sarker, Theo Goldberg, Tianfang Chen, Nicholas Gutierrez, Ivan Perez and Ray Lam. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

They didn’t look like everyone else at this tech conference. They looked, well, super young.

Earlier this month at the AI World Conference & Expo at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center, we ran into this group of conference attendees traversing the conference exhibition center and breakout-session hallways. They were not your typical business-conference attendee. 

These attendees — who ranged in ages between 19 and 21 — are part of Gen Z, meaning those born between 1995 and 2010. Gen Z is poised to enter the workforce in 2019 alongside their millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts. And there are even more of them than millennials according to Linkedin: 61 million.

Next-Generation Entrepreneurs?

This particular group turned out to be six students from nearby Babson College, located in Wellesley, Mass. They're part of a technology and entrepreneur group at the college called Babson Code, or the Community of Developers & Entrepreneurs. Babson Code members are invested in learning more about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it applies to marketing, building new processes and apps and its implications on the future of work. 

Every time a new generation enters the workforce, older people weigh in on how they behave and think, as if they are some kind of anthropology experiment. Gen Z is no different. So it was refreshing to have an opportunity to hear directly from these students. The six shared their thoughts with CMSWire on AI in general, biases in AI development, what they want in a brand experience and the ethics behind data collection and privacy. 

Related Article: Move Over Millennials, Marketers Set Sights on Gen Z

‘We’re Not Lazy’

They wanted to clear up one thing off the bat. They’re not lazy, they said. The world has labeled his generation as “lazy and unaware,” but Nicholas Gutierrez, 20, a New Jersey native, isn't buying it. He told CMSWire that his generation simply appreciates apps and processes that are quick, easy and productive — just like anyone else would.

“Young people like to make things quick, easy and simple,” Gutierrez said. “I think the stigma against young people is that we like to do things quickly and maybe we’re lazy because we want to do things that will take less time. But I think if you look at it from a more productive side, at the same time we’re able to make hard things easier and quicker. So I think how we’re going to progress in the future and with the next generation down is something that will be really incredible.”

Gutierrez is impressed with AI development and how it’s helping in arenas like healthcare with diagnoses. He's looking to use AI to build a diet, health and workout plan app that’s “hyper-personalized” to an individual’s specific needs. While a work in progress, he's eyeing the need to “integrate a lot of AI to scrape a lot of data from different medical sources."

Related Article: Building a Culture that Attracts Generation Z

Convenience and Privacy Is Paramount

But quick and easy often comes at a cost: privacy. Is this group willing to give up privacy in exchange for superior digital customer experiences? Yes, so long as brands maintain the highest ethical privacy standards, said Angan Kumar Sarker, 21, a native of Bangladesh. His generation understands the nuances of technology, he added, and recognizes what some brands are trying to do with private data. In other words, they're hard to fool. 

“At this point,” Kumar Sarker said, “we want the convenience and we want it to come at the same time with privacy. We see different brands collecting data from us and using it for purposes that we don’t really want it to be used. So that’s something I think marketers should understand: to be ethical in the way they market. And at the same time make it more convenient.”

Addressing AI Biases Head On

Along those same lines — where technology comes at a cost — AI can be influenced by biases that discriminate against certain races, creeds and general stereotypes. Do we want to live in a world where a Palestinian man is arrested because Facebook’s automatic translation software mistakes his “good morning” salutation as a threat?

Tianfang Chen, 19, doesn’t want this kind of world. The Babson student and China native is focused on AI, machine learning and deep learning as part of the Babson Code group. Reducing biases in AI algorithms is top of mind for him. “It will do a lot of good for our society to create a more equal place,” Chen said. “But if we don’t treat it (AI bias) correctly, it’s only exacerbating the problem at hand." 

Chen said it was interesting to hear industry leaders taking the problem “very seriously” at the AI World Conference. He’s hopeful that AI can “become a great equalizer in this world.”

Related Article: Establishing AI Ethics in Marketing

Embracing AI for Entrepreneurship, Diversity

The hope is that AI can actually help us celebrate diversity, said Ivan Perez, 19. “I think entrepreneurship is headed to a way where AI is allowing technology to problem-solve,” Perez said. “So as an entrepreneur, it kind of fast-tracks that whole trajectory. I’m interested in how diversity plays an important part in entrepreneurship. And I think that AI is just a great way to integrate those two things.”

AI’s Impact on Future of Work Exciting, Scary

The prospects of AI are not always exciting for some Gen Zers. France native Theo Goldberg, 19, said he’s fascinated by AI’s impact on the future of work. “It’s a great time to be alive, but at the same time it scares me,” Goldberg said. “I don’t know how we’re going to transition into this new world with AI.”