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  • Writer's pictureKristi Kitz

2024 Upper Bound AI Conference: Session Highlights and 6 Critical AI Insights

Last week, I attended the Upper Bound AI conference. I met lots of cool people and attended lots of cool events. Here’s what I learned.


The Urgency of Embracing AI


Integrating AI in our products and processes is not a distant future but a seemingly imminent necessity. As one presenter put it, disruption is not new, but what makes this one different is the sheer speed and rate of adoption.


We all have the responsibility of learning how to take advantage of AI. There are no excuses. I came to discover some practical ways that I can leverage AI to improve how we work and enhance the solutions we build for clients. And also, to learn a little more about how the sausage is made.




 


Conference Overview

There was a wide range of sessions covering everything from highly technical discussions to industry applications (particularly health care), business strategies, ethical considerations, and some philosophical conversations. I attended more of the business-oriented sessions. Beyond the talks were networking groups, poster sessions, demo camps, and hands-on workshops.


And, of course, a big party.



Stand-out Sessions

I attended a lot of great sessions across a wide variety of topics, but these ones resonated with me the most.


AI Strategy for Business Growth

This conversation touched on broad strategic topics regarding integrating AI into our business models, managing data, and the future of AI.


Key Takeaway: Roles will be replaced. Our strategic advantage will be to know how to use and deploy the tools.


AI and the Evolution of Marketing Teams

This panel discussed AI’s role in enhancing marketing and other creative work, particularly emphasizing its limitations in innovation.


Key Takeaway: AI is a tool to get somewhere; it will never replace the human element in telling a story or setting a trend.



Disrupt, Scale, Repeat

Jack Newton, the CEO of Clio, talked about AI’s transformative potential, how to build a culture of innovation, and the importance of always tying things back to the customer’s need.


Key Takeaway: AI’s true potential is that it will change how people work, helping us do more work better.


DemoCamp YEG — AI Edition

An evening event with lots of neat product demos, including a low-cost robot, an AI extension of a digital white-boarding solution, and an ultra-fast, stable diffusion-based image generator.


Key Takeaway: The world will legit never tire of cute cat pics.


Beyond the Basics of AI Tools: A Digital Agency Perspective

An interesting mix of insight into the nature of industry disruption and adoption, as well as practical tips for implementing current AI tools into business processes.


Key Takeaway: “If I had a million dollars, we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner. But we would eat Kraft dinner. Of course we would we’d just eat more of it.”


In other words, as we become more efficient with our tools, we’ll use that time to make and do more.


UX and AI — Presented by Product Edmonton

Informal discussion about how many new AI products struggle to find and engage users and best practices for ensuring AI products deliver value and retain users.


Key Takeaway: Don’t mistake novelty for value.



Citizen Experience AI Toolkit

A hands-on workshop offering a framework to map out a service journey, determine design building blocks, identify AI opportunities at different touch points, and evaluate potential risks.


Key Takeaway: The way to increase AI ROI with a clear connection to customer value.



 


The more sessions I attended, the more I noticed common threads. These are the 6 insights that I walked away from the conference with.


1. Cutting through the noise.

Gen AI is at the peak of the hype cycle. There’s a lot of excitement and expectation. There’s also a lot of noise. How many companies are deploying AI in ways that have a significant, meaningful impact? The challenge is to filter out the superficial excitement and focus on deploying it in a way that truly adds value and solves problems. This means having focus, and constantly evaluating AI initiatives, prioritizing those with clear, tangible benefits.


2. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

An expansion on the first theme was the distinction between novelty and value. Often, new AI capabilities can seem impressive (someone called it the “talking dog” problem a talking dog is cool, but what else can it do). What’s going to be critical is to focus on whether an AI solution genuinely solves a problem for people. Metrics and signals are essential to ensure what you’re building provides real value.

“From AI silver bullets to targeted AI capabilities.”

3. There’s no playbook. Yet.

Navigating any uncharted territory presents unique challenges, and AI is no different. There’s no established playbook about what needs to be built and how to bring it to market. AI introduces new risks, and we haven’t yet developed the “muscle memory” to identify and address them effectively. This lack of a clear path means innovation and adaptability will be more critical than ever.


4. Thankfully, there are some things AI can’t replace.

While AI can handle many tasks, it can’t replicate the human element, particularly in creative fields. By their technical nature, many AI tools (at least currently) are inherently derivative. They don’t do particularly well when we need to think outside the box and deliver true innovation. AI may assist in the process, but it doesn’t push boundaries. Retaining our creative skills is critical because, at its core, AI is a tool to enhance our capabilities, not replace our unique ability to tell a story. That’s my hope, anyway.


5. Risks & Readiness

Everyone wants to get on the AI bandwagon, but can they? Readiness is more than just the technical capability and the cash; there are organizational considerations, too. How do we build a culture of collaboration across the different domain perspectives? How do we manage not just change but fear around AI-induced job loss? How do we upskill and spread awareness at industry pace? Equally as important was the focus on strategic alignment. AI initiatives require customer readiness, executive support, business potential, and, perhaps most importantly, an AI process fit.

“There’s a bandwagon AI opportunity cost. These initiatives take a lot of time and money; you want to be sure the value is there.”

6. It’s all about working better and smarter.

I like that the overall sentiment was optimistic. AI is not here to replace jobs but to augment our work, making us more efficient and productive. The real challenge — and the real strategic advantage — will be navigating this transition. As both organizations and individuals in the workforce, we need to control the tools rather than be displaced by them.

“The true potential of AI is that it will change the way people work, freeing up time and enabling us to tackle higher-value, truly critical problems.”

 

Working in design and low-code, this conference helped me broaden my view of the AI landscape outside of those domains, and learn about the truly remarkable ways it’s being used. Many of which are homegrown in Edmonton (where I happen to live) which was even better to see.


I met so many incredibly smart, talented people doing truly incredible work! I can’t think of a better way to spend a week.


I’ll be back next year 🫡.


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