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Featured Interview: Brenda Ng


For today’s #WhoWeAreWednesday we feature an interview with our AI&F Advisor Brenda Ng. Brenda served as the Director of Worldwide Consumer Insights at Microsoft and was part of the original Xbox incubation team. From 2007 to 2011, Brenda was Vice President of Consumer and Competitive Insights at T-Mobile USA, and Vice President of Strategy at Chadwick Martin Bailey from 2018 to 2020. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Research and Insights at Providence Health and Services. Brenda was interviewed by AI&F Board Chair David Brenner.


David: Brenda, your long and fruitful career includes product strategy and marketing in the technology sector, including the introduction of the Xbox, T-Mobile and Google’s initial cell phone offering, and outside consulting with major tech companies. You now serve as the Executive Director of Research for one of the largest healthcare systems in the US. Is there a technology through-line in your career? When and how did AI tie into your work?

Brenda: I love open-ended problem solving and building things. Early in my career I discovered that growth-oriented industries and companies were the best environments for my skills and contributions. I switched from brand management of a profitable but declining category of soluble beverages at Nestle and joined Microsoft.

Technology has been the enabler of breakthrough innovation and growth in all the categories I have worked, including high technology, manufacturing, gaming, telecommunications, and now healthcare. While technology has been a throughline of my career, I have learned that there are category-ecosystem requirements to attain successful growth. Technical capabilities are essential; however, one also needs a strategic vision, infrastructure, team collaboration, cross-channel partnerships, and societal readiness. Oftentimes, policy or regulatory changes are needed to facilitate growth.

For example, Xbox Live and online gaming would not have exploded without broadband internet infrastructure. After rigorous market research, forecasting, and vision casting, we made a strategic bet to launch Xbox with online gaming capabilities even at a time when broadband internet penetration was nascent. During my work in telecommunications a similar confluence of factors facilitated growth: the partnership between T-Mobile and Google, the emergence of smartphones, the portfolio of diverse pricing plans and hardware, and the Great Recession all fuelled smart phone access and adoption for the masses. While it may seem counterintuitive that the recession fuelled smartphone penetration, we learned that people with foreclosed homes would prioritize keeping their smart phone over a physical mailing address to stay connected. Considering present and future growth opportunities, autonomous vehicles are another ripe candidate for meeting these category-ecosystem requirements. In 2018, while I was the vice president of strategy at Chadwick Martin Bailey, I led our team in evaluating emerging AI tools and opportunities for marketing research purposes.

David: How would you describe your faith background?

Brenda: I became a Christian in college thanks to family, friends, and university ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) and the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. I have always had a heart for college ministries. No matter where I lived or which life stage, I’ve been involved in a small group bible study. Looking back, I see God’s providence throughout my life. Even now, when there are times that I cannot see Him working, I know He is with me. I have never been alone on my Christian faith journey and never will be going forward.

David: What led to your interest in the intersection of AI and faith?

Brenda: Beyond belief, the way I understand faith is through the concept of stewardship, which spans many belief systems. For example, in a Christian context, stewardship means being a shepherd. In an Islamic context, stewardship means being a viceregent. Stewardship comes down to two questions. First, how are we using what has been given to us (in terms of resources, abilities, privileges, etc.) to serve others and our environment? Second, are our words and actions provoking chaos or restoring harmony?

AI begets the question of power: who is AI serving? Is AI serving humanity? Or will we end up elevating AI in a dystopian fashion? According to many researchers and observers, current AI developments contribute less to improving justice and harmony. I believe that those holding different ethical frameworks must have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation.

David: What led to your interest in the intersection of AI-powered technologies and faith and your involvement with AI&F as an organization?

Brenda: I deliberately described the role of technology and AI as that of an “enabler” because human creativity and ingenuity drive, and is responsible for, the application of technology. The principle of stewardship in technology is well illustrated by Alfred Nobel. Nobel’s work in explosives led him to subsequently establish of the Nobel Peace Prize. This same stewardship charge is clearly stated in the book of Genesis. God is our grand creator, and He gave humankind a stewardship imperative over His creation.

I realize that excessive tech usage has damaging consequences. When I met with Korea’s Ministry of Gaming, I learned that gamers could die from extended gaming marathon sessions. We also have research on the negative mental health impacts of social media, especially among female teenagers.

As recently as five years ago, the sense of responsibility, stewardship, and societal boundaries was missing from the AI conversation. That is why I joined AI&Faith during our founding, fledgling meetings in 2018. Since then, my perspective on managing and extracting the most out of AI has coalesced around these two points:

  • Technological innovation, and by extension AI, increases scalability and productivity in many industries. The tasks assigned to AI tend to enable productivity benefits: greater volume, speed, and precision. . Human intelligence (HI) can supplement AI due to our capacity to tackle grey-zone areas that involve nuanced judgement, interpretation, and invention.
  • The promise of AI is maximized when it is supplemented and managed by HI. We can consider two recent examples of this point. First, excessively long conversations with ChatGPT have now been bounded after 75+ minute conversations led to disturbing content. Human developers have now exerted limitations within these large language models, based on both content and duration. Second, Microsoft365 Copilot allows developers to work with an AI towards a coding objective. The name of the AI tool makes the hierarchical relationship clear: the AI is the co-pilot, and the human is the pilot.

David: Providence Health and Services was founded in 1859. Throughout this time, operations have closely tied to the Catholic Sisters of Providence religious order. Does this religious ethos at Providence influence the health care research you direct? Do you see that relating to AI&F’s mission?

Brenda: It is more than an ethos. The mission of Providence has been maintained, where “we are steadfast in serving all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.” The research designs and roadmaps do not change significantly, but the purpose is different.

The healthcare industry is massively complex and overdue for innovation, both of which greatly appeal to me. It is perfectly ripe from the perspective of category-ecosystem growth requirements, and an opportune application for combining AI and human intelligence. Providence delivers world-class health with a human connection. This provides a very close intersection between HI and AI.

David: What open problems in health care and AI are you most interested in?

Brenda: There are too many to list, but here are two of my favorites. First, AI applied to early, non-invasive, and rapid detection of pre-cancer or disease at the protein level. Second, massively accelerated search and identification for epidemiological purposes, such as E. coli breakout containment at the macro level, and donor or disease match alert at the micro or individual level.


A big thanks to Brenda Ng for her time to carry out this interview. Thanks to David Brenner for his thoughtful questions. Thanks to Marcus Schwarting and Emily Wenger for proofreading, editing, and publishing this work.

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