Crunch, Data Conference, October 16-18, 2019 Budapest

"Artificial Intelligence is not intelligence" – Interview with Andy Cotgreave

Dorina Szabadi // 2019-08-02

Andy Cotgreave helps customers, media and analysts across all industries see and understand their data using the company’s innovative products. He has inspired thousands of people with technical advice and ideas on how to identify trends in visual analytics and develop their own data-discovery skills. The co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards and Technical Evangelist at Tableau will be the keynote speaker of our Business Intelligence track, it's time get to know him!

Crunch Conference: Which article/podcast/book/paper/cartoon/etc had the most powerful impact on your professional life and what was your takeaway?

Andy Cotgreave: In 2006 I saw the Chart Chooser from Extreme Presentations. I was just beginning to move into data analytics, and I was blown away: never had I considered that there was a grammar behind charts, and that their correct use was determined by considering your intent in looking at the data. I stuck it on the wall by my desk. It started my love of data visualization. Even today, 13 years later, I’m still learning amazing nuances about the different ways to present data, and how the original chart chooser only pointed to a few of the infinite possibilities that different chart types offer. 

CC: What do you think are the buzzwords that need to leave and why?

AC: Artificial Intelligence. It’s not intelligence. It might never be intelligence. The work of AI is at best clever use of algorithms to analyse large amounts of data. It has become a lazy term applied to too many tools and gadgets. The overuse of the term leads to a misunderstanding among lay people. The result of this is a high risk of over-promising and under-delivering on potential benefits of this technology. As people become more aware of the weaknesses of AI, especially relating to models trained on bias datasets, there is a risk that a public backlash will stifle development.

CC: What technology or breakthrough do you hope we will be discussing five years from now?

AC: Artificial Intelligence. :) The combination of overzealous marketing departments, hype-seeking media and a naïve public might be killing the benefits of AI. Regulators are beginning to rein in the industry. The murmurs of discontent are causing organisations to be more careful. Scientists are recognizing the need for more openness with the technology. Over time, I hope that the ability of AI to augment human beings will continue to emerge. In my own field of data analytics, I’m looking forward to seeing algorithms assist an analyst in their analytical flow. Imagine exploring a dataset and applying models to your data so it can find all the interesting paths for analysis. Imagine preparing a new data source and modelling locates and automates a lot of the data cleaning. I want AI to make an analyst’s job quicker, so that the human can find the insight, supported by the algorithm.

CC: What is your advice for data scientists/engineers/analysts entering the field?

AC: Build a portfolio. When I look at your CV, I also Google your name. I look for evidence that your enthusiasm for the field is visible. Are you active on social media? Are you discussing the topic? Have you got a portfolio of projects in your field? I don’t expect people doing public-facing work in all their spare time, but I do want to recruit people who are passionate in the field. In visual analytics, for example, it’s easy to use Tableau Public to share a portfolio of work. Over time, this portfolio can build to show the progression of your skills. The progression also shows me you have practiced.


Andy will be the keynote speaker of our Business Intelligence track at Crunch Conference. He has sat through thousands of meetings, and seen many crimes committed against data. He’s even committed many himself. He’s also seen how effectively it can be done, with a little bit of effort. In this entertaining talk, you’re going to learn how to make your data look amazing.


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