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Podcast: Anindya Ghose — China, US, & Future of AI

NYU Professor Anindya Ghose discusses China, the US, and the next generation of Artificial Intelligence business applications

Anindya Ghose, Professor, New York University’s Stern School of Business

As the world becomes a messier place, and as the U.S. Great Power Competition with China continues to ramp up, this battle will be fought on many fronts – few if any on an actual battlefield.

Instead, these superpowers’ fight for supremacy focuses on different dimensions of power and influence – in particular, areas like business and technology, including the next generation of Artificial Intelligence applications.

So who’s winning? Where does China stand – and what should other countries and companies understand to compete and win?

To find out, I welcomed back a previous and incredibly interesting guest: Anindya Ghose, the Heinz Riehl Chair Professor of Business at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Anindya is also the author of the important and engaging book, Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy, which has now been translated into five languages and was recently named one of the top 100 marketing books of all time. Ghose also was named to the prestigious 2019 Highly Cited Researchers list from the Web of Science Group, which recognizes the world’s most influential researchers of the past decade, demonstrated by the production of multiple highly-cited papers that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and year in Web of Science.

Anindya’s bottom line: While the U.S. may lead in AI research, China leads in AI implementation – they simply are doing more on commercialization and making AI an actionable part of everyday life.

What’s driving this advantage? I wondered, of course, if the difference comes down to the government thumb on the scale – that China’s support for targeted industries simply gives their companies an unfair advantage. But the response I got, as you’ll hear, was: Not so fast. From Ghose’s research, the difference is more cultural in terms of consumer uptake.

As he told me: “Their tech sector is clearly innovating faster, working harder, and is about 2-3 years ahead of their counterparts in the U.S. and about 5-8 years ahead from the ones in Western Europe and Southeast Asia. There is much to learn from them.”

One additional note: We also explored new research Ghose has just published on The Effect of Voice AI on Consumer Purchase and Search Behavior. Given the growth of voice in tech, I promise you’ll want to hear what Anindya and his colleagues found.

Transcript: Anindya Ghose — China, US, & Future of AI

Chris Riback: Anindya, thanks for joining me. Pleasure to get to talk with you again.

Anindya Ghose: Thanks for having me Chris. Happy to be here.

Chris Riback: About two years ago, you published this little book called Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy, which has now been translated into multiple languages –  Vietnamese is the next – and which Book Authority just named as one of the top 100 marketing books of all time. It’s been a couple of years since you and I spoke, I just am so sorry that nothing much has happened in your life professionally since then. You’re just living in this quiet solitary life of an academic, huh?

Anindya Ghose: Yes, absolutely. No, thank you again for having me. It’s been exciting. The journey that Tap has taken since the last two years has been very exciting. I’m profoundly grateful and thankful to the universe for making it happen. Like you mentioned it’s been translated into five different languages, and it’s hit the bestseller list in a few different countries. It’s all been great really.

Chris Riback: You hit something – and apologies in advance, of course for the pun – but you tapped into the concept that many of us were realizing, but you really brought it all together around that connection among us, our phones, mobility and the economy. It was really one of the foremost books in terms of explaining, not only explaining what was going on, but helping give some real business ideas around it.

It’s no surprise that that has taken off. To follow up and I really don’t want to make this the “Let’s embarrass Anindya” podcast, so I promise I’ll move on in a second, but there’s another item I really have to raise with you and then we get to your actual ideas on China and AI and the future of the world and that sort of thing…

NYU Professor Anindya Ghose discusses China, the US, and the next generation of Artificial Intelligence business applicationsAnindya Ghose: Sure.

Chris Riback: Your bio, it includes all the accolades, any academic would want, I can live with these, the appointments, the lightening, fast rise-

Anindya Ghose: Thank you.

Chris Riback: … the consulting, the awards. Even the one I think that you are most proud of, the 2019 NYU Stern Distinguished Teaching Award. But then down in the fine print about you, I read, “He is an accomplished high-altitude mountaineer and has climbed in five continents.” Come on Anindya, please tell me you made that one up before my whole sense of self-worth is totally depleted!

Anindya Ghose: Well, on that, I was bitten by that bug when I was about 20 years old, which is about two decades prior. It was an interesting story. I basically went for my undergraduate engineering in a college that is almost in the foothills of the Himalayas, and almost every other weekend a bunch of us would just pack our bags and start hiking and trekking around t the Himalayas.

Chris Riback: Wow.

Anindya Ghose: During the four years, we covered a lot of those spaces. Then I realized, I really, really loved the outdoors and ended up taking a mountaineering course. I thought that was my calling in life: I would essentially be guiding our wealthy clients on these team-building exercises in up on high mountains. But, yes, that’s how it all started and I love it.

Chris Riback: But instead technology called. Maybe that can be your next career if this marketing business global connectivity thing – the global economy thing –doesn’t work out for you, maybe that…

Again, I want to get to the ideas, but where… did you grow up then – in an urban environment? Was business school your first engagement with the outdoors and mountains or did you grow up engaging in the outdoors?

Anindya Ghose: I had a very sort of a nomadic lifestyle. When I was five, my family, my parents, we moved from India to East Africa. Actually I grew up in Tanzania speaking Swahili and then later on in Zambia. I think my first official foray in the outdoors was in Africa, but then, it’s only when I came back to India for my undergrad and my masters, that’s when I started, skirting the foothills of the Himalayas, and that’s how the love for mountaineering really took off.

Chris Riback: Okay. We’re going to have to do a whole other conversation. I think I’m going to need to launch-

Anindya Ghose: Sure.

Chris Riback: … a nature outdoors podcast, and you’ll be my first guest on that one because-

Anindya Ghose:  I would love that. Yes.

Chris Riback: … I think the rest of your life sounds fascinating as well. Let’s get to your work and let’s go first into, the area, China, AI, artificial intelligence and business. You spent time this summer in China, I know and even since then, I think you’ve been back since.

Anindya Ghose: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Riback: I know you saw firsthand how China’s next generation of Tech Titans are using drones and robots and facial recognition, vendor bots, greet bots and other forms of advanced AI-based technologies, too, and in your words, push the frontiers in business and society. First give us the landscape, what did you see and what surprised or impressed you about what you saw?

Anindya Ghose: Yes, I go to China five or six times a year, various engagements take me there. I think China is fascinating in many, many ways, but one way in which they really trigger my curiosity and passion is what they are doing with AI and AI-based application.

My summary is basically something like this that, we here in the US we are essentially the leaders in AI research, but China is the leader in AI implementation. In other words we produce a lot of the intellectual research and then they are very, very good at commercializing some of those research into actual products and services.

This year I happened to go about last in September and then before that in July, and then before that in June and we all know about the big three titans, Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, but what a lot of us don’t know is that there’s another generation of Chinese tech titans coming up, companies like Meituan and Kuaishou and ByteDance and DJI.

If you look at the world of AI, we basically can think of, I know there are four verticals of AI, that’s where the battle between the US and China is brewing. The four verticals equals are:

  1. Consumer AI: These are companies like, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and their equivalents in China and like Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and et cetera.
  2. Business AI: AI being adopted by at the enterprise level, by banks and insurance companies, financial services companies and so on.
  3. The third vertical is what we call Perception AI: These are essentially the use of sensors and IOT, internet of things and facial recognition and drones.
  4. Then you’ve got Autonomous AI: Essentially something like self-driving cars.

These are the four verticals of AI. In each of these verticals, we have a race between the US and China and at least in on two of these verticals, China’s clearly ahead of the US in AI implementation –  the first of which is consumer AI and the second of which is the perception AI. I think the third vertical the business AI, we are ahead of them mostly because we have a lot of really high quality unstructured data. In the fourth vertical the autonomous AI. It’s a neck and neck race right now brewing between, the Googles and Teslas with self-driving cars and they’re on counterparts in China.

Chris Riback: I assume when you talk about the research versus implementation dichotomy, you’re seeing it largely, I would think on the consumer side maybe as well on the perception side since you said those were really the two of the four verticals that China was leading on it. Give me some examples, particularly in the consumer side and into the extent to which mobile is so fully integrated into the consumer life in China and really obviously in Asia more widely.

Anindya Ghose: Yes, in China essentially they have become, a cashless society. Anything and everything that is meaningful in life can be done on a mobile app. In fact, they have essentially built an app, like WeChat is a super app, essentially instead of us here having like 20 different apps, they basically have one app, that app is a one-stop shop of everything in your life.

An example of how they are advanced is just the world of payments. You can see in China now, even the road side, offline roadside grocer or someone just selling vegetables and fruits in a car on the road they essentially take mobile payments. They have their own WeChat app and if you have the WeChat app, you can just try some money and buy vegetables and fruits on the road.

If you see a homeless person, which is very, very rare in China, but in the rare occasion that you see a homeless person who might be asking for some help, they will have a placard with them that says, “WeChat Pay please.” Or, “Alipay please.”

They don’t even take cash. What mobile payments has done is it removed lots of frictions from our daily lives. The convenience of just paying through an app for pretty much anything and everything, makes things very, very smooth and frictionless and easy.

I think that’s a prime example and this is heavily backed by the government regulations in the sense that many of us here would say that well, China is essentially getting unlimited government support and protectionism and all that, but while there is some truth to that, but I think the real benefit of government support comes in the form of something called a techno-utilitarian policy.

What that basically means is that the government will back entrepreneurs all the way to do massive innovation in really expedited amount of time until, and unless they see any evidence that that innovation is actually hurting any segment of society.

I’ll give you two contrasting examples. On the positive side, when mobile payments were first introduced by Alipay and WeChat more than a decade back, the government essentially told these guys, the CEOs that, “Look, you have our full unlimited support. Go ahead. Let’s see how this all unravels.”

What we saw is that, about 700 million people in the villages and tier four in tier five cities of China could essentially pay and buy and sell anything and everything through mobile payments.

It was a very positive social welfare enhancing mechanism. The government said, “Go ahead, do it.” In contrast, think about Bitcoin trading. When Bitcoin trading was first legitimized in China, seven or five or six years back, what they started seeing is that, your average 80-year-old grandparent is putting his or her entire life savings in trying to figure out how do I more money in Bitcoin trading.

Given the volatility of this mechanism, many, many people ended up wasting all of their life savings in something that really didn’t take off. That’s when the government stepped in and said, “Look, we’re not going to allow this.”

That’s what I mean by a techno-utilitarian policy. That they allow the technologies to flourish, they allow innovation to happen and entrepreneurs to thrive until they see a clear negative outcome, then they will step in and stop it. Yes.

Chris Riback: Is one able to make a value statement about that? When I think about what you’re describing, I also start to wonder about, playing fields and when you raise the split between the amount of research here versus the implementation that you see there, is that a cultural thing? Is it because government takes the role in terms of advancing business in China that you just described and that perhaps does not get taken here?

Anindya Ghose: Right.

Chris Riback: Should we, from a US business point of view, be okay with that because that’s the difference between the cultures and the roles of government and that’s how we do… How do you reconcile all those competing tensions that I’m sensing from listening to you?

Anindya Ghose: I think there’s a few different reasons. First and foremost it’s about the speed of decision making and the speed of execution. I have worked with companies in several dozen countries around the world and nowhere have I seen companies that are faster in taking decisions and executing them than in China.

They are just an order of magnitude faster. I’m not necessarily saying it’s better, I’m just saying that they are faster. They will decide today they will execute tomorrow and then you’ll see the result two days from now. That’s just how they roll.

Chris Riback: Is that because they have a bigger cushion behind them? Do they have government support or some sort of safety, capitalistic safety, quasi capitalistic safety net underneath them that American businesses don’t have?

Anindya Ghose: No, I would say it’s more of the following in a mantra. Chinese entrepreneurs in general follow the following mantra, fail fast, fail early, and fail often. They do not see any stigma and failing. They are very happy to see failures. They learn from the failures and they just get punched, knocked down and then move up and back again.

You could call that cultural, maybe. I think that culture exists in other countries too, but I think what I’ve generally seen is this mantra of failing fast, failing early and failing often, makes them amenable to take lots of risks on the entrepreneur’s side, and the same goes for consumers.

An average consumer in China just seems to be far more willing to embrace a new product or a new service and then just played by the year and just see how it all unfolds.

If three months down the line they realize, “Look, okay, it’s not turning out the way I thought,” they’ll just drop it and move onto the next thing. Both on the entrepreneur innovation side, on the consumer side, you see the cycle where things move very fast.

They both have to work that way for the ecosystem to survive or thrive. Otherwise, if consumers are slow to adopt and no amount of fast innovation will actually be helpful. It’s a two-sided markets and both parties have to be amenable to really quick decision making and changes in behavior and all that.

Chris Riback: Hmm. I’m wondering as well, and I want to ask you, need to ask you about some of the negative aspects and certainly the privacy concerns-

Anindya Ghose: Sure.

Chris Riback: … around AI and we’ll get to that in a moment. I’m curious what you’re seeing as we’re talking right now in call it mid-October, from an economic and a trade point of view, I’m interested in your take on what effect is the ongoing China-US dispute having? A lot has happened even since you were there a month ago, a month and a half ago, the tariff concerns continue, the IP concerns continue.

There’s increased rhetoric. There’s concerns about Huawei and other tech companies. As we’re speaking right now, the NBA China dispute is very much in the news. We’ll see where that goes. How do you see… do you have any insights on how you see China and US businesses reacting to these conflicts? These tensions, as they say, public policy, political challenge, it’s seeming, and as we’re speaking again, this, the NBA thing is just bubbling up, it seems to be infiltrating and becoming a business concern as well, are you seeing that?

Anindya Ghose: I think the general perception I’ve gathered from this, the visits this year is that people are staying on the sidelines and playing it by the ear, but at the same time being cautious. In other words, there’s this perception that here in the US we have an election coming up next year and so the general thinking is that a lot of what you’re seeing from the administration at this point seems to be influenced by potential outcomes in the elections next year and things will be very different after 2020.

There is that in a wait-and-watch attitude and at the same time, there has been a perceptible impact in the economy back in China, at that’s what my friends who are executives’ in the corporate world or entrepreneurs seem to be suggesting.

There has been a slow down, but they’re not petrified, they’re overtly worried yet because they see this as a short-term hiccup because things might change after the elections over here. Okay? That’s the way they are looking at it.

But at the same time, they’re also taking steps. For example, China has already started to reroute the supply chains that it often relies on away from the US into other parts of the world.

Chris Riback: Yes.

Anindya Ghose: Some of the experts had suggested this would take them two years, but now we’re seeing they have been able to accomplish this in six months or less. We’re saying who is benefiting from this or actually it’s countries like Vietnam or Indonesia or Philippines or even like parts of India, because the supply chains are being rerouted to those countries. Germany’s benefiting from this presuming from this-

Chris Riback: Brazil from farming point of view, I believe.

Anindya Ghose: Yes, farming, also Australia and New Zealand, although right now farm and dairy products and are now being imported from there in China. I think you’re seeing, a lot of that reaction as well, but I don’t at least perceive them being overly worried at least yet.

Chris Riback: Returning to the AI question and then the privacy question: Obviously any discussion of China and this type of AI and you mentioned the perception AI and the various different aspects of artificial intelligence, but especially areas like drones and robots and facial recognition, any of that conversation, particularly given what’s happening in Hong Kong immediately raises intense privacy concerns. We know how the Chinese government uses them. How should we balance the business opportunities with the very real and often dire privacy concerns?

Anindya Ghose: Yes. In the work that I have done the research and the consulting work that I’ve done in privacy, my philosophy and my recommendation to companies has been, be a butler and not a stalker, and I talk about this a lot in my book. Butler is… both a butler and a stalker essentially know a lot about the consumer, but one is cool and the other is creepy.

What I’ve generally seen in 15, 16 years of work with companies across, five continents, is that most corporations are very much cognizant of the importance and the responsibilities in protecting data and they actually do it.

It’s just that we live in this very adversarial world where the bad guys have to get it right once, we have to get it right every single time. We as in the companies and the corporation.

It’s in some ways, yes the average consumer would blame corporations for anything and everything, but they often don’t realize that they are trying their level best to protect our data and they are in fact, but every once in a while the bad guys get through.

I think that’s something I talk about a lot in my recent work as well. We’ve started to use newer AI-based algorithms to protect people’s privacy. Some of the location-based advertising work that I’ve been doing actually is able to offer skate and mask people’s personal information and yet give advertisers higher returns and this is work over the last two, three months with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon, Beibei Li and so on.

I think there is both within academia and the corporate world, there is realization that this is an important topic, we have to deal with it, we have to work to protect people’s privacy. But at the same time, the people also have to understand that big corporations are not necessarily out to get them, just as you might see this a different theory being proposed in the media, but that’s not always true.

I think the other big difference between the US and China on this front day is my, again, 15 years of work since this, see here in the US most of us have a high level of distrust against the government and against big corporations.

Any conversation about privacy almost always goes to the extreme. This might be surprising, but the average consumer in China actually does not have the level of distrust about their government as much as we do about our government.

They are far more willing to in fact share their data with companies or the government. Despite what we typically get to perceive that there is no privacy in China, it’s a much more nuanced concept. It’s a yes, there may be potentially less protection of privacy in China, but at the same time, people are far more trustful of corporations and government over there than back over here.

It’s a very interesting yin-yang where, you have to really work through the nuances to understand this dichotomy between how we in the US or America react to data and privacy based on our preconceived notions about what the government or companies can do versus how things are over there.

Chris Riback: Understood. There could be an obviously an entire conversation on just that one aspect-

Anindya Ghose: Yes. Surely, yes.

Chris Riback:  … and on one’s perceptions and realities of government use of data over there. There are people concerned here as well, although obviously very big differences in terms of things that are going on and in terms of advancing human rights and et cetera.

On a pure AI integration into business in the four verticals that you talked about, how are you advising, to close out this part of the conversation, how would you advise US businesses? How would you suggest that they start to close that gap between research and implementation?

Should they be thinking about expanding into the other verticals? Do you see it continuing within the US deeply within the business vertical because that’s where the investment is and perhaps the consumer uptake isn’t and the way that mobile is a fully a part of life in Asia, isn’t quite there over here yet, how do you advise US businesses around uptake of AI?

Anindya Ghose: Yes, I think if I’m a corporation in the US or company, large corporation company, and I have to essentially deal with two impediments, one is getting my consumers to be less apprehensive or less concerned about what I can do with data and AI and the other is a really important conversation, the regulators here again.

Companies here in the US are essentially somewhat sort of handicapped by an immediate knee-jerk reaction from many policy makers and regulators that most things in AI or most things involving data are detrimental to social welfare.

I don’t think that’s true at all. I think in contrast is the opposite. To me AI is like… the world of AI is like how biology was 200 years back and when biology was ‘invented’ a lot of the cynical skeptics would say, “Oh, you know what, countries are going to use this for making biological weapons and then the world is doomed and we all want to die and et cetera, et cetera.”

That’s not how it all unfolded. Yes, some countries have biological weapons, but that’s a tiny, tiny proportion of all the positive upside that has come out of biology. To me, AI, it’s very much like that.

There’s a lot more potential upside and are a lot of people who actually are working towards making it happen that way. I think it’s important to be cognizant of the downside, but let’s not have that apprehension drown the possibilities in using AI for innovation and making the people’s lives better.

I think sometimes or more often the rhetoric has gone so far down to the right that we have to bring it to the middle and say, “Look guys, like any new technology, it can be used for helping people or it can be abused. While we should recognize the pitfalls, let’s not just steamroll over any potential upside.”

I think companies are struggling with that because a lot of the discussion is just so far to the extreme that they don’t know how to proceed from there. I think, look, if I’m also trying to figure a solution to this, I would also ask the average consumer to be more open to the positives and to the upsides of using AI for enhancing people’s lives.

There is ample evidence across the world that AI… like robotics for example, people in Japan, robotics has being used in healthcare now. There are many other examples where the elderly are benefiting from having robots around meaningful parts of the daily lives.

Chris Riback: Yes.

Anindya Ghose: I think there is a lot more upside of this. My recommendation to the companies will be, “Okay, look, first of all, you have to get consumers on your side and that’s probably an easier conversation than maybe getting the regulators on your side.” But they have to work both the sides to make this happen.

Chris Riback: It’s often a question… to your point, it’s often a question of customer centricity isn’t it?

Anindya Ghose: Right.

Chris Riback: Focusing on maximizing and protecting the experience for customers while minimizing or even eradicating if possible, the possibilities for misuse or unfair use.

Anindya Ghose: Yes. Yes.

Chris Riback: If in theory from a business philosophy point of view, I would assume that that means acting in a customer centric way and it’s when businesses go off that path that bad things start to happen.

Anindya Ghose: Yes. I think one important part of this conversation is this word that I’ve also discussed in my research and the book in the past that we are about to head into a space where consumers will get rewarded by companies for sharing their data.

This has to be a very transparent and very clear frictionless process, and the faster we move towards a world where me as a consumer giving or sharing my data with the company leads to tangible benefits, the faster we will actually be able to embrace all the possibilities and innovation with AI and data.

That is something we see that back in the far East where people are actually willing to embrace and that relationship and embrace that trustworthiness. I think we have some ways to go towards that direction, but I think that is the right direction to go.

Chris Riback: Tell me as well about another aspect that I know you are working on and this may be provides an excellent segue to that, and that is the opportunity realize business value from AI analytics and data science implementations.

One area where you focus, I know is combining machine learning and econometrics. Make this tangible for me. I know one of your recent projects was with Alibaba and using their AI-based voice shopping devices like an Alexa. Explain to me that intersection between machine learning, metrics, data science and I guess ultimately business and a consumer value.

Anindya Ghose: Yes. This is… think about voice-controlled smart devices, which are becoming more popular. In the US for example, we have households now own about 118 million devices such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod.

In China, millions of consumers have adopted like Tmall Genie, Baidu and Xiaomi Xiaoice and so on. As these devices take off in a voice-activated shopping, like placing orders by talking to AI devices is showing signs of rapid growth.

My colleagues and I, one of them is a PhD student, NYU Chenshuo Sun, another coauthor is a professor at NYU, Xiao Liu and with a third professor at HKUST, June Shi, the four of us started working with a really fascinating data set from Alibaba, where we combined machine learning based AI-based, analytics with field experiments, massive field experiments involving, hundreds or even thousands of consumers.

The idea is basically, “Look, can we analyze what happens to consumers shopping and search behavior after they’ve adopted these voice-activated shopping devices?” Voice-activated shopping can affect the consumer’s journey from consideration all the way to final transaction, so we are basically asking us a very simple question that how would the use of voice-activated shopping change a consumer’s purchase behavior, both in terms of quantity of products and also the actual spending amount?

This was done over the last few months. We find some pretty interesting results. On an average, it turns out consumers are searching for five more categories and they’re actually searching for 14 more products within the same category. Clearly voice-based shopping is increasing their search depth and breadth.

Anindya Ghose: In addition, we also find very unequivocal evidence on the impact on monetary in a shopping behavior. People are in fact spending more money for shopping session when they’re in using voice-based devices and on an average is about $80.

Chris Riback: Wow.

Anindya Ghose: Yes, and in fact they are buying more products as well while they are shopping using voice-based, devices. It definitely is having a very clear cut impact. It’s not necessarily the case that voice-based space shopping is cannibalizing smartphone shopping or desktop shopping or even offline shopping, in most cases we find that in fact it’s expanding the market.

People are still spending what they were spending before on mobile commerce or desktop or offline commerce, but in addition to all of that, they’re spending more money using these voice-based devices. That’s a-

Chris Riback: This is why my monthly credit card bill continues to go up?

Anindya Ghose: Yes. It is almost certainly correlated. If you have seeing that, if you have an Alexa-like device at home, you’re likely to end up buying more products, you’re likely to end up searching for more products and also spending more money every time you shop.

Chris Riback: What’s the why? Is it easier when via voice, do we not restrict ourselves sufficiently, or what’s the why?

Anindya Ghose: Yes, I think the convenience of voice-based shopping is a single most important factor. In a sense that it’s a hand-free a device. Many people, especially in the elderly, they still struggle with smartphone shopping or even desktop, with voice, it’s like… and then the more on an average, there’s a correlation with an income, disposable income and age.

The older you are, the higher disposable income you typically have. Now you have this device, where you just tell Alexa, “Find me the cheapest batteries for my TV remote?” Instead of having to search for that on your phone or desktop, it’s a lot more convenient to just talk to a device and let it do all the work for you. We find that convenience is really the biggest driver of this change.

Chris Riback: Yes. You can only imagine as that continues to grow and the voice recognition increases in the ability to fulfill on the other side.

Anindya Ghose: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Riback: Are you seeing it more… are you seeing uptake in the US? How does it correlate with uptake on this capability in Asia?

Anindya Ghose:  I haven’t analyzed US data on a more formal basis, but I’ve looked at some data anecdotally, there are similar trends. Like we also here in the US, we are finding that there is like smart home products tend to be one of the most dominant categories that people buy using voice devices.

Chris Riback: Yes.

Anindya Ghose: People are buying voice control lighting products, or voice control curtains. We’ve definitely see that. The other thing that we see both here in the US and in China is that voice-based shopping is making it easier for people to switch across brands.

In some strange way, the whole brand loyalty thing might be taking somewhat of a hit, because people… Again, I think in China we definitely see that, in the US it’s early days, but the anecdotal early evidence seems to suggest that the impact of voice devices on brand loyalty may be actually somewhat negative as opposed to what we’d originally hypothesize.

Chris Riback: I could see that because when you gave the example a moment ago about the batteries, you didn’t say Alexa-

Anindya Ghose: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. Right. Exactly. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Riback: … device give me the, the Duracell batteries that fits. Whereas if I go into a store to buy batteries, I am pretty aware of what brand I’m buying. But you’re right, I would just say to Alexa, “Alexa, get me new batteries for my remote.”

Anindya Ghose: Yes, because when you’re talking to human being, you probably wouldn’t feel that shy about saying, “Find me the cheapest pair of jeans.” As opposed to when you walk into a store and you’re talking to a customer service, human being, you might be like, you maybe don’t want to give the impression that you really cheap.

You don’t want to say, “Find me the cheapest pair of jeans.” Right?

Chris Riback: Right, right.

Anindya Ghose: I think the fact that we can interact with a device, which is almost human like, but is not human, takes away that stigma of trying to be terse and efficient with money. I think something maybe that’s also a factor in why brand loyalty might be taking a hit.

Chris Riback: All the good parts of being human, but without the judgment attached to it.

Anindya Ghose: That’s right. Well, that’s why when the Japanese were asked that, “Hey, do you want more immigrants or do you want robots?” They said, “Robots because immigrants can still judge us.” Yes.

Chris Riback: Oh wow. Yes. I guess that makes sense. Anindya to close out, and I could talk to you about these topics forever, I’ve-

Anindya Ghose: Sure.

Chris Riback:  … referenced this earlier and amid the joking, I was serious on this point, I am confident that among your honors and accomplishments, you may be most proud of your 2019 NYU Stern Distinguished Teaching Award. I happen to know earning those teaching awards, it’s really hard and it means that you have really, really connected with most importantly your students. Those awards are really special, I happen to know.

Could you give us a sense of two things. One, we all hear lots of things about the millennial and now the Gen Z generations, you engage with them every day at NYU and at other universities and in your studies, how would you characterize those generations and in particular the Gen Z generation, what should we know?

Anindya Ghose: I think… Well first of all, you’re right. I’m very, very proud about the teaching award. It’s a huge source of gratification to be recognized by several different constituencies. I teach not just the undergrads, I’ve taught full-time MBAs, part-time MBAs, exec MBAs, many of the specialist’s degree programs, so it was a really, a very, very gratified feeling.

To your question about how Gen Z or millennials are different, I think I’ve seen them being number one, far more comfortable with technology than maybe the previous generation. I often refer to them as the iGeneration because by the time they were 12, they all had an iPhone or an Nokia or a smartphone.

The world of technology is something that they embrace and they live and breathe every single day. I think more on a cultural level, I find them far more informed and maybe again, the fact that they have easy access to the internet and social media enables that information dissemination, and third I find them far more willing to be active. They have very strong opinions on some key issues related to humanity, whether it’s climate change or environment or healthcare or education or income inequality.

They in fact, are very much willing to participate in embracing their activist mindset. They’re very willing to participate in conversations, that involve policy changes or regulations and so on.

I think that is something that I see, even though it’s not a topic I teach in class, but it comes across in conversations every now and then.

Chris Riback: Yes.

Anindya Ghose:  But I think those are all very good positive things to see.

Chris Riback: Excellent. Well, thank you for giving us some insight. Maybe that’ll be our subsequent podcast. We’ll have one on the outdoors on mountaineering, and then we’ll do one-

Anindya Ghose: Sure.

Chris Riback:  … on the benefits and psychology of Gen Z and the millennials. Anindya thank you. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your always, always fascinating work.

Anindya Ghose: Thank you, Chris. Thanks so much for having me and look forward to the next one with you.

Chris Riback: Me, too.