Keeping humanity at the forefront of AI development

Not surprisingly, debate about AI’s impact on the future of society, people and jobs was once again a central topic of discussion at SXSW Interactive this week in Austin. But what was different from past years was the increased prevalence of real-world, practical AI applications on display in Austin and the raft of insights and learnings from the tech, design and business leaders behind these innovations.

For sure, we are still in very early innings of the AI-first phase of the digital revolution, but the notable increase in real-world intelligent applications is indicative of how rapidly things are accelerating.

As business leaders, this shift will continue to dramatically change how we build teams, products and interact with our customers. It’s no longer acceptable to just have a great mobile app or website. The experiences we bring to customers are now everywhere they exist and live — and that is a very different frame for the products you build and the experiences we bring to peoples’ lives.

As builders, creators and makers in an increasingly AI-first world, how can we build and lead teams that solve real problems for customers and keep humanity at the forefront of AI development?

Starting with purpose

One consistent theme that echoed throughout SXSW talks and panels was that the builders and creators in an AI-first world have both a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to harness data and technology in ways that truly benefit people.

It’s important that the teams building these products are driven by a sense of purpose. What is central to our mission as a company and what motivates us every day is that we have both the opportunity and responsibility to build products and experiences that improve people’s financial lives — saving them time, money, and making them feel more confident and in charge of their circumstances.

In an AI-first world, that means building intelligent products that are more proactive and interactive in helping people manage their finances and their broader financial lives — and doing so in a way that is paradoxically more human-like than the way the financial industry brings products to life today.

Banks have historically expected people to come to their bank to check in on how things are going. The future of banking will increasingly be about helping people in the moment of their need, wherever they are, and proactively doing things on their behalf — from helping people in big ways that keep them out of financial trouble to small ways every day that save time and make banking simpler.

That was the impetus behind the new digital product capabilities we launched at SXSW this week. Last year at SXSW, we announced the launch of Eno, Capital One’s intelligent assistant. Since last year, we have continued to expand Eno’s capabilities in new ways to enhance our customers’ financial lives, and this week, we announced that Eno had extended its capabilities to provide our customers greater security and control over their online shopping experience. With Eno, Capital One cardholders can now shop online without using their real credit card number — giving customers greater control over access to their private information and eliminating hassles and manual work when cards are lost or stolen.

We wanted to relieve a common source of anxiety for our customers and give them greater peace of mind. In the future as Eno learns, Eno’s interactions with customers will continue to become more personalized and proactive, operating as an intelligent assistant that is looking out for our customers and their money.

Character matters

With the rise of new conversational interfaces, intelligent assistants will increasingly become the backbone of the customer experience. That represents a dramatic shift in how companies and brands interact with their customers today. How you design your intelligent assistant’s character and personality will define the way you connect with your customers in an AI-first world.

When designing Capital One’s intelligent assistant we recognized that character development was a capability we didn’t have — so we sought out filmmakers, anthropologists, journalists and user experience designers with deep experience in character development and diverse perspectives to help define and shape how our intelligent assistant would connect with our customers.

Capital One Head of AI Design Audra Koklys Plummer, a former filmmaker who worked for studios such as Dreamworks, Lucasfilm and Pixar, spoke at SXSW about how the team approached the design of Eno.

The most valuable thing I learned as a filmmaker was that thoughtful character design is crucial to making a connection with an audience. What makes that connection so strong is the humanity of the characters. We can build that humanity into our intelligent assistants. In order to do that, we need infrastructure that serves up personalized messages dynamically and a system that is aware of the context of the conversation we are having with our customers-not only what they are trying to do, but how they feel,-Audra Koklys Plummer
2 women and 1 man gesturing in front of blue presentation screen

We’ve been encouraged by indicators that Eno is striking the right chord. Our customers have rated Eno 4.6 out of 5 stars, and one of the top three most texted phrases from our customers to Eno is “thank you.” That signaled that we’re achieving something greater than just accuracy (which is also critical) — but that we were connecting with our customers in a deeper, more human-like way.

These type of conversations with our customers are meant to evoke emotion and lead to relationships rooted in trust, empathy, and understanding, and they create an experience that has customers paying attention with their hearts as well as their minds,-Audra Koklys Plummer

Building systems that are empathetic requires going beyond rational thought and taking a journey into the ‘unthinking’ mind — the irrational, limbic, emotional mind, said Katya Andresen, Senior Vice President, Card Customer Experience, Capital One, in a powerful talk at SXSW exploring how neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics provide the tools for building brands and customer experiences that are loved, lasting and life-changing.

We all have the same job: to understand people so deeply that we can create things — products, teams, companies — that matter deeply. Often, we constrain ourselves to building experiences predicated on the thinking mind. But that’s far too limited. Expanding our efforts to include the unthinking mind is the key to true leadership and innovation. When we incorporate and create for this state of mind, we are able to build great companies and change lives for the better,-Katya Andresen, Senior Vice President, Card Customer Experience, Capital One
woman in midst of speaking in front of blue presentation screen with white text

Empowering innovative teams

From launching the first skill on Amazon Alexa that allowed people to interact with their financial accounts in 2016 to achieving another industry first with the launch of our intelligent assistant Eno in 2017, our Conversational AI team has continued to build innovative firsts in the financial industry.

In a rapidly changing environment, there are a few core principles that inspire and empower our team.

  • Continuous learning 

We’re focused on helping teams stay current on macro trends — from machine learning to new styles of interfaces to changing business models. Equally important is ensuring your workforce has access to learn about technology and build new technical skills. Through our Tech College program, all associates at Capital One have the opportunity to access a world-class, engineer-designed learning program that offers a comprehensive curriculum focused on the latest technology disciplines.

  • Think big 

Have the courage to aspire to grand ambitions, but have the discipline to quickly recognize and sunset those concepts that didn’t work.

  • Encourage experimentation 

Encourage your teams to experiment, knowing that many of them will fail.

  • Diversity matters 

 Build and foster a diverse and inclusive culture where every voice is heard and matters. Everyone has a unique point of view to share, shaped by their life experiences, cultures, and passions.

  • Keep shipping 

We’re in the business of building real-world products that solve real-world customer problems at scale — and the best way we do that is by getting the product in hands of our customers. One reason we love to keep coming back to SXSW every year is that it’s a great opportunity to share early products and concepts with the world, get feedback, and exchange ideas.

Today, we are just scratching the surface of the customer problems we can solve through machine learning and AI. Now is the time to build a strong foundation for the future by pairing intelligence with humanity to ensure every customer experience achieves its potential to improve lives.


Eno is learning all the time and may not be able to answer all questions or perform all tasks. Eno service outages may occur. Capital One customers are responsible for regularly checking their account statements. Web access is needed to use mobile banking. Check with your service provider for details on specific fees and charges. Texting with Eno means you agree to chat about your account over SMS and receive recurring messages. Message and data rates may apply. Mobile phone carrier fees for text messages may apply. 

Some or all Eno features may not be available to all Capital One customers, depending on the types of accounts held. For example, certain bank accounts are not eligible to text with Eno, and Eno email notifications, app notifications and virtual card numbers from Eno may not be available for certain credit cards.

Don Busick, Executive Vice President, Digital Product Development, Capital One

Senior Executive within Capital One's Digital Organization, an enterprise team focused on transforming the company from a bank to a software company. Leads a team that literally shapes the way every customer interacts with this top 10 bank (and largest digital bank) in the U.S. Responsible for digital strategy, product innovation, product management and operations for a broad range of online, sales and servicing products and platforms across Capital One. Leader of Capital One’s breakthrough API transformation strategy and implementation, digital analytics, and customer identity management capabilities.

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