Interview with Ayesha Khanna, CEO ADDO AI

Interview with Ayesha Khanna, CEO ADDO AI
Ayesha Khanna, CEO ADDO AI

By Helmuth Fuchs

Moneycab: Ayesha Khanna, many believe the new decade to be dominated by artificial intelligence (AI). Which are in your opinion the biggest problems that will be solved with AI within the next few years?

Ayesha Khanna: With the proliferation of data generated by both humans and machines, Artificial intelligence (AI) becomes a natural next step to automate, optimise and innovate experiences and products. Three areas of potential good that AI can bring to society excite me.

„It is perhaps the most cruel injustice when someone isn’t given the skills to better their circumstances through hard work and human ingenuity.“ Ayesha Khanna, CEO ADDO AI

First is providing better access and outcomes for all patients. This can be achieeved in a variety of ways including through AI virtual assistants who can guide patients in remote areas, AI-powered tools like the hand-held ultrasound scanner Butterfly IQ, and AI that supports radiologists and surgeons to analyse scans and medical histories better.

Second, transporation is the biggest pain point in rapidly urbanising cities and causes pollution, stress and loss of productivity. By streamling mobility services using AI, we can reduce private car ownership and have optimised traffic flow in cities (and that’s before we even come to the topic of autonomous cars and their benefits).

Third, and most dear to me, is democratising access to education. It is perhaps the most cruel injustice when someone isn’t given the skills to better their circumstances through hard work and human ingenuity. With the proliferation of mobile phones, we will have the ability to provide personalised learning to students, identifying their weaknesses and working with them to improve desired outcomes. This is the only way to counter the dearth of good teachers we face around the world, not to mention the lack of good schools and curriculum. I have full faith that when more of us are connected and educated, we will find faster solutions to the challenges we face together as a species.

Asia seem in general to be more welcoming to the benefits of AI while in Europe the threats to existing jobs and the risks of AI seem to have a bigger weight. Which countries can serve as role models in the usage of AI and how can we make sure that AI benefits the whole society, not only the lucky few experts and companies that provide AI solutions?

It is indeed true that there seems to be more enthusiasm to adopt AI in Asia while Europe has a more cautionary approach. Personally I think an extreme on either end – naïve adoption or pessimistic aversion – is an unproductive approach. The key is to use AI to solve problems while simultaneously providing data privacy and AI governance to reassure citizens. In this respect, I believe Singapore provides a good model for both Asia and Europe.

„By training citizens in the basic techniques of AI, we democratise and level the field.“

Singapore has a three pronged strategy to encourage the application of AI to its economy: first, it provides subsidies and support to its small businesses that are the backbone of its economy; second, it provides subsidies and universities for its own citizens to learn AI so that they are not displaced by automation; and third, it is developing an AI governance framework to guide companies on good and ethical practices.

In general, given the huge population in Asia (From 1.3billion in India to 650m in the ASEAN region), there is a tremendous amount of consumer data (with trillions more data points coming with 5G and IoT). But data and AI have to be used in a circumspect manner. By training citizens in the basic techniques of AI, we democratise and level the field. This is the key – provide small businesses and individuals access and training so that they are not left behind. Security, privacy, inclusivity are the principles on which we must build our AI systems to be human-centered.

You founded a charity that delivers free coding and artificial intelligence classes to girls in Singapore. Why are girls and women not more prominently present in the Startup and ICT scene and what can be done to change that?

There has historically been an unfortunate societal bias in which girls were led to believe that they would not be well suited to or capable of being in the engineering and computer science fields. This resulted in decades of women not opting to study computing and artificial intelligence, which led to lack of gender diversity and representation in the field.

„First, girls are as expected very good at data science, and second, their confidence and interest goes up immensely when they are in a safe encouraging environment.“

Today, I find myself one of the few women with a technical background who sits in board room meetings and advises CEOs on artificial intelligence. But I wanted to change this reality and shatter the myth that girls are not good at AI. So I set up a charity in Singapore called 21st Century Girls (21C Girls) and we are teaching girls (from 8yrs- 22yrs) the basics of coding and artificial intelligence.

We immediately see two things after girls attend our courses: first, they are as expected very good at data science, and second, their confidence and interest goes up immensely when they are in a safe encouraging environment. I believe that gender diversity leads to better products, less bias and ultimately is better for the work environment and the company’s financial bottom line. Governments and companies need to make a concerted and systematic effort to encourage and attract women in tech, otherwise, half of a country’s population is deprived of participating in this revolutionary sector.

The first two decades of digitization produced a handful of US and Chinese monopolists which dominate the market like rarely any companies before. How will AI influence this development in this decade, enforce it or break it up?

I strongly believe that with every new technological disruption, there is a chance for those who got left behind to leapfrog. That is why many political leaders in the emerging economies have called artificial intelligence a chance for their citizens to join a new race. China and the US have so far dominated the tech evolution but the market opportunity is enormous.

„Many of the most innovative companies in the United States were built by immigrants who thrived in the go-getter entrepreneurial spirit of America.“

With countries like India, Pakistan, and others with huge populations of young, motivated citizens, we will see a golden age of AI-based unicorns coming from these previously undervalued regions. After all, many of the most innovative companies in the United States, for example, were built by immigrants who thrived in the go-getter entrepreneurial spirit of America which I love. This is what Europe and Asia must now bring to the table.

Technical skills are only half the battle: connecting the dots between business problems and technical skills, and then going to market with a product takes grit and resilience and a high tolerance for the inevitable bumps along the way. With this combination, it’s anyone’s game to win.

Schools very often are still teaching within structures that helped to shape the last industrial revolution but might not be the best fit for the current digital development. Which skills and knowledge should schools focus on to best prepare the next generation for current and future challenges?

One thing is clear: our current education system around the world is broken and ill-equipped to prepare our children for a world in which technology will infuse every industry. Strategic problem-solving will be a prized skill, as will technical prowess. We’ll also need to teach our youth critical thinking so that they can evaluate how we want to use technology to make our lives more efficient, even biologically enhanced perhaps, all while maintaining our privacy and our agency.

„Our current education system around the world is broken and ill-equipped to prepare our children for a world in which technology will infuse every industry.“

Yet our current schooling does none of this: most schools don’t have computational literacy as a mandatory subject, we still evaluate students on tests and grades instead of problem-based projects, and we certainly do not expose them to the nuances and complexities of living in a world with machines. We don’t remind them that whether it is the fear of Big Brother with AI or a horrible fate if we don’t control machine learning, the most important facet we must cultivate in us is our own agency – the intent and will to act in favour of our survival and progress. This is why my next book is on human agency and how to maintain it and amplify it in an age of AI.

When we empower ourselves with skills and knowledge, we can be incredibly creative and ingenious in coming up with solutions and scaling new horizons.

If you were given unlimited resources, which problem would you solve, which product would you develop?

Undoubtedly the most pressing existential problem facing humanity is climate change. We must devote our research and innovation resources to finding solutions that will save the planet. I have to commend all the youth that have been so inspiring and motivated these last few years, from Malala Yousafzai to Greta Thurnberg, reminding us that we must focus on the important aspects of species survival.

„Undoubtedly the most pressing existential problem facing humanity is climate change.“

It would be a catastrophic and unforgivable on our part as an intelligent species to not focus our attention fully on this, and the AI community in particular should become more involved. Some of the things we can do using AI is have energy-efficient data centers, homes, transport and buildings, to better forecast weather events like cyclones and coordinate emergency response, and to do simulations on the impact of climate change and how we can tackle it.

Ayesha Kanna on Linkedin

ADDO AI
is an Enterprise AI solutions firm that powers your vision with artificial intelligence and machine learning. We were honoured to be selected by Forbes magazine as one of four AI companies in Asia that will transform the world. https://addo.ai/

Das Interview entstand im Rahmen des Alpensymposiums 2020

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