Interview: Srikanth Velamakanni, Co-Founder, Fractal Analytics

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In this interview, we quiz Srikanth Velamakanni, Co-Founder, Group Chief Executive and Executive Vice Chairman at Fractal Analytics, on a range of topics covering Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ask him about the company, how they help companies on their AI transformation journey, how AI can help leverage strategic data to stay ahead of the competition, how AI can help in healthcare, AI adoption in the region by both governments and private companies, and finally, if AI and Robots will take up our jobs in future.

He reckons AI can dramatically increase productivity and boost country’s overall GDP per capita and growth.

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Here are the interview excerpts:

Srikanth Fractal Analytics

What is your company’s USP and how do you differentiate from your competitors who are providing similar AI solutions?

The key thing is…there’s tremendous excitement about what AI can magically do for us. But, another important aspect is how do you deploy and scale at big organizations. I think AI alone is not enough. If you have to solve big problems inside organizations you’ve to bring in capabilities to predict or automate things with AI. But you’ve to also need to bring in enterprise data and put that intelligence into the decision-making pipeline and also think of the users who are going to do that. Unless you put the user first and base your design with them in mind you cannot really solve any problems and change people’s behaviour. It’s like you create a beautiful new toy and no one is using it.

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How Fractal Analytics is different is… we think of every problem at scale and how to bring in AI, engineering, and design inside organizations to solve their problems. That’s what is uniquely different with Fractals. We think while data will tell the story, understanding of human behavior is also important. So, we try to bring in the left brain science of data and right brain science of human emotions, in the way of AI design.

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What is often happening these days is basically…while large companies with their announcements on cool AI things they come out with, most of them will be results from their labs. The results may be fascinating but how many people will be actually using it. Not many. So, those organizations when we talk to them they say they are in a digital transformation journey or AI transformation journey. Essentially what they are asking is how can they use data to drive better decision makings. They might be piloting different initiatives but acknowledge they have a long way to go in the AI journey. We help them prioritize based on their business objectives and use cases. We might start with a single problem and solve it at scale. Using that momentum, we try to create excitement in the organization and solve more problems. That may happen. Sometimes clients start with one problem and sometimes they say they want a roadmap.

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Where is AI most useful?

To know where AI is most useful, we should start asking where data most important or where is data most collected. That’s the default situation. But it’s also important to note that in competitive industries, data is your biggest competitive asset that is underleveraged. So wherever industries are operating in a high competition, you will see organizations use AI as their new weapon. If companies have got strategic data assets, it’s even better. This is the reason why today Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the likes are unbeatable. It’s not just because of their cool technology but of the amazing amount of data they hold. As an example, Amazon bought Whole Foods. At first, it might look like Amazon wants to get into retail or to get into grocery business or maybe to leverage their Prime program better. All these could be good reasons for the acquisition.

If you have strategic data assets, it’s even more important. If you see Google, Facebook, Amazon is today unbeatable not just because of their cool technology but of the amazing amount of data they hold.

The most important reason might be that they want to understand the customer better. Through grocery shopping, Amazon will even get more understanding of the consumer. They already know what their customers do on the web. Now, they will also know what their customers do physically. Now, think about the power of that. So, it’s all down to who has the data. So the data is a strategic asset in such cases.

How well are governments around the world adopting AI to reap its benefits?

If you look around, perhaps, last two or two and half years, it started with Canada. But, every single country over the years has recognized the importance of AI.
Governments might be the biggest users of AI. Because the idea of governing a large population is to understand them well and to serve them better and solving some of
the bigger problems through AI. This is now a recognition across the globe, and so every country in the world have made AI a priority for them. Specifically, countries like Canada, China, UK, USA, in that order has made a phenomenal job of using AI. Other countries are following suit. The challenges may be different in different countries.

For example, I saw a report on healthcare by UAE’s AI minister on solving tuberculosis (TB) through AI. Dubai and the UAE attracts a lot of migrant labourers and they have to undergo manual health checks to detect TB cases. Now, if this process can be automated, it can be a huge saver of money as well as cutting down the time to detect and diagnose TB, thereby providing a much better health outcome for the entire population of Dubai and the UAE.

Qure.ai solution

Tuberculosis is one of the largest killer diseases in the world today. What we have developed is, using chest x-ray to automatically detect the likelihood of TB and because of that dramatically reduce the cost of screening and increase the speed of screening for individuals.

How do you see private companies adopting AI in this region?

My observation has been that because of a relatively smaller population, the number of customers and data sets are smaller. So, the traditional approach was that I can probably use a spreadsheet to solve a problem. That has now changed. If value derived from AI was not much earlier, now AI has become a major driver for productivity growth by automation. In the absence of AI and automation, the lack of population or the requirement for white collar job types means the need to hire more immigrant workers, leading to more issues.

AI can dramatically increase productivity and boost the country’s overall GDP per capita. Private companies also realize that hiring talent is not only expensive but
hard too, and can turn to AI for growth.

Will AI replace jobs?

It is a tidal wave. If something doesn’t make sense, no matter how hard we try it will not make sense. For example, 100 years ago we had horse-drawn carriages,
employing hundreds and thousands of people. But, with the introduction of automobiles people moved to cars. It no longer mattered if taxes were imposed on cars,
which would just only delay in people opting for cars by a few years.

That’s the tidal wave.

There are a few manual activities, mostly routine, which will get automated, and hence those jobs will disappear. Nobody can stop it. But, the good news is that when jobs go away, we humans get bored. As Martin says, when we are bored, we are creators. We come up with new solutions and completely new things and the world move forward. There is nothing better than a bored human mind.

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