August 27, 2018

CEO Center Stage: Amir Husain, Founder and CEO of SparkCognition

Congrats - We recently saw that SparkCognition was named #9 on the Wall Street Journal's Tech Companies to Watch 2018 list! What do you think prompted the recognition and sets you apart from other artificial intelligence companies?

The Wall Street Journal looks for companies that have attracted the attention of the tech community, that have won the confidence of investors, that have been growing rapidly, and are genuinely innovative. We fit all of those criteria. Since our founding in 2013, we’ve scaled fast and acquired dozens of major clients and partners, including Duke Energy, State Street, DIUx, Honeywell and many more. We had a tremendously successful Series B funding, raising a total of $56.5 million.

Perhaps even more importantly, we occupy an important and unique niche within the tech industry. Our goal is to realize the immense potential of AI, and build AI solutions to advance the most important interests of society. To that end, we’ve magnified our AI capabilities with deep domain expertise in our industry verticals. Our team includes aerospace engineers, mechanical engineers, astronomers, physicists, former Department of Defense staff members, and PhDs in an incredibly diverse array of fields. We have a genuine understanding of both artificial intelligence and of our customers, their industries, and their problems.

We are also dedicated to actively advancing the science of AI. We’ve been involved in a number of research initiatives, and have produced new algorithms, patents and peer-reviewed academic papers. A particular priority for us is explainable AI: to make AI technologies less of a black box so that they can be trusted with important functions in our lives.

How is SparkCognition helping propel organizations to the next level of innovation? Can you give an example?

SparkCognition isn’t just a vendor providing a widget, shipping it in a box, and leaving the rest up to the customer. We combine the industry’s most productized industrial AI platforms with our domain expertise and growing data sets. Our goal is to build human-level synthetic intelligence applied at machine scale to optimize operations and find new solutions to old problems. In doing all this, we help our customers weave AI capabilities into the fabric of their organizations. SparkCognition enables organizations to adapt to a rapidly changing digital landscape and accelerate their business strategies with AI capabilities.

A great example of this is our work with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS). MHPS is collaborating with SparkCognition to implement AI for predictive maintenance into its MHPS-TOMONI platform. In doing so, they are fundamentally changing the utility business model. Even in today’s highly efficient power plants, asset monitoring and maintenance continue to be suboptimal, directly impacting the bottom line. AI-based machine learning automatically predicts and analyzes known and unknown signatures. By integrating AI-powered predictive maintenance into the TOMONI asset monitoring platform, MHPS is able to offer customers increased plant availability.

You focus on AI applications across many industries. In your opinion, what industry is being most disrupted by AI and why?

Virtually all industries are being or will be disrupted by AI; it’s only a question of when. In industries like transportation, cybersecurity, and healthcare, AI is already becoming the new normal. Other industries, like manufacturing, have been slower to adopt the technology. But that adoption will happen. It would be unwise to assume otherwise. Even in the industries that are lagging behind, AI is beginning to creep in, and the window of opportunity is still open for companies that want to get a head start on the competition.

This isn’t just supposition; the research shows that early AI adopters see better financial performance. The latest organization to release a report on this topic is McKinsey Global Institute, who concluded after surveying organizations and their financial progress that firms investing in AI may be gaining “an insurmountable advantage.”

What would you say to organizations hesitant to implement AI?

Obviously, one of the biggest points to be made is that those who do not invest in AI risk falling behind. And in some cases, irrecoverably so. Thus, one naturally asks, why then are some organizations hesitant to adopt AI? While many understand that AI is the future, few are certain as to how to implement it. The AI landscape is growing rapidly and so many vendors are claiming “AI” solutions; it’s daunting to sift the wheat from the chaff. It’s tempting for some organizations to decide that the challenges of implementation outweigh the benefits.

This may be accurate in the short run, but in the long run, this approach will not be successful. It’s akin to someone declaring that they’re too busy chopping down a tree with an axe to learn how to use a chainsaw. There may be a learning curve, and it will require investments of time, personnel, and resources, but the end result will be vastly improved processes.

There are also ways to make the process of implementation easier. Choosing the right kind of project for your company is important for organizations just starting to venture into AI. You want to make sure you’re not blindly applying AI when a simpler solution will suffice - that your project has clearly defined goals which will provide real business value, and that you’re engaging your team from the bottom up.

What's on the horizon for SparkCognition?

Right now, we are continuing to expand internationally. We launched a new office in Dubai just this past April, and we are looking to further our reach worldwide. We’re also looking to expand into additional industries and increase our penetration in strategically identified areas. Most of all, we want to continue doing the work that we were founded on - furthering the science, technology, and applications of AI to advance the most important interests of society.

Tags: Artificial Intelligence , Sparkcognition , AI , CEO Center Stage , Wall Street Journal