Ayesha Khanna, Ph.D., cofounder and CEO of ADDO AI, has created AI-powered solutions for everyone from Mercy health-care system in the U.S. to Smart Dubai, the agency tasked with transforming Dubai into a smart city. Khanna spoke with Convene over the phone about her keynote at Convening Leaders 2021, which will pinpoint how AI can drive growth for companies; how Singapore, her home base, has become “a living lab for deep tech”; and why it’s more important than ever to stay mindful of privacy concerns and data governance.
Can you share a bit about what your talk at Convening Leaders will cover?
There are three main things that I want to talk about. One is, what does AI do to make [a business] customer centric, why is Singapore the right place for [AI], and the third is, what are the ethics and governance of AI?
One way [to make a business more customer-centric] is automation, [which] is so fundamental to removing inefficiencies in processes and services. When you automate certain processes, leaving out the bureaucracy of them, you actually make the customer journey much more efficient. The second is optimization and innovation. And what this means is that you have something current and you really want to do something more with it. So, you have customers, but you want to give them something extra. [For example] — the huge explosion in retail that we are seeing is personalization.
Singapore is really good for trying out new technologies for the region — [it’s home to] one of the largest regional players in online gaming and e-commerce, Sea. And Biofourmis, a [digital therapeutics company] started off in one of our laboratories and universities.
Like everything else, as data increases and 5G comes and we become more and more used to [seeing AI in] everything from manufacturing to education, the question then is how are you monitoring and controlling bias? How are you monitoring and controlling malicious AI [that can] manipulate people, like fake news? And how are you protecting the privacy of individuals and their data?
While there are many, many benefits for companies, and ultimately their customers, of using AI, it has to be done in a way that is very carefully governed. And the difference between govern and regulate, is that govern has education, policies, and processes involved with it, whereas regulation can be very harsh and limiting to generation.
What are some of the new applications of AI in the events space that you are excited about?
I think one of the most exciting things is going to be VR [virtual reality]. If you look at Facebook’s future of work, what they’re doing is investing in new kinds of ways [to make] avatars much more realistic, [and] the sound projection is such that it is like you are in that space. Making [avatars] much more realistic — that is going to make the event seem less like you’re watching something and [more like] you are literally there, in every way. That, of course, requires artificial intelligence, but it interfaces with virtual reality. And for that you need 5G.
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The other thing that I’ve noticed that’s interesting is the dynamism of home and work … [how] the same space is able to become different things. I expect we’ll have something like Tonal, [an AI-powered home gym] — a contraption that you enter and then you’re in an event space, basically. And that’s where the VR really would kick in. And maybe you would have some sensors on you, and maybe there would be some ways for it to know where you’re looking and moving. I think that will make a huge difference.
It’s really important, whether you are in a physical space or virtual space, that your interests are met. And for that, AI is not just trying to gauge your sense of where — but what are your interests right now? What we usually do is look at somebody’s LinkedIn, and we say this event would interest you … but now with the big data explosion, what we’re finding is that there are ways to respond to how you’re feeling [instead].
You’ve spoken about the importance of upskilling and also created a nonprofit that gives young women a head start in tech and artificial intelligence. For those who are unfamiliar with — and may even be intimidated by — AI, what resources do you recommend they start with?
I think that’s such an important question. I think the most important thing is that we have to make sure that people are not intimidated by AI, and the only way to not be intimidated is to actually learn a little bit about it. I realized [with] a lot of female mentor groups, it’s a lot about encouraging each other, but encouragement on its own without skills is not giving somebody real confidence. And this is how we designed our course, which is just the basics of artificial intelligence. There are also courses like AI for Everyone on Coursera.
Another thing you can do is create a Google alert — so you could create one for “artificial intelligence,” “events,” and “startups” — and every day you’ll get an alert about someone doing something interesting. And what that does, every time you read about it, you just get into it, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I know this, I get it.’ So, the combination of the two means that you’re already in that growth mindset, when you’re open to it and you’re not afraid. I think that’s all you need, really.
How do you think that the pandemic has accelerated the need for AI?
It’s accelerated digitization. We see immediately that the No. 1 concern everyone has, is [do they have] a place to live in, food, and medicine? So, what we have found is that there’s a great deal of interest in e-commerce. Now we’re going to see in the future that new cities being built will actually have terraces that are equipped for drone delivery, because we think we’re going to have this [pandemic] situation every decade or so. We need to be prepared. The very way we construct our cities is going to be different.
In health care, [we’re seeing] much more telemedicine — where you can go to a clinic where the nurse is carrying a handheld ultrasound machine [like the Butterfly iQ, used to diagnose Pneumonia in COVID-19 patients] and it connects to a doctor who happens to be 20 miles away.
[Eventually, what we could see is] the 15-minute city, where everything is 15 minutes around you. And that requires a lot of technology and AI. AI is in the ultrasound that you’re using, the personalized education that you’re getting, the e-commerce logistics optimization that you’re getting, and it’s in the security of your home that you’re getting.
What we’re seeing a shift towards a more dynamic, real-time digital economy that demands the same level of service — whether it’s an event or clinical diagnosis or education — but available digitally and close by.
Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor at Convene. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.