Experts: Austin poised to 'rule the AI world'

Tech leaders argued March 12 at a South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals panel titled “Can Austin Rule the AI World?” that the city of Austin could be the hub for the next major innovation in computing: artificial intelligence.

Amir Husain, founder and CEO of Sparkcognition Inc.; Akshay Sabhiki, CEO of CognitiveScale; Manoj Saxena, founding general partner and managing director of the Entrepreneurs Fund; and Doreen Lorenzo, director of the Center for Integrated Design at the University of Texas discussed artificial intelligence and Austin March 13. Amir Husain, founder and CEO of Sparkcognition Inc.; Akshay Sabhiki, CEO of CognitiveScale; Manoj Saxena, founding general partner and managing director of the Entrepreneurs Fund; and Doreen Lorenzo, director of the Center for Integrated Design at the University of Texas discussed artificial intelligence and Austin as part of a SXSW Interactive session March 13.[/caption]

Akshay Sabhikhi, CEO of CognitiveScale, a firm utilizing artificial intelligence, said Austin’s history as a collaborative area for startups and young companies—as well as the presence of the University of Texas and presence of venture capitalists—make the city a leader in the young field of artificial intelligence.

Sabhikhi said the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has helped foster a startup-friendly environment, but the city needs more capital, specifically to fund growth and late-stage companies.

Artificial intelligence may seem like a foreign concept to some consumers, panelists said, but most people interact with it on a daily basis without realizing it. Artificial intelligence is at work in voice recognition and command programs such as Siri and Google Now, as well as in the aviation and energy industries.

The panelists were in agreement that the world and Austin have only begun to realize the potential that artificial intelligence offers.

“This stuff that’s happening [with artificial intelligence] is one of the most important things mankind will ever do,” said Manoj Saxena, founding general partner and managing director of the Entrepreneurs Fund. “This thing is bigger than the web and the Internet. We’ll look back 10 years from now and will truly understand this was an inflection point on the scale of alphabets, the printing press, Internet."

Saxena said normal computing can answer questions posed by a user. The benefit of artificial, or machine, intelligence is that it answers questions the users did not even know they should be asking, he said.

"The real power of machine intelligence is in telling you things you don't know you don't know," he said.

Amir Husain, CEO of Sparkcognition Inc., another firm using artificial intelligence, said for many people, the words “artificial intelligence” arouse feelings of worry about machines replacing or harming humans.

“I don’t think people should be worried at all,” Husain said. “If you think about it, you should be worried about other things killing you sooner than AI will kill you.”

Saxena said artificial intelligence will be as disruptive as Uber has been for the transportation industry, AirBnB has been for the accommodations industry and the telephone was for early message delivery services.

He said he expects jobs will be lost due to artificial intelligence, but the benefits outweigh the potential losses.

“The two biggest impacts of AI on the jobs side is creating new jobs that provide you more skills to be more productive,” he said. “[The other impact] is it creates a whole new level of jobs. When the web came about, there was nothing called web marketing. There was no HTML design. Same thing with this. There will be a new class of jobs.”


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