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TechConnect Panel Discusses Attainability of Artificial Intelligence for Startups

September 01, 2017

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming an important component of success for tech startups. During the GIST Network TechConnect “Artificial Intelligence for Startups,” experts from Amazon Web Services explained that incorporating AI into a startup is much more attainable than some entrepreneurs may realize.

Fielding questions from viewing groups around the world, the TechConnect panelists talked about the monetary benefits of using AI, how entrepreneurs should approach incorporating AI into their venture, and advice for how new AI service companies can make their startups more accessible.

Hassan Sawaf, director of artificial intelligence at AWS, said founders interested in adding an artificial intelligence program to their services, often do not need to build the system from scratch.

“You can bootstrap from existing systems,” Sawaf said. “For example, you want to develop a natural language-understanding system, you don’t need to start it from scratch. You can focus on things which other people have already built.”

According to Sawaf, there are many different AI platforms that have already been developed. Entrepreneurs looking to use AI can use these existing platforms for their startups, and build any modifications or specifications from there.

AI usage is also not limited by how much an entrepreneur knows about computer science. Ben Snively, specialist solutions architect for data and analytics at AWS, said that AI has evolved over the years, creating programs that enable founders from various backgrounds—from beginner to deep data scientist—to use AI programs and systems to their benefit.

However, Joseph Spisak, head of artificial intelligence partnerships at AWS, said not all AI platforms are universal. Spisak said entrepreneurs hoping to use AI need to be aware of the type of AI programs and systems they want to use because systems can vary depending on a startup’s domain or industry.

Spisak added that anytime a consumer or a customer is interacting with a human, “there are opportunities to take a chat box into the workflow and add efficiency to the application, and improve the user experience.”

During the TechConnect, Spisak also stressed the importance of gaining an expertise in a niche market or specific area for startups providing AI services.

“I’ve seen startups that can survive for a while as generalist AI platforms or services, but at some point they need to pick a domain,” he said. “I think having that domain expertise is where your competitive advantage comes from.”

All three panelists talked about ways students interested in AI programs can build the skill set necessary to work in the industry. In particular, both Sawaf and Spisak highlighted areas of study that included math, computer science and coding.

“Those are a lot of concrete skills that folks need to learn, and if students get excited about those skills, they’ll do well in AI,” added Snively. “But just in general, getting children really excited in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)…I think that will be a catalyst to help encourage kids.”

Viewing groups included:

  • Information Resource Center in Tunis, Tunisia
  • American Corner Tunis
  • American Corner S-fax, Tunisia
  • American Cultural Center Algeria
  • Innovation Centre Kosovo
  • American Corner, Tirana, Albania
  • Embassy Gaborone, Botswana
  • Embassy Abuja, Nigeria
  • Embassy New Delhi (hosted at Nexus)
  • Barama incubator in Baku, Azerbaijan (in partnership with the U.S. Embassy)
  • Embassy Bujumbura, Burundi
  • Youth Network for Reform at Embassy Monrovia, Liberia
  • Starlight Rwanda, Kigali, Rwanda
  • IdeaCentricity in Lahore, Pakistan
  • Lincoln Learning Centers in Kandahar, Mazar, and Maimana, Afghanistan
  • GIST iHubs at Berytech in Beirut, Lebanon and the Innovation Village in Kampala, Uganda
  • Embassy Kampala, Uganda

View the full TechConnect on Artificial Intelligence for Startups below.