Amidst the intellectual buzz of CODE Conference, Raja Agrawal, Head of Azure Sales at Microsoft Middle East, took the stage with a mission: to demystify the enigma surrounding artificial intelligence. His topic, “The Resurgence of AI: What’s Driving the Popularity of AI in Today’s Landscape,” echoed in the eager minds of the audience. With an aura of expertise, Raja delved into the intricacies of AI, unraveling the unseen forces propelling its resurgence in our contemporary world.
In the midst of a captivated audience, Raja commenced his discourse by expressing gratitude for the wealth of knowledge shared throughout the conference. He acknowledged the collective brilliance of the attendees, each playing a pivotal role in the ever-evolving tech ecosystem. With these shared sentiments, he seamlessly transitioned into the heart of his speech, dissecting the very core of AI’s resurgence.
Raja’s narrative was not just a technical exploration; it was a profound journey through time and innovation. He adeptly navigated through AI’s historical roots, tracing its evolution from the 1950s to the present day. Using insightful anecdotes and global perspectives, he painted a vivid picture of AI’s multifaceted growth, emphasizing its transformation into a powerhouse that shapes our world.
His discourse transcended technological jargon, delving into societal shifts catalyzed by AI. From the explosive growth of data to the challenges posed by shrinking attention spans, Raja unveiled the intricate tapestry of AI’s impact on our lives. He eloquently explained how the fusion of extensive data, computational prowess, and collaborative solutions is driving AI’s modern-day popularity.
As the applause reverberated through the conference hall, Raja’s revelations lingered in the minds of the attendees. The resurgence of AI was no longer a mystery; it was an unfolding story, elucidated by Raja Agrawal’s insightful words. In a world where innovation knows no bounds, CODE Conference bore witness to the profound insights shared by Raja, shedding light on the transformative force of artificial intelligence in our contemporary landscape.
Table of Contents
Good afternoon, everybody. I would say let’s start by giving a big round of applause to all the speakers who came before me. What a wonderful day of amazing content it has been, so thank you to everyone who came before me; I learned a lot today. So, I’m Raj Agrawal. I lead a regional sales team that helps larger organizations compete with you and get into the disruptive part of the business. In the next few minutes, I’ll talk about why AI, or the hype around AI, is real, and I’ll connect it to the previous speaker. While everybody is looking for the next big idea or where we are going to find a lot of money, I think a lot of money needs to be made on AI. The world has become, once again, a level playing field where any small organization can compete with the largest of organizations out there. So, by the time I finish, I hope you get some inspiration and go home and do some things around it.
A Note of Thanks to the Startup Ecosystem
I want to start by thanking all of you in the startup ecosystem—the founders, the developers, the interns, the investors—everybody who’s involved in the startup ecosystem for paying my bills for so many years. You might wonder why a B2B sales guy is thanking you for paying my bills. One famous Indian banking CEO once said, “I am not afraid of the other big banks in India; I know what everybody else is doing. What I’m most afraid of is a fintech startup coming and disrupting my business, taking away the top 20% of my customers and giving them products that I am unable to provide.” Having worked across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, I can assure you this fear, this concern, is genuinely real. This is the topic being discussed in the top boardrooms—how do we avoid getting disrupted by a much smaller organization? In my role, I help large companies become the disruption in their own industries before amazing people like you come and disrupt them. So, thank you for keeping them on their toes, working in a different direction.
The World is Changing
I think the world around us is changing in so many ways. Industries are transforming, turning companies that used to sell products into service organizations. Everybody wants recurring sources of revenue, not just one engagement with the customer where you sell and get the revenue and say goodbye. We’re all talking about different sources of revenue, becoming a SaaS service. The economic drivers, the means needed to grow a business, have evolved rapidly, largely thanks to the technology that has come in the last 30-40-50 years. Even technology itself is reaching an inflection point and creating a level playing field. So, when we think about it, how many people in the room have talked about AI or ChatGPT in the last seven days?
Almost everyone, right? Everybody’s talking about AI. Everybody is talking about AI, but sometimes it feels like it’s a resurgence of AI, something new. We weren’t talking so much about it. I’ll take a personal example to explain why it is not something that came in January when ChatGPT was launched.
The Resurgence of AI
AI has been a field of studies since the 1950s, where there are a lot of subfields of study, including machine learning, which has image recognition and deep learning in it. What we came to know about AI recently is the generative AIs, which is the latest, let’s say, subchild of the bigger artificial intelligence field, where a machine tries to mimic human behavior or do something on our behalf.
iPhone Moment of AI
So, just to take this example, this is the first painting I bought in my life. I couldn’t get a better picture, but I hope it gives an idea. When I was in Costa Rica and trying to buy this from the painter, being an Indian, I was trying to negotiate. I asked him, “How much time did it take you to paint this painting?” because I was trying to calculate the business case in my head. If this is $1,000, I’m willing to pay him, let’s say, $10 or $20 per hour. It should have taken him X number of hours before making that decision. He answered me very wisely. He said, “It seems like your first purchase of a painting, so I’m going to answer this to you, but please don’t ever ask a painter again.” His response was very good. He said, “It took me 30 years and 7 days to paint this painting.”
So, 30 years of experience and 7 days to actually paint this, and the same thing has gone behind AI. It has been 70 years of research that we all, our parents, and everyone around us have come to know about in the last five-six months. As a field, AI has been developed. There are a few use cases that I will talk about from our, let’s say, personal professional lives, which will give you an idea of how there has been a lot of work that has been done, and there is a lot to be done for all of us to make a difference in our own small way.
Why the Hype around AI is Real?
So, why the hype is real, and I hope this graph will try to summarize using seven different points or seven dots. When they connect, they show us why the hype is real, and I’ll go into details in them one by one. There has been tremendous data growth; the computational power is growing.
Two things I’ll touch upon. One is all of us becoming impatient. Just when I was coming here from Dubai, I always like to not use my iPhone when I’m sitting in a plane or something and observe people around me. You see a lot of people, like how many things can they do in a few seconds? They switch between Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, so many apps; they can switch within seconds.
Our attention span as humanity has gone down tremendously, and every customer wants a personalized service. If you are buying a car or whatever, you want a personalized service. But what is the biggest difference that is having a huge impact is the ability for us to diffuse the technology, for the ability for a company to build something in India and, let’s say, be able to reach Serbia, Mongolia, or anywhere in the world. Just last night I had dinner with a friend; his cousin in Ajmer is building a company. He was building it for the Indian market.
It’s a digital startup, and he has seen a spike in usage of his services in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia—something he didn’t even build for. The ability for us to reach these different places in the world at the click of a button is just amazing.
Pursuit of GDP Growth
So when we look at the growth of GDP over the centuries, in the beginning, the growth was very linear. The speed at which innovation was happening was slow. This brings home probably the diffusion point. If something was built, if there was a steam engine being built, it took years for that steam engine to have an impact in India or in the rest of the world.
If there was electrification happening somewhere else, it was very difficult to get that innovation spread across the world. However, now with the current technologies, you can build something in India and really reach any person in the world. This is one big factor that puts us and everybody else on a very leveling field where we can develop for the rest of the world.
I think we talked a little bit about the attention span. So here again, I don’t know if it needed a graph to prove my point, but how little we pay attention to things these days when the consumer or the customer wants everything in the minute. There is a lot of that, the 10-minute delivery services and all of these things that are coming, and they will continue to pave the way and find a sustainable business model. Everybody wants individualistic services, which were very difficult to give 5, 10, 20 years ago.
“From Larger Organizations to Individuals, Everybody is a Source of Data”
Again, when we look at the data explosion, all of us are generating humongous amounts of data—from larger organizations to individuals to machines, everybody is a source of data. What is different in today’s world is we are not afraid to share this data to train the algorithms to be personalized for us. All of us have used ChatGPT in one way or form where we shared a lot of personal data with the bot to get personalized answers. So, the data is growing at a faster rate.
There is now technology in different forms where we can secure it and share it with different companies to give and get personalized answers, and on compute power, the growth has been phenomenal, right?
Moore’s law in 1965, which got refined in 1975, was on the number of transistors on the same circuit will double every year, and this has held consistent since 1975. You can imagine the growth. So basically, in simple words, in the same square inch, how many transistors can you put physically without them burning down doubles every year. So, if I can take you back a few decades, there were a lot of bomb shelters built across Europe during World War II. A lot of these bomb shelters have been repurposed to be used as data centers now. So, now imagine you have the same meter squares, maybe ten times the size of this room, where you can just increase the capacity twice every year. This has been going on for years. The amount of compute available to all of us is huge. With the click of a button, right?
The Rise of Algorithms
I take this example. It’s a very famous picture where the algorithm has to detect which of these boxes have a dog or a muffin. There was a huge breakthrough in the image recognition competition in 2012, where the algorithms did better than humans in this kind of image recognition scenario, which opened up a huge industry of use cases where technology has disrupted and surpassed human excellence.
For instance, a company that makes diapers, they take pictures of every diaper. Before, they had humans sitting on the production lines, and if the diaper quality got bad, they would stop the machine, figure out where the problem is, and it would create a huge amount of wastage. It would create a huge amount of shutdown, it would cause inefficiency in operational excellence.
Now, the same production machine runs with an AI-based image recognition software where a diaper is checked in milliseconds to determine if it meets the desired quality standards. Consequently, higher quality diapers are produced. They utilize extensive data from the plant to identify potential issues if a diaper is of inferior quality.
This approach has enhanced their efficiency and reduced costs, aligning with the challenges we are all addressing.
In Europe, many car manufacturers are now employing image recognition to ensure the cars built align precisely with the specified order specifications.
Numerous use cases have emerged in the last 10-20 years. One we encounter daily is the face ID login on our mobile phones. This technology, thanks to advancements in algorithms built on AI, became prevalent a few years ago.
Crowdsourcing and Talent Scarcity: The Two Competing Forces
Moving on to the next point, two competing forces are at play: Crowdsourcing and Talent shortage. Significant progress is happening in the open-source world, with large companies contributing, allowing more individuals to develop algorithms and explore new methods. Concepts like containerization, pioneered by Google, have been open-sourced, fostering global collaboration. This collaborative effort accelerates development and innovation, achieving a pace of progress previously unattainable.
On the other hand, a substantial talent shortage persists globally. While there are more job opportunities in India than there are people seeking jobs, a skills gap exists. However, AI algorithms and automation are helping mitigate this shortage. Emerging recognition technologies assist in managing the talent shortage effectively.
Combining these factors—tremendous growth in data, available computational power, algorithms facilitating the processing of vast amounts of data, and the ability to crowdsource solutions—enables efficient handling of impatient customers while providing a personalized experience.
This transformative impact is why I believe the excitement around AI is warranted. It is reshaping our work lives significantly, offering an equal playing field for everyone to compete with the largest organizations worldwide.