Texas CEOs Using AI to Change Business

 Texas CEOs Using AI to Change Business


By Dacia Rivers

“Artificial intelligence is possibly the most profound thing that’s happening in the world of business and in the world of technology.”

Amir Husain

Amir Husain, CEO of Austin-based AI company SparkCognition, is thrilled about the world of AI and its benefits, and for good reason. His company, launched just two and a half years ago, already has close to 40 customers, most of which are Fortune 500 companies.

SparkCognition provides these clients with AI-powered products designed to secure infrastructures, predict failures before they happen, identify the current state of equipment, and recommend resolutions to any problems its finds.

The Creator

Under Husain, Spark has earned plenty of recognition for its strides in the field of AI. This year, the company won Edison awards for security and cyber safety. In 2015, Spark was the only U.S. company to win Nokia’s Global Open Innovation competition. The company also received an IBM InnovateApp award in 2014 and was named a Gartner Cool Vendor and Austin’s Hottest Start-up at SXSW in 2015.

“The moment we’ve arrived at now with AI is a moment that is potentially far more seminal than simply replicating the power of human muscle,” Husain says. “We’re about to replicate the power of the human mind.”

Husain believes this evolution of AI will change the way we live, the way we do business and the way we live our lives. Through SparkCognition, Husain is looking to build AI that can adjust and learn from the magnitude of data coming in from the industrial Internet, securing this information using smart software, intelligent algorithms and the power of AI.

The Product

SparkCognition exists at the intersection of three tech trends: one is AI, which Husain refers to as a cognitive revolution, a move to building smart software that can do much of what human experts did before the software existed — just much faster and far more thoroughly. The second is what’s called the industrial Internet of things — this is about connecting industrial infrastructure (once standalone equipment) to the Internet in a powerful way. Third is security, a discipline that is near and dear to the heart of SparkCognition.

Currently, Spark offers these services in three areas:

  1. Energy, oil & gas, and manufacturing
    Clients in this area include pump manufacturer, Flowserve. Before partnering with SparkCognition, Flowserve’s manmade models could predict a pump failure five hours in advance. But now, thanks to Spark’s AI, which evolved the model without human input, that advance warning has been extended to five days.

“We’re talking about orders of magnitude in time savings,” Husain says.

  1. Cybersecurity

SparkCognition has partnered with members and branches of the government to address national security challenges including malware, viruses and software attacks. While these were once about merely stealing data, these kinds of breaches are now causing physical harm and damage, taking out grids and blowing up generators.

Just this year, General John Allen, a Marine Corps four-star General, and past Commander of U.S. Central Command, joined the SparkCognition board of directors.

“He’s committed to ensuring the safety & security of the country,” Husain says of General Allen. “He sees this technology and the work we’re doing as absolutely critical to ensuring that.”

  1. Financial Services

Finally, Spark works with companies in the financial services industry to identify threats and potential malevolent activity so these institutions can protect and defend their clients.

Spark Cognition recently received its first patent for cognitive fingerprinting, an algorithm that can ingest structured data (streams of numbers) and unstructured data (text, natural language that is ready for human consumption) and find similarities between the two to classify the data and look for problems and possible resolutions.

The Philosophy

Husain is a Longhorn. Like half his family, he attended the University of Texas, the number-six top computer science school in the country, and the largest. He also serves on the school’s computer science advisory board.

“It’s probably one of the greatest assets Austin has,” he says of the university. “The level of talent we have access to with UT Austin and other schools in Texas is quite excellent.”

Husain acknowledges that recent graduates can have a PhD in computer science and get into the AI field right away, but at Spark, the top executives boast PhDs in such diverse fields as astronomy, cognitive sciences, statistics and high-energy physics.

“We have deliberately engineered a workforce that is so diverse and brings so many different points of view because when you’re headed into uncharted territory and developing something that hasn’t been built before, perspective is important and a range of experiences and intellectual diversity are very important,” Husain says.

He points out that science is becoming more data driven, and less about direct observation than it used to be. Husain believes universities are doing a good job preparing computer science students for jobs in the AI field, but more can be done, such as teaching computer science as a conglomerate science and as a philosophy, providing students in these programs with more well-rounded educations.


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