Article originally published in Cognitive World
Verdant AI’s CEO and founder, Brian Dolan, was recently featured on the Humanitarian AI Today podcast with Mia Kosseavelou. Brian and Mia spoke about humanitarian uses of AI as well as Verdant’s work to support the UN’s SDG goals through advanced artificial intelligence products.
Brian refers to himself as a Cyberneticist, which means he studies systems for the purpose of making them more effective and efficient. Brian has been doing this his entire career by applying his love of math and analytics to improving systems such as healthcare, agriculture, and the environment.
Verdant is an innovation lab and startup studio that connects entrepreneurs with funding and support to build out advanced analytics products. One of Verdant’s studio companies is working to create efficient supply chains for biomass, a farming byproduct made up of organic material waste from plants and animals, as well as a renewable source of energy and petroleum replacement.
AI imitates culture
While there’s a lot of hype around what AI can do, at its core, it helps people make decisions. In order for AI to perform at its best, culture needs to be a part of its creation. Just as art imitates life, AI imitates culture.
Humanitarian issues such as homelessness, poverty, and racial injustice can be solved by radical shifts in culture. Much of that is happening today with the global #BlackLivesMatters protests against police brutality. “If we don’t embed the culture we want into AI, we end up with failed yet fascinating experiments such as what happened with Microsoft’s artificial intelligence chatbot, Tay, that learned how to be racist from twitter,” says Brian “I think we can all agree, the world needs fewer racists today, especially artificial ones.”
What is the benefit of taking a cybernetic view?
Viewing the world from a cybernetic perspective encourages you to think of informational pathways from human to machine and back again. The idea is to extract as much information from as many sources as possible.
When you look at something to extract information from it you see how much of what you are seeing is controlled by things around you.~Brian Dolan
For example, when looking at the environment, you come to understand that everything is part of the system. There is a larger system creating forces in the world, and it’s important to make choices carefully with the whole system as a consideration and with a strong moral compass. At Verdant, the team is driven by discovery and instinctively drawn to problems that require interesting and challenging math to resolve. They understand AI is only available to a small fraction of the human population and with great power comes great responsibility. Decisions about the work they do are made with the social moral impact of technology in mind.
Even the company name, Verdant, relays purpose. Its literal meaning is “covered in plants”, or as a euphemism “bursting with life”. In yet another perspective, Verdant could mean green as in “inexperienced”, which is how the Verdant team approaches AI: they like to try new things and without bias.
Brian leverages his background in biomathematics, stochastic systems, and mathematical ecology to take on the hard challenges of environmental and oceanic health. One of Verdant’s startup studio portfolio companies is getting ready for its official launch, a marketplace for biomass that would normally go to waste. This could provide a new source of income to farmers, by creating liquidity for biomass such as farm waste like cow manure and turning it into energy. Verdant is leveraging AI to optimize feedstock blends more efficiently and determine market pricing. The benefit for farmers? Intergenerational preservation of lifestyle and land.
Accelerating AI for the Enterprise
Verdant also partners with larger corporations to support their AI-driven innovation initiatives. While 85% of CIOs know they need to innovate with AI, large corporations are structurally challenged to move these initiatives forward. Often they are burdened with legacy technologies and architecture that make transitions cumbersome and lengthy; often the teams are not equipped with the right skills to solve the problem and cultural challenges limit real digital transformation.
Companies like Verdant can bridge the gap for CIOs without the cumbersome corporate structure that encourages reuse of current IP vs net new development, along with the ability to leverage a more expansive solution set and entrepreneurial mindset.
Brian likes to think of himself as a data therapist to CIOs and his conversation with Mia tackled many interesting perspectives, such as how streaming media (OTT) is ripe for disruption using AI, futuristic applications of VR for digital health, his belief in people and purpose, and how Verdant is actively working to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
It was a great conversation. Have a listen to the full interview here.