Amelia founder and CEO Chetan Dube reveals how artificial intelligence can help business and society.
Chetan Dube has a bold vision for the future of work. One where all of our jobs gain a little more meaning and lose a bit of their drudgery. His New York-based company IPsoft is leading the way to a day where you don’t spend hours answering emails or speaking to the help desk in a futile effort to fix your broken Wi-Fi.
After splitting his time between India, France, and England as a child, Dube enrolled in a PhD program for math and computer science at New York University. His advisor saw potential and he began teaching information technology. Dube was so passionate about the subject that his lectures would routinely extend past midnight and the building doormen revolted against him. His students, however, remained loyal.
In 1998, as he was about to defend his doctoral thesis, Dube left academia and founded IPsoft to pursue the promises of artificial intelligence he’d been exposed to while studying. He then told his advisor that he believed it was possible to clone a human brain, “given a couple of summers.” Reflecting on that time, he now says, “you’re young, you’re of profound ignorance of the challenges that lay ahead.”
Seventeen years later, IPsoft is still forging ahead. Led by the bow tie-wearing Dube, IPsoft has become a quiet leader in cognitive technology. But now its voice is beginning to grow. Between IPsoft’s proven IPcenter business that automates technology operations, and the prospect of Amelia, IPsoft’s next generation virtual assistant, Dube believes that we are now knocking on the fabled Turing horizon, where computers can understand and communicate as well as humans.
The company’s believers are growing. Its automation technology is used by 200 of the the Fortune 1000, and Accenture recently formed a new practice based on its Amelia platform to accelerate business adoption of artificial intelligence. In this interview, Dube lays out the progress IPsoft has made and his vision of what’s coming in the near future.
This conversation has been edited for length.
Why are you obsessed with the vision of AI?
A human mind is a terrible thing to waste. It’s the most beautiful creation in the universe. Why are we shackled by the ordinary? Why do you think it is a good, purposeful life if a person is doing the same chore day in and day out? Reality gets in the way. I’m very passionate about the fact that human brains should be doing things that are much more creative, much more rewarding, and much more for the betterment of the entire ecosystem around us. If technology had not come around—90 percent of us were just farming, in the 1800s. So you’d be out there with a shovel, and I’d be right behind you with a hoe.
What was the first breakthrough that made you feel like IPsoft’s vision might actually work?
The first part was to ask: Could we model the autonomous nervous system of the human body for technology? Could we come up with a way that we were actually having self-governing systems, rather than infrastructure that constantly needed people to be pushing buttons? That reinforced our belief, and that’s why you see that progression in autonomic technologies that we had brought to the market about a decade and a half ago. We have continued our research on the cognitive front, and seeing how we can extend that to general purpose capabilities, of understanding complex business problems—not just understanding infrastructure problems.
What makes IPsoft’s approach to cognitive unique compared to the rest of the field?
IPsoft’s approach has been much more fundamental in understanding your brain. You have a hippocampus in your brain, which is the center of semantic memory, which is all the facts that you know about. You have your frontal and temporal cortexes, which are events. You have your affective center where your spine meets the brain. So when you say something to me, I know the question that you just asked is being vectored into my episodic memory, which is event-based memory, and my semantic memory because I have facts stored about you. That is true cognitive computing. That’s exactly the level that our Amelia software is working on, and that’s what makes it different.
What is the value of cognitive on internal operations such as IT?
If you talk to a Fortune 500 CEO, he’ll tell you that you’re always pulling the business user down to the IT stack. Currently, if you want a phone, we make people go to service catalog, then you have to go to asset manager, then you have to go to hardware, fill out a form, submit a ticket, and hope that a phone somehow comes up. The ticket goes into the ether, somebody responds, and you have to answer the ticket. Shouldn’t you be able to tell your IT system, “Hi, I’m Will, I’m writing this piece, I would like a phone.” There’s a significant opportunity to disintermediate IT—to “Uberize” IT. That way, IT leaders can spend less time managing legacy technology and more time building capabilities that drive business growth.
You say we’re at the 1% of the potential of IPsoft’s innovation, so let’s talk about the next 99%. What is on the horizon?
Shouldn’t doctors concentrate on finding cures for diseases rather than giving prescriptions? In the next decade, you will see the graduation of our virtual assistant Amelia into vertical competencies. You will get a qualified doctor who you’ll be able to call, you’ll get a qualified diagnosis, you’ll be able to get your pulse and everything just by your watch, all your bloodwork, and you’ll get a very accurate diagnosis, which will be mailed just to your neighborhood Duane Reade. You’ll be seeing a graduation of Amelia into mortgage originator, claims processor, actuary, financial advisor. I’m talking about not just the ability to be equivalent, but in some cases superior to the way humans have interacted thus far. Technologies cannot just be equivalent, but must enhance—not just cut costs—customer experience.