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Igor Jablokov has made a name for himself in the world of voice recognition technology. His former company, Yap, was acquired by Amazon and his technology was used to build Alexa. And before that, Igor was on the team that built IBM’s Watson.
Now, Igor is the CEO of a new company leading the way on a new frontier: augmented and artificial intelligence. His company, Pryon is helping to change the way people work through augmented technology, and on this episode of IT Visionaries, Igor explains how. Plus, he gives insights into his past, where he thinks the tech industry is headed in the future, and why he thinks the world of augmented intelligence can have an impact on our work and personal lives.
Best Advice: “Find a CEO who is not a first-time CEO and get mentored by them.”
What drives Igor: “If you think about when we’re at our happiest, it’s when we’re not connected to things. When we’re interacting with pets, interacting with children, family members, grandparents, all of those types of interactions are the things that we actually do remember. It’s about getting a lot of the busywork out of the way and handling these things so that we have more time for the things that actually will matter in hindsight. And so that’s certainly what my fixation is, it’s to have these things do more so that we can be ourselves again.”
- What Pryon brings to the table
- Uses for augmented and artificial intelligence
- The marketplace for Pryon’s technology
- Why Pryon’s business model is not based on ads
Igor always gravitated toward computers and electronics. He had immigrated from Greece and found that computers were the common language everywhere he went. From there, he pursued a career in the field, looking up to people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Why build Pryon
When Igor was looking to take the next step in his career, he realized that he was unhappy with the way people were working. There are so many systems and interfaces we all must interact with on a daily basis, and none of them take into account the way that humans work best, which is through language. He had anticipated the Amazons and Googles of the world to have solved the problems of today’s workforce, but since they hadn’t yet, Igor saw an opportunity for a new company that could solve the problem of humans trying to work through countless integrations to get a simple task done. Instead, Igor believed that one easy natural-language interaction with A.I. or a machine should be enough to get work done.
Igor goes on to discuss how the idea for Pyron was actually birthed during the development of Alexa and it was a response to missing opportunities in other areas. For example, while working in conjuncture with Sony and Toshiba on Playstation, the idea of having a microphone built-in for voice recognition was laughed off due to privacy concerns. And during the next year, they came up with an idea to build a hosted online platform for big clients data (aka the cloud) that was shot down as well. Not willing to let another good idea pass him by, Igor wanted to bring augmented intelligence into the world of human labor because he saw a future where that technology would completely change the way work was done.
“Nobody’s gotten through their heads that instead of humans having to learn how to use these systems, we have to conform to the ways that humans are naturally gifted in interacting, and that’s through natural language. And so while, you know, Amazon, Google, Apple, and others have been doing a great job in the consumer space that hasn’t been translating to our, our working life. And so I decided to go take another run at this.”
“We humans basically have the same capabilities today as we had a hundred thousand years ago. But in the last 10, 20, 30 years, we now have more A.I.-centric tools where machines can start conforming to the way that humans think and experience things. And so humans don’t have to do anything differently. They can just have a natural language interaction with these machines. Whereas, if you think 50 years ago, a small subset of us, you had to learn how to communicate as machines. The ones and zeros and punch cards and computer programs, mathematics and everything else. But now we can turn that around and say, just type in a natural language command or say something in the machine, should be able to execute a vast array of, instructions in order to allow you to access information, perform some workflow or, help you with decision support.”
How customers are utilizing A.I. and augmented intelligence
According to Igor, there are many different use cases to point to that illustrate the way augmented intelligence can be leveraged. For example, when a new employee comes into an organization, they need to be trained and given access to a vast amount of unstructured data. Using A.I. and augmented intelligence, you can automate that process and create a more seamless onboarding process to bring new employees up to speed faster. Igor also gives an example of how a company can use the technology to come up with answers to data-driven questions in milliseconds rather than having operators pull data from different subsets and deciphering what it all means.
“I’m fascinated with instantaneous answers to my question.”
What does the marketplace for augmented intelligence look like?
Recent reports have stated that the market for augmented intelligence can be estimated in the trillions of dollars, so there is ample opportunity in the space. However, despite the size of the market, the maturity level is still in its infancy. There will be some winners, but many more losers when companies start adapting to the use of this technology, and it will be the ones who know how and when to pivot and build for the future that succeeds. And to sell to those companies willing to make the change, Igor believes companies like Pyron have to be working on figuring out a way to answer company questions quickly through the use of augmented and artificial intelligence.
“I think everybody is still playing with blocks….this stuff is very early in the adoption curve. There’s going to be a lot of experimentation. There’s gonna be a lot of vendors. It’s not something that you can just pick off. A lot of the folks that we have on staff have been doing this for 10, 20, 30, 40 years in some cases. You have to take a multidisciplinary approach.”
A discussion on the consumer space
In terms of voice recognition — which Igor has a wealth of experience in thanks to his work on IBM Watson and through his previous company, Yap, which was acquired by Amazon to deploy in Alexa — Igor believes that everyone is using voice, but there is a lot of room for improvement with the technology. Whether it’s Siri, Alexa or Google Home, the technology is not sophisticated enough to give highly accurate answers every time. As a result, there are a plethora of employment opportunities in this space for people who are looking to create technology for the future.
“If you’re an A.I. person, there’s lifetime employment for you, whether you’re working consumer problems or you’re working a business problem, it’s certainly going to be something that’s going to change the human experience. But, there’s a lot still that needs to be done.”
Igor’s article on winning the A.I. arms race
In 2018, Igor shared an article on LinkedIn called, “Immigrants Are Key to Winning the AI Arms Race.” In it he explains how America’s diversity is critical to technological advancement. Through multicultural collaboration — just like how different parts of a machine work together — you can achieve outcomes that one single type of person would never be able to achieve alone.
“You need people to come from the four corners of the globe that are all multicultural, educated in different environments, and they come here to do their work and reinforce each other. Certainly, that’s what happens inside of machines. And that’s what should happen inside of societies as well.”
Pryon’s business model
Unlike so many other companies, Igor does not want Pryon to get into the ad space, because he does not want to bother to learn the personal details of someone’s life. Ads are targets through any number of personal or other identification factors (location, political affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.) and Igor does not want Pryon to have any stake in compiling that kind of information about customers. Instead, Igor wants to provide a product that is accurate and delivers value. He also wants it to be a differentiator in how you work. In the same way that there are different applications for messaging in personal and professional life (think iMessage versus Slack) Igor thinks there will be different A.I. applications for work and home, and he wants to corner the market on those work applications.
“We’re not going to do ads because the minute you do ads, you end up turning into a vouyer. You’re trying to understand, you know, are you a soccer mom? What’s your sexual orientation? What are your buying patterns? Are you happy? Are you sad? Do you vote Republican or Democrat? Are you an independent? What’s your shoe size? Everything. I think we’re going to provide value to you. You’re going to interact with us. We’re going to be accurate. We’re going to be secure and I don’t really care about your personal life.”
“I think it’s incumbent on all of us to always work to chisel away the negative factors of these technologies while accentuating the positives.”
“If you think about when we’re happiest, it’s when we’re not connected to things. The secret to companies like mine is to get the busy work out of the way and handle things, so we have more time for the things that will actually matter in hindsight.”