a16z Podcast: AI, from ‘Toy’ Problems to Production

This is my reaction to a16z Podcast: AI, from ‘Toy’ Problems to Production.

I like this “end of theory” approach. Some businesses might not need a theory about what’s correct outcome will look like. In other words, AI deployment in the future will always start with unsupervised learning, let the AI tell us unique features, and then define a problem to solve from what the algorithm told us.

Plus, it’s no more about how to implement AI or what technique to use given that the technologies like TensorFlow are available for everyone today. As the podcast says, a couple of data scientists can start a real AI business within few days using these ready-to-use technologies.

It’s about how you pick which business problem to solve in terms of ROI. If you apply a cutting-edge technique to a problem that does not have a meaningful business impact at the company you are talking to, then the whole project is considered as ‘failure.’ You are simply solving a wrong problem.

So my conclusion is that as AI technologies are commoditized the startups whose strength is only technology will eventually go out of business. Instead, the startups that can tell a customer which problem to solve and contribute to the customer’s ROI will stay in business. Sometimes it results in denying what the customer wants to do with AI.

To do that, what you need is not a data scientist or software developer. You need a new type of business person who can take advantage of unsupervised learning and lead a customer in the right direction.

I also agree that a key differentiator will be domain expertise and not AI technology itself, meaning that a startup with the specific vertical focus such as medical imaging will stand out from others. I think this is true for both supervised and unsupervised learning.

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