AI: Separating The BS From Real Opportunities

Mist websiteMist Systems

According to a report from Gartner, AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be one of the five most important investment priorities for more than 30% of CIOs by 2020. Yet this forecast may ultimately prove to be too conservative. As mega operators like Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com and Apple push their AI efforts, this technology is likely to become pervasive. Most CIOs will probably have little choice but to focus on this category.

“Data is rapidly becoming the digital currency for companies to differentiate themselves,” said Arif Janmohamed, who is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. “Just look at fast-growing startups like Stitch Fix that are revolutionizing industries. They are leveraging AI to build strong technological advantages.”

For Arif, he believes AI is the next mega wave, coming after cloud computing and Big Data. “But there is still much confusion and hype,” he said. “AI is not just about putting together algorithms. This is really what traditional rules-based programming is about. This involves a coder who thinks about what software should do.  It’s opinionated.”

OK then, so what is AI? Well, no doubt, this is a complicated question. But to boil things down, AI is when a system can learn – and this means there must be access to huge amounts of data. “It must iterate and improve,” said Arif, “for the benefit of the end user. AI means that you have models that you can test. So over time, the software gets smarter. Now the datasets can be from public sources. But when it comes to having stronger outcomes, there should also be proprietary sources.”

A good example of all this is Mist Systems. Founded in 2014, the company has gone on to become the leading AI-based WLAN (wireless local area network) platform.

“We saw an opportunity to disrupt the existing network system that had been built during the early 2000s,” said Sujai Hajela, who is the co-founder and CEO of Mist.

Keep in mind that traditional networks are focused on managing access points, which allow for the transmission and reception of data (say from a smartphone connection). But this approach does have its limitations.

“We believe that you must manage the end-user experience on the network,” said Sujai. “Is it good or bad?”

There’s a reason why older networks have not been able to do this – that is, the lack of technologies like AI. “We have self-driving cars,” said Sujai. “Why not self-driving networks?”

To develop a next-generation WLAN, Mist spent over a year putting together a standout technology architecture. A key part of this was using open source software (say for the cloud elements) and microservices (allowing for task-oriented functions). The architecture also needed to respond in real-time and allow for quick changes.

The process was not easy, with multiple restarts. But this initial focus on building a solid foundation was critical.  As a result, Mist has seen swift adoption, with the customer base now at over 300.

The beauty of all this is that the Mist platform is evolving, getting smarter and smarter. “We ask ourselves: How do we get the machine to think like a human being?” said Sujai.

It’s certainly powerful — and the opportunity is still in the early stages. Consider that the WLAN market is about $6 billion per year. But Mist also believes its technology can disrupt the IT market as well, which has a size of $25 billion.

Want more entrepreneurial advice?  You can follow me at @ttaulli.

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