Getting what we want based upon our specific likes and dislikes makes so much sense. Why lose time searching through a plethora of information when someone can filter through it for you? Dr. Vivian Chan believes that searches should be simple. As the CEO and Co-founder of Sparrho, Vivian has developed a company that takes the guesswork out finding what you want in the most efficient way possible by using AI and human experts. Rather than spend your time looking for what you like, you can devote your time to actually reading it instead!

Tamara: Can you share a story that inspired you to get involved in AI?

Vivian: I first experienced the problem of staying up to date with science while working on my PhD. There was a researcher in my lab, Steve, who read several key journals each morning. Because he knew what everyone was working on, he was able to recommend papers outside the scope of linear keyword search.

I knew traditional search engines weren’t enough to help me and my peers stay on top of science: but I also knew not everyone was lucky enough to have a real-life Steve. That’s when my co-founder, Nilu Satharasinghe, came up with the idea of ‘digitizing Steve’ bya 5-year old company with 15 employees and 750k unique online monthly visits worldwide!

Tamara: Describe your company and the AI/predictive analytics/data analytics products/services you offer.

Vivian: Sparrho offers a new way to engage with science: a personalized platform that allows users to quickly discover, curate and share over 60 million scientific research articles and patents. By blending machine learning with expert human curation, Sparrho is helping to solve the problem of ‘fake news’, promoting expert voices to the public, and offering world-class science to consumers via a free, user-friendly and intuitive platform.

Our three-pronged approach to searching combines graphical data analysis with deep learning to provide personalized scientific news feeds tailored to each user’s needs. 60,000+ expert users of Sparrho collect relevant publications on pinboards, which capture non-linear relationships between different pieces of scientific content that machines find extremely difficult to identify, further curating Sparrho’s network of expertise. The end result is a tool that is putting knowledge in the hands of the people and helping to democratise science worldwide.

Tamara: How do you see the AI/data analytics/predictive analysis industry evolving in the future? 

Vivian: I see the industry following a more collaborative model, in which AI is combined with human input to provide deeper insights for personalized decision-making. This will hopefully empower individuals to better to understand their own data and how best to use it to evolve their businesses. We’re also going to see a lot more new AI projects being dedicated to social good, such as the AI For Good foundation set up two years ago to maximize the social and global benefits of AI technologies. AI has the potential to make a massive impact wherever it’s deployed, so as entrepreneurs it’s our duty to ensure that we’re always building socially responsible products.

Tamara: What is your favorite AI movie and why?

Vivian: Although I don’t have the time to watch many movies these days, Ghost In The Shell is a brilliant exploration of the potentials – and dangers – of AI. It’s a classic movie that goes into a lot of depth whilst remaining incredibly watchable and gripping.

Tamara: What type of advice would you give my readers about AI?

Vivian: It’s easy to get sucked into fears about what the future might bring, but it’s important to think about all the ways in which technology like AI is already empowering individuals and will continue to do so as it develops. Human presence is as relevant as ever, as the interaction between humans and machines is enabling a two-way conversation. Today, humans are building machines that think and act like humans. Our objective should be to find and maintain a synergy between humans and tech, rather than one replacing the other.

Tamara: How does AI, particularly your product/service, bring goodness to the world? Can you explain how you help people?

Vivian: The fact is that poor science communication is more harmful than many realize. The Royal Society has estimates that miscommunication of scientific research affects up to 100 million people, who often end up looking for dubious information on unregulated internet forums. And our post-truth culture is hurting not only today’s society, but that of the future too: if public and political support is lacking on issues like climate change and antibiotic resistance, the necessary evasive action won’t be taken, to the drastic detriment of future generations.

We believe that when the fruits of scientific discovery stay in the ivory tower, in the hands of the few, our society loses out on some of the most valuable products of human effort. Since taxpayers fund our science, it should be of utmost importance to disseminate that science to the public. That’s why at Sparrho we’re leveraging AI to democratise science by making it as easy as possible for everyone to discover, understand and share the science that matters to them – and that affects their daily lives.

Tamara: What would be the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you during your company’s evolution?

Vivian: A few years ago, I was attending a dinner in Amsterdam at which Bill Gates was the keynote speaker. After the speeches, I approached his table and pitched Sparrho. He gave me 10 minutes, asked about my investors, and gave me his email address. Although we weren’t able to meet a second time, it’s an experience that reminds me always to take every chance you get to hustle your way to success – you never know what might happen!

Tamara: What are the 3-5 things that most excite you about AI? Why? (industry specific)

Vivian: Personalised healthcare – in the future, the patient journey from diagnosis to treatment will be AI-assisted and customised to each individual, making it safer, faster and more effective

Space exploration – NASA scientists have already predicted how important AI is going to be for space science as humanity reaches further into the unknown. AI will help us retrieve data from deep space probes, guide robots across the surface of planets and direct spaceships’ movements hundreds of millions of miles from Earth. 

Innovative data storage – we’re going to see big things happening in the fields of cloud storage and hybrid flash storage.

Tamara: What are the 3-5 things worry you about AI? Why? (industry specific)

Vivian: Regulations and policies that might restrict AI’s usage in detrimental ways; questionable usage of personal data; and over-reliance on AI for all sorts of decision-making.

Tamara: Over the next three years, name at least one thing that we can expect in the future related to AI?

Vivian: I think that, in the short term, we can already expect significant advances in healthcare driven by AI-based technology. The flood of startups currently leveraging AI for everything from diagnosing cancer to providing urgent mental health support only demonstrates the enormous potential AI holds to disrupt the healthcare industry. If I had to make a specific prediction, I’d say we’re soon going to start seeing hybrid diagnoses – doctors working in tandem with AI-driven databases to predict patient outcomes more quickly and accurately than ever before.