Have you ever been presented with an opportunity that you know just feels right, so you accept it with excitement? That is exactly the feeling that Benji Sucher had when given the chance to work with a company that anticipates the needs of customers and meets them ahead of time. As the Vice President and COO of Layer 6 AI, Benji has the chance each day to work with a team that uses Deep Learning technology to solve enterprise business challenges. See how AI plays a role in this exciting arena.
NE: Can you share a story that inspired you to get involved in AI?
BS: I’m a big believer in supporting great technology companies. I enjoy learning about technology and consider myself an early adopter (budget permitting).
Most of my work experience has actually been focused on the business side of running technology companies – I’m a chartered accountant with a degree in general management –
and I’ve discovered that there’s an increasing demand for people who are passionate about technology and have the right business skills to help a startup succeed.
When I sat down with Tomi Poutanen and Jordan Jacobs, the co-founders of Layer 6 AI, I immediately understood the potential of their AI model, so when they offered me the opportunity to become their chief operating officer, it was an easy decision to say yes.
NE: Describe your company and the AI/predictive analytics/data analytics products/services you offer.
BS: Layer 6 AI was acquired by TD Bank Group (TD) in January, 2018. TD is a Top 10 North American bank that offers a full range of financial products and services in both Canada and the U.S.
At its core, our company analyzes various forms of data in order to learn and anticipate individual customer needs and then inform and enrich new customer experiences. We’ve created a leading AI platform with a product suite that includes predictive analytics and personalization capabilities.
NE: How do you see the AI/data analytics/predictive analysis industry evolving in the future?
BS: There are three critical components that I think we need to encourage in order for us to leverage the true potential of AI:
Strong leadership. Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, (Chief Scientific Adviser at Toronto’s Vector Institute and Engineering Fellow at Google) has trained many of the top AI leaders and pioneered critical AI breakthroughs. We need to continue to encourage this kind of pioneering leadership.
Availability of data sets. From national health care data to local transportation data, this is the kind of “food” we need to fuel and train new AI models.
More computing power. We need this to run bigger and better AI models.
My prediction is that we will see new companies, governments and legacy organizations spring up and open up to develop and enable these conditions, which is very exciting.
NE: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today in your opinion?
BS: I believe that AI is a transformative technology. Some say that it’s “the” transformative technology of our generation.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge (and opportunity) facing the industry today is the need to explain how AI works and how it helps us arrive at a set of recommendations. We need to work to explain the process and reduce any fear factor.
NE: How do you see your products/services evolving going forward?
BS: Our ultimate vision at Layer 6 is to power the “brain” of TD.
We endeavour to plug our engine into TD’s data streams and channels to empower the bank with smarter, faster and more precise decisioning tools as we continue to develop the next generation of intelligent customer experiences.
NE: What is your favorite AI movie and why?
BS: The original Blade Runner was an entertaining take on AI.
Harrison Ford (Deckard) kicks serious butt then ultimately strikes an emotional bond with a Replicant woman (Rachel) whose “flaw” is human emotion.
It’s exciting – and slightly less bleak than the Terminator series!
It’s worth noting that we are 35+ years removed from (the original) Blade Runner, yet we are not even close to living in a human-cloned world infiltrated by robots that are destined to obliterate humanity.
NE: What type of advice would you give my readers about AI?
BS: The field of AI remains relatively nascent. However, it has the potential to unlock new opportunities, forge new industries and create many new jobs – some of which we can’t even imagine yet.
I think the old adage of “knowledge is power” applies to AI. Keeping up with advancements in AI along with their applications will ensure we’re prepared to embrace and adapt to change.
NE: How does AI, particularly your product/service, bring goodness to the world? Can you explain how you help people?
BS: At Layer 6 AI, we are making a deliberate investment in exploring how our platform can contribute to social good in a significant way. AI has the potential to unlock unimaginable opportunities, uncover new scientific discoveries and reach new heights. Below are a few things that excite me about the potential for AI in healthcare for example.
AI can help healthcare become predictive vs. reactive – it has the potential to take the concept of preventative medicine to new heights. We can use AI to curate truly personalized recommendations and therapies, and shorten the timeline for new drug discovery and development, ultimately creating more efficiencies that reduce drug costs and increase drug availability.
NE: What would be the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you during your company’s evolution?
BS: The life of a startup is not linear. At best, one hopes for a trend line that angles towards the right and up (with peaks and valleys along the way).
There have been many interesting moments throughout our journey at Layer 6 AI. However, there’s one that stands out as most interesting and most transformative.
Since the beginning, Layer 6 AI set out to create something unique and special. After fine-tuning our model, we decided to publicly demonstrate our capabilities through ACM’s RecSys Challenge 2017. It’s a highly contested competition with participation from global companies that power online recommendation engines. Online ecommerce powerhouse Alibaba won the competition in 2016.
We entered to publicly demonstrate that our AI engine could operate well in real-time at scale. We did not expect what happened next…we won at each stage of the competition! We were very proud of our result and the validation that we have truly created something unique and special.
NE: What are the 3-5 things that most excite you about AI? Why? (industry specific)
BS: In the financial services industry specifically, we are excited about the ability to help identify advice moments where we can help customers with everything from questions about their investments to creating a financial plan to how to save for their child’s education. For example, we see some great opportunities for our AI engine to augment the role of the financial advisor and continue to evolve the leading digital customer experiences that TD has already created.
NE: What are the 3-5 things worry you about AI? Why? (industry specific)
BS: It is understandable (and common) to fear the unknown. Most people are apprehensive about change. Below are a few things that we need to think about as we continue to evolve AI as a capability:
Respecting and protecting privacy. Safeguards must be put in place, and enforced, to ensure personal information is only used with consent and for expressly permitted purposes.
Remove barriers that prevent the best minds from advancing AI. We need to support diversity and create equal opportunities to ensure that the best minds are laying the foundation for the future of AI.
NE: Over the next three years, name at least one thing that we can expect in the future related to AI?
BS: Expect the unexpected.