Today there is more innovation happening than any other time in human history. From gene editing technology that can eradicate diseases and renewable energy that minimizes carbon footprints to computers that get better and better at understanding human languages, technology is transforming every corner of our lives. Last week the World Economic Forum recognized 100 of the brightest minds driving these transformations and tackling the world’s most complex challenges with innovative approaches. These leaders are the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders of 2017 and I am honored to announce one of our own, Chief Scientist Dr. Richard Socher, as a member of this year’s class.
With a PhD in computer science from Stanford, Richard started an AI platform company called MetaMind with the goal of making deep learning technology more accessible. In keeping with Salesforce’s mission to democratize cutting edge technology to our customers, Richard joined the Salesforce Ohana to lead the company’s research efforts and bring state of the art artificial intelligence solutions to our customers. In the time since joining Salesforce, Richard and his world-class team have achieved incredible results, publishing six game-changing papers that span question answering, joint many-task learning, natural language processing (NLP) and image captioning. In November the team was also recognized as a leader in the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD) challenge, ranking above teams from Microsoft, IBM and the Allen Institute.
Now he joins WEF’s group of innovative, enterprising and socially minded men and women under the age of 40 who are pushing boundaries and rethinking the world around them. I sat down with Richard to discuss this honor and the growing impact of AI on the way we work.
Srini: Why did you decide to dedicate your career to AI? How did you get started?
Richard: Growing up I was always interested in math. I am also passionate about languages and believe they are the most interesting manifestation of human intelligence. It is our vehicle for connecting to one another, culture and thought, and it separates us substantially from the rest of the animal kingdom. AI allows me to combine both of these passions and build something that is changing the world.
I came to the states from Germany to get my PhD from Stanford and from there I knew I wanted to build something that utilized all of deep learning’s potential- not just bits and pieces of it through specific applications. I founded MetaMind in 2014 as an AI platform that analyzes, labels and makes predictions on image and text data so businesses can make smarter, faster and more accurate decisions than ever before. In 2016 we were acquired by Salesforce which allowed our small team to put the power of AI in the hands of millions of users as part of Einstein.
Srini: AI has made some incredible breakthroughs in the last few years. What are the most exciting AI breakthroughs and applications right now?
Richard: I think the greatest opportunity for AI to impact a large number of people on a daily basis is by allowing us to better interact with computers through natural language processing. Breakthroughs in that area are transforming clicks into more conversational, contextual and natural interactions.
Core to this, the Salesforce Research team recently introduced several NLP papers. One achieved the state of the art on question answering and another, which we call a “joint multi-task” learning model successively trains with basic tasks, gradually moves to more complex tasks, remembers all the tasks, and allows them to interact with each other. As the science community continues to improve models like this one, AI interfaces will grow smarter and exhibit more and more transfer learning abilities between tasks. Soon, models can go beyond answering simple questions like “Who are my customers?” to answer more complex questions like “Who are my best customers that also enjoy mountain biking?” which requires the performance of numerous integrated tasks to answer many qualifying questions and make some hard decisions.
Srini: Technology like Salesforce Einstein is bringing AI into reach for businesses of all sizes. What do you think will be the biggest impact AI will have on business in the coming years?
Richard: The greatest impact AI will have on business is its ability to make every employee smarter, faster, and more productive. And at Salesforce, we are empowering all of our customers to deliver more predictive and personalized experiences for their customers.
Einstein is a game changer because it is removing the complexity of AI and empowering every Salesforce user with AI where they work. With Einstein we’ve taken AI out of the lab and into the hands of our customers by embedding it across sales, service, marketing, ecommerce and more. In fact, earlier this month we introduced the first product based on Salesforce Research– Einstein Vision. Now customers can build AI-powered apps with just clicks and use image recognition to solve a vast array of use cases, such as product identification, inventory management and brand detection in social media.
Srini: The fourth industrial revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another and AI is at the core of this transformation. How can we make sure that everyone is able to take advantage of the power of AI?
Richard: AI is transforming economies, reshaping consumer expectations, and increasing the speed and scale of business, and with that come ethical questions that are bigger than any one company can solve for. We must all come together to address these changes and make sure the benefits of AI are accessible to the masses. For that to work, we need to have diversity and equality in both our workforce as well as our training data.
With Einstein we are committed to augmenting human potential– not replacing it– by enabling people to be more productive and make smarter, more impactful decisions. The great thing about Einstein is that it embeds AI directly into Salesforce workflows, making it a seamless and intuitive part of their days. You don’t need a PhD to use Einstein— employees of all skill levels can easily leverage it to connect with their customers, and they can also customize it to fit their unique needs with just clicks.
And with Trailhead, our online learning platform, we are empowering today’s workers with the skills they need for tomorrow’s jobs. Trailhead helps any user learn the basic fundamentals of AI and how to bring AI into their business.
Srini: The WEF Young Global Leaders community is focused on breaking down silos, bridging cultures and using their collective skills to get things done for positive impact across private, public and civil society organizations. What role do you see advances in AI playing within this community?
Richard: I think AI is the biggest technology transformation since the Internet. The web broke down informational barriers and allowed us to collaborate across borders, languages and time zones, vastly altering our knowledge potential. Now AI is taking that a step further by taking that information and allowing us to predict what will happen next and how we may react to complex changes in our environment. With this ability comes the potential to once again augment human potential. With AI we can diagnose and treat life threatening diseases, improve the safety of our cities, increase earning potential and revolutionize travel. The options are endless and I am excited to get started on this new journey.