By CORDELIA CHATON
Lëtzebuerger Journal | 18 July 2018
Translated from German. Original article here: https://bit.ly/2Nu3FDo
From Pakistan via Harvard to Wall Street: How Ayesha Khanna became co-founder of a leading AI company that advises on transport issues and FinTech
Ayesha Khanna is one of the big names in artificial intelligence. Her "ADDO AI" company, which she co-founded with others in 2017, has been ranked by Forbes magazine among the top four in Asia. At the symposium in Sankt Gallen, Khanna answered the questions of entrepreneurs, students and journalists. The Swiss study town knows her only too well. She was one of her career pathways from Pakistan to the US and Europe to Asia. She has told us a lot about AI and the desires of the companies and governments that accompanies her.
Ms. Khanna, how do companies tackle the subject of AI?
Ayesha Khanna Many CEOs are very excited about AI. They say, "Let's do that." Why, they often do not know. The question of benefits is very important. We usually get the first results after three to four months and are even cheaper than most other consultations. Let me give you an example: A large Philippine insurance company, which the grandfather still decides to be over 90 years old, wanted to hire me. He asked me how the insurance could save money through AI. I had to calculate that for him.
Then he was convinced. We have to bring added value and we have to prove that. I insist that people understand AI. And I think that's interesting, too. It is also important to me that I do not hold any shares in companies and have no fixed agenda. We advise in the strategic area.
How did you come to the subject of AI?
Khanna technology has interested me as a child. At that time, I was still in Pakistan, where I grew up. Later, after graduation, I became interested in health and smart cities and graduated in transport. Now I work in Asia; in Singapore. There is an explosion of data there. Many CEOs see this as an opportunity to take the lead over companies from the European Union.
Our company now has over 45 employees. We have many clients, such as the Government of Dubai or Singapore Transport. But AI is a slow, painful process, with some myths about it. For example, we can not replace all existing companies. There are a lot of breaks, disruption.
What did you do in the field of smart cities?
Khanna It's about technology and urbanization; that's what people do Cities continue to grow strongly until 2070. As a result, infrastructure such as transport or police is under pressure. Singapore, which is a small city state on an island, has been investing in its infrastructure for decades. Now it is not just about it, but also about the underlying plans.
What do you suggest to relieve the transport?
Khanna We have suggested combining all possibilities in one app. The result would be similar to Amazon, which also sell everything. There would be mobility as a service. For users, this would be a seamless transition. But integrating services based on data is difficult.
They have founded a non-profit association to introduce girls to technology. Why?
Khanna Five years ago, a little girl was on a hackathon. She was very interested. But her mother pushed her aside and preferred her son. "You do not care," she told her daughter, though it was not true. That motivated me to found the club. Girls may be more restrained, but that does not mean that they are not interested.
We offer programming workshops for teens and free programming lessons. It's a Google course that we've added. We also ran a FinTech Camp and founded "Coding Clubs". We invite speakers from the technology sector to lectures and much more.
What role does privacy play in Asia?
Khanna We follow the GDPR policy and pay close attention to privacy. The Philippines also has privacy rules, and concerns are growing in other countries. In Asia, privacy is an issue. China has a special position with a different view of it. But in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, legislation is very much in line with the European directive.
Are there no gray areas?
Khanna They already exist. For example, if a platform is tracking e-scooter movements, then that platform also has data about the users. This data is intended for the government. We had inquiries from shopping centers to install cameras for commercial use and evaluation. The government did not want that. Because the question "who owns the data?" Is then the key question. It is very similar in the health sector. There, the data is very sensitive. Estonia is very far. This is usually the case in countries with a cyber security history.
Were you even in the dilemma because of such a decision?
Khanna At the very beginning, when we were looking for customers, there was a concrete situation. A doctor wanted to make psychometric games for patients. But I was told the doctor had a reputation for prescribing unnecessary medications. I retired.