Artificial intelligence seems like something out of a science fiction novel that will play a vital part in our lives in the future. But, according to Mike Bugembe, AI is already here and he has taken advantage of the knowledge he has gained in a way that has enabled to help increase a company’s value to more than $100 million.
Bugembe, the founder of data company lens.ai, spoke to Black Enterprise about his ability to utilize algorithms to help companies achieve more success.
You’re considered to be a thought leader in the world of data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. Why did you decide to enter the world of technology and what is it about artificial intelligence that sparked an interest?
I wrote my first code for a game when I was 9 years old as I was interested in how things work.
This led to my first degree in electronic engineering and it was my first introduction to artificial intelligence because I learned a lot about the mathematics that’s behind the algorithms that we use today. After that, I started my career with Accenture, where I was helping organizations use e-commerce and web technologies to bring their companies into the digital age, and it took off from there.
You were chief data officer for JustGiving and helped developed an algorithm that generated more than $20 million in a year and then the company was acquired for over $100 million. How were you able to achieve those accomplishments?
My journey with JustGiving started in 2010 and the brief was simple: they had millions of records of people doing fundraising activities like baking, but they did not know what to do with the data. I spent the first six months looking at what the data was telling us and discovered we could use machine learning to transform the company. We concluded that we wanted to move from a transactional platform to an engaging platform which would make giving more of a social activity that you would engage in over a longer period of time. I managed to secure a team and the implementation of the social features led to the high valuation of the company.
Seventy-five percent of organizations that invest in artificial intelligence fail to see any form of return, so I made it my mission to be in the top 25%.
What was the reason you decided to write the book Cracking the Data Code and what can people gain from reading it?
It was the fact that I was able to implement AI at JustGiving, which led to the $100 million valuation and was able to succeed where 75% of others had not. It was clear that the pattern I discovered was not visible for most. My mission was to see more people win. Cracking the Data Code helps people understand the data, what you can do with it, and how being data literate can enhance your career. This is a segue on to the six courses that I am putting together that will help people to see and understand data. There is a huge diversity gap, and there are not enough black people within the data space.
There are people who don’t ‘get’ the purpose of artificial intelligence. What would you tell them to make them understand the importance of this technology?
It’s begun to change every career, and AI and automation will change the landscape of work and create more jobs. It’s about survival. Human intelligence is still superior but we need to find how we can work together with the machine, and that’s where it’s critical. Data and artificial intelligence have one purpose: decision making. For example, Amazon’s recommendation engine helps them to decide what other content shall I serve up to this user so that we can maximize basket size. Every decision requires information.
What should we look forward to in the future when it comes to this technology?
I’m concerned about the social aspect, like what we were able to do at JustGiving and unlock people’s generosity. I’m currently involved in two exciting projects: Children that are being excluded from school as young as 6. I thought this was just a problem for teenagers, but you have young children being expelled from school and are out of the schooling system. Two major problems occur: they become likely to end up in the prison system and they also have a high propensity to commit suicide. We can use AI to help teachers to identify some of these prospective kids. Imagine a system that can predict that a child is going to come in and throw a chair at a teacher? If the teacher has this information before the child comes to class, they can treat the child a little differently and prevent him from throwing the chair, so he does not end up in a vicious spiral. AI can also help to read exam papers, which removes the need for girls to give sexual favors to teachers for grades, which is something happening in Africa.
AI can remove corruption and improve inequality. It comes with a caveat: unless we increase the diversity of the programmers, AI will continue to be biased, racist, and prejudiced.