Fast Forward: Why Intel's Diane Bryant Does Not Fear AI

By Dan Costa Features PCmag

At SXSW Interactive this year, I had the chance to sit down with a number of tech industry execs for my interview series Fast Forward, including Chris Becherer, VP of Product at Pandora; Thad Starner, Professor of Computing at Georgia Tech; and Ron Howard, director and producer of the new NatGeo series Genius.

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In this edition of Fast Forward, we're talking with Diane Bryant, EVP and General Manager of Intel's Data Center Group, about artificial intelligence. Read and watch our discussion below.

Dan Costa: Most people think data centers are kind of boring, but you can do incredible things with them. It's also the most profitable division inside of Intel. People think of Intel as a chip company, but the data center business has exploded in recent years, and part of that is driving this AI revolution.

Diane Bryant: Right. Absolutely. The artificial intelligence...discipline was founded in 1956, so we're talking a long time ago, and so it's crazy to now think about how that area has simply exploded and is transforming literally all businesses, and it'll transform the way you and I engage with the world. This has all just happened really in the 2010s, it's just really taken off.

Artificial intelligence can be difficult to define. How do you define it?

Artificial intelligence is a computer system with human-like capabilities, so the ability to think and predict, to learn and predict. That's the definition of it. You say, "Well it sounds pretty simple, so why did it take from 1956 to now?" The issue is in order for a computer system to be able to learn and to demonstrate some of those human attributes of learning and predicting an event, you have to feed it massive, massive amounts of data, and compute on these very very large models. It's gonna take a lot of information for a computer system to draw a conclusion. Historically, there just has not been the affordable compute capacity and storage capacity and network bandwidth capacity to actually process that magnitude of information.

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We'll take credit at Intel for Moore's Law, and this ever increasing beat rate of delivery—more and more technology, more capability at lower cost. Because of Moore's Law, you get to the point where you literally can compute on those massive data sets, and actually have a computer system predict an event for you.

There's a processing component to it, and it's also you need the data sets to work with?

Absolutely. There's the compute and storage technology that my organization's responsible for delivering, the fundamental technology into those systems. Then you need the algorithms, those predictive algorithms which is a rapidly evolving space, really a fun space, lots and lots of data scientists needed in order to keep that beat rate going. Then, you're right, there's the software...and service on top of it. It's an entire solution set that needs to come together.

Intel plays in this solution set in multiple places?

We do. At our heart, we're a technology company. As you noted, in the old days we were the PC company, that's our roots, our legacy.

In the old days, we were the PC Magazine.

There you go.

Now we're much more.

Now we're much more, we've all evolved to be bigger and better. We were the PC company, and now with the fact that every company is increasingly dependent upon server storage and network infrastructure, not just to run their business like the good old-fashioned IT organization was there to help businesses run their business. Now [it's] using IT services as revenue opportunities, so cloud services to augment your existing revenue stream.

See, you hear about every company on the planet is going through the digitization of their company. What does it mean to be living in the world of mobile computing and cloud computing? It is definitely evolved. We've moved from the PC company to the data center company and all of the billions of things that connect into the data center.

Every business is becoming a technology business. You may be a retailer, but you need to not just use these tools, but use them to innovate.

Yes it is. At Intel then our responsibility is obviously to continue to serve those enterprises, their IT organizations that have the traditional IT operations, but also our responsibility is to help those companies evolve themselves to digitize, to look for new revenue streams, and new revenue opportunities based on cloud computing. An obvious easy example of artificial intelligence applied to an existing industry is autonomous driving or assisted driving moving to highly autonomous driving moving to fully autonomous driving out in 2035.

That happens because you have a car manufacturer and they have now evolved to where they're going to deploy cloud services to their consumers, so I sell you the car, but then I continue to engage with you and deploy services to that car, whether it's navigation services or entertainment services or maintenance services. Those are additional services that I deploy with you, and then over time you end up being an autonomous car manufacturer, and you're now really a technology company with cars.

In terms of AI, it's early days in a lot of ways, but there are AI systems available today. Can you just describe some of the best examples?

Yeah, there's a lot of them. Assisted driving today, you have cars that will give you a three-point parking solution, or keep you in your lane. That's all AI solutions today. You look at the healthcare industry. The healthcare industry is rapidly deploying AI solutions. We worked with some of the biggest hospitals in China recently on an AI solution that allows the AI system to actually read your medical images to determine whether or not you have a malignant tumor. They have a significant shortage of radiologists to do that manually, when you have a population of 1.3 billion people. Out of demand, out of a true need, they've deployed an AI solution to do that first pass, and they've proven now that the AI solution is actually more accurate than the human-based solution.

You have an opportunity here through AI to unleash a constraint. You're delivering an AI solution either to deliver you something you never had before like assisted driving, or to unleash a physical, fundamental constraint in the system like a shortage of a certain skillset or opportunity.

It seems like a lot of the promise of AI is to break through a lot of those constraints in all sorts of different industries.

In all sorts of industries. We talked this morning with a company called FarmLogs, and it was founded by two kids that grew up on farms and they looked at the world of technology and said, "How come technology hasn't come to our world let alone the farming community?" There's a huge demand, pent-up demand. The world banks will say that by 2050, the world needs to increase food production by 50 percent in order just to serve the population at that time, 9 billion people projected and to do so while the amount of agricultural land total is declining every single year.

It's a huge challenge. You have a huge constraint, a fundamental constraint around food production, there's nothing more basic. You take artificial intelligence, you apply it to the field. Now you can aggregate data about weather and soil content and fertilization and output, yield of that acreage of land, and you can now improve upon the production of the land and help farmers get a bigger return out of their fixed capacity.

It's really something that's happening globally, too. In the US, we have a certain set of problems, certain sets of issues, but when you start to scale this technology out globally, that's where it really starts to make a difference.

Well, it is. You think about China as a still-developing nation, and yet they are the first to embrace next-generation technology. They don't have the legacy in many instances. They're not carrying around the way we used to do things and having to go through that change factor. They're actually bringing up solutions as computer-based AI solutions.

Smart cities is another great example. They're bringing up new cities. They're bringing them up as smart cities. Let's get efficient in the way we deploy solutions to the residents in our area.

Yeah, they're leapfrogging all those intermediate steps.

Exactly. You see it in India as well, as they're building out infrastructure, they're going straight to wireless. They're skipping that whole generation. Once you have wireless connectivity and pervasive connectivity, there's things you can do that you couldn't do with a legacy environment.

A big part of AI as you've mentioned is the ability to predict human behavior. First of all, that's where a lot of utility gets generated, but it's also where a lot users are like, "Is artificial intelligence going to know me better than I know myself? Am I going to be marketed to in ways that I can't control or predict?" Is it a good thing that AIs can predict human behavior so efficiently?

I will obviously say of course it's a good thing. Again, you're stuck with a certain situation, and if you can unleash a given constraint through technology, then I would say it's a good thing. You think back really when the internet became pervasive, late 90s, early 2000s, there was a lot of concern about privacy of data, data privacy was a big big topic. You've noticed now over time that it's become less of a topic.

Every time there is a revolution, and I will say AI is a revolution, just like the industrial revolution and then the digital revolution, and then the information revolution with the internet, this is the next big revolution. Any time you have a big revolution, and rightly so, people stand back and say, "What are all the unintended consequences? Should I be that excited about this?" As you see with each of those waves, nobody's looking back and saying, "Oh we should have never launched that internet thing, that was crazy." But at the time, there was a lot of concern of everyone being connected, everyone having access to data, and you can talk yourself into a situation where you're concerned. But of course there's so many positive benefits of it that just dwarf the concerns that the revolution moves on and people move with it.

Today, you have conversations around AI and what could it mean from a negative perspective, if you have a rogue computer who's unsupervised, who doesn't adhere to the social norms, what will happen? You hear these concerns but it is good to have the conversations, to talk it through, and to then work through those concerns and get a positive end state, because the positive impact of artificial intelligence, the opportunities far outweigh the negatives.

I think there are also individuals who feel a little bit powerless. They feel like AI is something for big companies.

I definitely wouldn't agree with that, as you would anticipate I would say. That's the beauty of the cloud, as we started I said, "Why now?" One of the key technology innovations that has unleashed AI is cloud computing. Just like now, you have your phone and you have all kinds of access to apps and services on your phone, those services are delivered from the cloud. You will have AI services delivered from the cloud and it's completely democratized. Everyone has access.

We were talking today to a company called Picasso, and they take these artificial intelligence to analyze an artistic style of a Matisse or a Monet or a cubist artist, and then take that style and help you develop your own art with that style. It's the merging of the two images through artificial intelligence.

The democratization of AI comes with the reduction in the cost of access. Again, that's back to Moore's Law, and that continuous the decline in the cost while you're increasing the capacity of technology, it becomes democratized.

The other concern people have is automation. We interviewed Vivienne Ming at CES. She's an AI expert and an entrepreneur and she builds AI engines to solve problems for people. The quote she gave me was that if you're doing the same job you were doing a year ago in the same way, she's gonna write an AI engine that will replace you. Are you worried that there's a fundamental risk to jobs when AI really comes to its own?

The risk to a worker of their job being displaced by an AI or a computer system is one of those worries that comes up, absolutely. There will be some jobs certainly that are displaced though continued automation and improving the intelligence of those automated systems. But if you also were to go out and ask any company in the US what their biggest constraint is, they would say workforce. They don't have sufficient trained workforce.

To your point, or to Vivienne's point I guess, your job may not be the same, but we still need you to do a job. It's just a different skilled job. The key I think for all of us in enterprise, is to continue to [train] the workforce as technology continues is deployed into enterprises.

Andrew Ng, who's a data scientist at Baidu, said, "Just like the industrial revolution eliminated much of the physical drudgery for you and me, the artificial intelligence revolution will eliminate much of the mental drudgery for me." We're pulling off the low-hanging fruit of the work that can be, to your point, can be itemized, can be displaced so that we're all free to move up the stack and do the higher-value, higher-meaning work. It does mean a re-skilling.

Microsoft Excel didn't put all accountants out of business; they're doing higher level work?

And much more efficiently. They're more efficient. They can apply their true brain power and skills to solving the gnarly problems instead of the manual calculations. You've made them more efficient, you've made their impact to the world greater.

What are those skills? If you're a 21-year-old coming out of college and getting your first job, what skills do you need? If you're a 50-year-old, your job has been eliminated through automation and you need to re-task and re-skill for the next chapter in your career.

It is a technology-based skillset. We talk about the fact that you still have liberal arts colleges, kids getting liberal arts degrees, but whatever industry they go in, that industry is connected to technology in some way.

It used to be that technology had permeated all industries. Now it's pervasive in all industries. That fundamental knowledge of technology, the application of technology, it's kind of like math or applied math, there's technologists, the people that are really inventing the next generation of AI solution, and then there is applied math, applied technology. You don't have to be the deep technologist, but you've got to be able to operate in an environment where there is applied technology.

I want to get to my closing questions I ask all my guests. What technology trends concern you the most going forward?

I have no fear of technology, are you kidding?

No fears at all?

Maybe I live in the Pollyanna world of everything is bright and rosy in the world of technology, but I've been at Intel for 32 years. I have seen innovation left and right. I am always amazed at what gets invented tomorrow. I live amongst 40,000 engineers who wake up the same way, thinking, "What are we gonna do tomorrow?" Nothing about technology scares me.

Let's flip it and say what are you most optimistic about? What really inspires you?

I am truly inspired by the application of technology and in particular artificial intelligence to healthcare. The healthcare industry has been ripe for disruption and innovation for a very long time, and now we have very tangible solutions, the impact that can be had. In my group in 2015, we kicked off an effort called All In One Day By 2020.

In 2015, we said, by 2020, if you have cancer, your doctor should be able to fully sequence your genome and compare that genome sequence and all the imaging data with data from around the world. Take those results, find the matches. Determine what your disease actually is, what treatments have been applied to that, what the impact of that treatment was. Did the patient survive or not? Through that, deliver to you a personalized treatment plan, and do that all in one day.

There's no reason why that can't be done. We can have a huge impact on something that's as pervasive as cancer. Half of all men and a third of all women will have cancer in their lifetime. I'm sure you know someone. My mom died of cancer. I'm so inspired by the tremendous impact we can have in curing some fundamental diseases through technology and AI.

2020 is only three years away.

I'm not scared.

Just letting you know.

See I'm not scared of technology.

I'm detecting some optimism.

I am very optimistic cause you can see AI solutions getting deployed piecemeal into the healthcare industry as they're awakening. You bring that together, the partnerships we've formed with major cancer research institutes around the world, the environment is ripe for disruption.

In terms of a product, a service, a gadget that you use every day, is there anything you use that every time you use it you're just like, "Wow, this is fantastic. I'm so glad somebody invented this"?

The latest thing I found was my online doggy daycare. You can literally track your dog via GPS as he leaves your house and goes to daycare. A lot of information that I probably don't need...

It's important to know who your dog is hanging out with. You don't want him to fall in with the wrong crowd.

The wrong crowd, and before you know it, you've got a behavioral problem. I just subscribed. I'm like, "Wow. This makes my life so easy." As a busy working mom, my online doggy daycare is fabulous.

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This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.