Quantum speed wiz ponders AI

As technology advances in quantum speed, the initiatives for collaborations between governments, businesses and individuals become more compelling presenting endless possibilities.

Microsoft continues to push the envelope, exchanging and enriching ideas on artificial intelligence or AI among global technology centers, something that excites Microsoft’s president for Asia Ahmed Mazhari.

“The pace of change or the possibilities of this tool is limited either by our courage or imagination. The possibilities of AI are immense and my advice to business leaders is you better get started,” he told DAILY TRIBUNE in a leadership forum organized by the Makati Business Club last week.

Mazhari said having a growth mindset and humility is the key to providing meaningful impact to communities.

Living what he advises, Mazhari shared that he acquired his head start in the corporate world with lessons from another chief executive officer whom he wished to keep anonymous.

“He encouraged each one of us. We were challenged every day to think differently. He had us — 250 people in the room — and he said the world is unleashing in front of us and we need to be humbled because you have to be responsible,” Mazhari recalled.

Be prepared and open

The world’s future with AI could either be gloomy or exciting, Mazhari said as he further stressed the importance of being forever prepared and curious about being productive for good reasons amid the threats of AI to intellectual property and privacy rights.

Going back to his mentor on leadership, Mazhari said he continues to learn about technologies and their connections to other industries and stakeholders.

“Five years ago, I was briefed on the job and I went to his office and he started by talking about my background. Now that teaches a life lesson: how do you prepare for everything? If one of the biggest CEOs in the world invested time to learn about me, shame on me if I didn’t prepare for this interview,” Mazhari shared.

Before joining Microsoft Asia in 2020, Mazhari served as senior vice president and chief growth officer of Genpact, a spinoff of GE or General Electric, and senior executive roles at Xerox.

Age of AI 

On one hand, AI makes business processes and ordinary activities faster with its capacity to gather and analyze huge volumes of data, detect patterns, and organize data into logical outputs.

Among AI-backed and Microsoft-led technologies include the writing tool ChatGPT and Copilot, a language tool that is integrated with Microsoft Office products related to graphs, spreadsheets, audio-visual communications and email.

On the other hand, AI has faced criticisms and lawsuits for plagiarizing works of artists and journalists as they claim ChatGPT outputs lack attribution to authors, while other AI tools reproduce photos and illustrations without their consent.

Some also protest that AI violates their privacy rights, saying it collects personal data from various online platforms which they believe can be exploited to steal money.

“If you look at any technology, you can regulate it to stifle or enable innovation. I’m a half-full-glass person. AI will continue to evolve and I hope companies and countries will come together because this is truly a public-private partnership opportunity,” Mazhari said.

Flipping perspectives to take advantage of seemingly disastrous situations, Mazhari said is another lesson his CEO mentor imparted at the airport.

“We were boarding his jet in Mumbai and we’re flying to Bangalore and one of his staff forgot his bag and couldn’t get on the plane. We retrieved the bag and we lost a few precious moments. The pilot said the airport was also shut for certain hours for private jets,” he recalled.

“I wouldn’t say publicly what went through my head, but he came running and said it is what it is, let’s make the most out of it,” he continued.

Collective progress

Microsoft will launch “very soon” upskilling programs on AI in the Philippines which has a huge potential to become an AI hub.

Mazhari said the Philippines has a population that can easily absorb and develop AI knowledge and skills that he considers a huge asset.

“The Philippines has such a great population base of young talented people. You could be the hub of creating AI software capabilities,” Mazhari said.

Upskilling programs will prepare Filipinos for the inevitable displacement and evolution of jobs due to global technological advancements.

“AI could be a great supplement to the outsourcing industry. You could be doing remote monitoring of health care, of nursing homes,” Mazhari said.

Mothers in poor villages, he said, have started benefiting from AI-powered, portable ultrasounds which were created in partnership with Bill Gates Foundation.

“First, it is reducing the cost of delivery because you’re able to do more ultrasounds by taking one or two scans quickly. Second, it reduces the skills needed for interpretation. So, if you’re in a village in Rwanda or Cambodia, you can have a healthcare person look at more pregnant women and secure more lives,” Mazhari explained.

“You could be working on second-tier software research that was developed in the US,” he added.

Other AI-linked opportunities, Mazhari said, involve prompt engineering which can be used to build a Tagalog language tool.

“Prompt engineering ensures the machine is learning. But do you have enough content in Tagalog? So, I’m going to create audio files in Tagalog and use it for training the machine and create Tagalog language models with Filipino context,” he said.

From its invention in 1956, Mazhari said AI and machine learning have developed from a mere “mathematical, statistical” brain into a truly “cognitive, multi-jurisdiction” version.

“You can have an intelligent conversation like you have with a human. It’s able to switch topics,” he said.

Among the latest AI-generated products is a less toxic lithium battery, which Mazhari said produces 70 percent less lithium footprint and, thus, protects the environment and health of consumers and workers worldwide.

“With AI and the United States Energy Development Board, we were able to identify 32 million potential substances that can help create a low lithium footprint battery. We went from 32 million to 18 in 80 hours — that’s humanly impossible,” he said.

“We then use humans to go from 18 to 1 substance. AI is human augmentation to create a more intelligent output,” he continued.

With the focused and aggressive collaborations between multiple sectors, Mazhari said he is “confident” Asia is still a major industry player and market for AI.

“This might be a marathon but the good news with AI is we might be 200 to 300 meters ahead. If you are still at the starting point, don’t worry people have not yet gone too far ahead,” he said.

“I couldn’t guess what happens two years ahead, so ten years becomes five times harder. But I would think we will see a world where we provide more technologies that create a more inclusive world, more inclusive growth, more inclusive education, more inclusive healthcare and where we see a world where possibilities are endless,” he continued.

Mazhari said he expects technology investments will increase from the current 5 percent of the global gross domestic product to 10 percent in the next decade, with chief financial officers extending themselves into “part-time chief technology officers.”