AI 'frees us up to be humans again,' H2O.ai chief says

When machines handle the 'machine stuff,' humans can focus on emotions and intuition

Data will be a key factor that sets businesses apart competitively in the coming years, and success will depend increasingly on artificial intelligence and machine learning.

So believes SriSatish Ambati, cofounder and CEO of machine-learning startup H2O.ai.

"By 2022, I expect every company to include in their shareholder announcements how much money they made from their data," Ambati said in an interview.

And that's where he hopes his company will play a big role. Founded in 2011, H2O.ai develops an open-source machine-learning platform called H2O that's used by insurance, healthcare and financial services companies to do things like predict churn, pricing and fraud. The company aims to help developers and data scientists leverage powerful machine-learning algorithms or, as it puts it, "democratize artificial intelligence for business."

The company says more than 5,000 organizations use its software, along with some 10 percent of the world’s data scientists. Capital One, Transamerica and Progressive are among its customers.

Machine intelligence and predictive capabilities make the software adaptable, Ambati says, so that companies can continue to learn from their data even as conditions change.

There's a problem for some companies, however: fear. Lost jobs are among the biggest causes for concern around AI, and the worry can inhibit some companies from adopting machine-learning technologies.

Ambati sees it differently.

Machines may be able to "automate away" much of what needs to be done in the workplace, but only those parts that machines are better at anyway, he said. There will always be a need for the "ah-ha moments" that depend on human intuition and emotion.

"Over the past 100 years, we've been training humans to be as punctual and predictable as machines," Ambati explained. With AI, machines can do the "machine stuff" while humans spend their time on the areas where they excel.

"What we really want from humans today are emotions, feelings and love, and those can't be automated," he said.

"Time is the only nonrenewable resource," Ambati added. "Machine learning will mean we can finally use our time to build strong relationships and spend more time with customers and loved ones. We're so used to being machines at work -- this frees us up to be humans again."

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Katherine Noyes

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